Christmas Mansion in Texas

Story Power author Kate Farrell has written a new blog post on a beautiful mansion in Texas that she lived in with her family, read Kate’s wonderful story here.

In the fall of 1950, when I was a young girl, my family moved into a huge mansion on King William Street in San Antonio, Texas. The impressive, grand house was one of many in that historic district, built by German immigrants in the mid-19th century.

Over the years, the neighborhood had gone into decline, in the 1920s, with the Great Depression, and World War II. But that summer our mansion was restored, made into three, furnished flats. My daddy walked over one day and talked the owner into a six-month trial, at a discounted rent for the middle flat.

When we moved in, I thought I was in a fairy tale castle. Its stone walls of thick, limestone blocks were like a castle, with a peaked tower on one side, ceilings 15 ft. high, French doors that opened to a balcony off the spacious living room.

We’d unpacked with not much more than the clothes on our back. Mother spent days at the sewing machine, making school uniforms for a new, downtown school. Daddy went to work at a new job, but we were just getting by.

Soon, Christmas was coming and we had no tree for the massive living room, no ornaments or decorations. That big room looked awfully empty.

One day during holidays, I wandered around the grounds to the old carriage house that once stabled the horses and carriages, and was converted into a cottage. I knocked on the door, welcomed by a young, Latino family: mom, dad, and a baby in a tiny cradle, wrapped in warm blankets. The mother let me see her baby, her mother’s soft eyes full of love, sharing her precious child.

To me, the family was magical, like the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Christmas story right next door. I wished they could bring the Christmas spirit to our house.

On the day of Christmas Eve, it so happened there was a Christmas tree lot across the street with a few trees left over. Daddy sweet talked the seller out of the biggest tree on the lot, too big and expensive to sell that late, and they carried it across the street, up the outdoor stairs to the front balcony, and through the French doors. The tree reached to the ceiling.

Somehow Mother found a way to buy yards and yards of red satin ribbon. She stayed up all night with a needle and thread, stitching beautiful red roses to place in the tree.

On Christmas morning, my two brothers and I woke to a splendid sight: the tallest tree ever covered with red roses and tinsel. A Christmas miracle.

The next month, the landlord raised the rent and we had to move. The red roses came with us. Over the years, they’ve decorated many family trees. Now there only a few left intact. But we have not forgotten that amazing tree, or the love of our parents—big enough to fill a mansion.


History of the Wulff House

The Anton Wulff House, located at 107 King William Street in the King William Historic District a half mile from downtown San Antonio, is an Italianate house with a square tower, paired arch windows, and a circular bas-relief in the gable featuring a sculptured bust of Wulff’s daughter Carolina, done by his son Henry. Wulff built this house around 1869 or 1870.

The land was originally part of the grant made to Pedro Huizar in 1793 from the large area farmed by Indians who lived at San Antonio de Valero Mission. Until the San Antonio River was diverted about 1926, it bordered the Wulff property, where a boathouse and bathhouse were situated. Part of the property on the Washington Street side was sold before Wulff died in 1894. His family lived in the house until 1902, when Mrs. Wulff sold it to Arthur and Elise Guenther. In 1950, Elise Guenther’s heirs sold the house to F. G. and Kathryn Antonio. Mrs. Antonio made it into apartments. [This is when my story took place.]

In 1974, the San Antonio Conservation Society undertook a campaign to purchase the Wulff property. The cost of restoration was mostly paid for by a grant from the United States Economic Development Agency. In the fall of 1975, the Wulff house became the headquarters of the San Antonio Conservation Society, and that year the house was included in the King William Historic District. A Texas historic landmark medallion was placed on the house in 1976.

Anton Wulff, Civil War Spy?

In 1861, six men attempted to kidnap Anton Wulff, a German-born merchant in Presidio del Norte, Mexico, whom Lt. Col. John R. Baylor had declared to be a Union spy. The attempt, which failed, resulted in the deaths of two Confederates and one Mexican.

Wulff, born in Hamburg in 1822, settled in San Antonio in 1848. He eventually opened businesses in Fredericksburg, Laredo, Coke County, and Presidio del Norte.

In 1857, possibly because of rising anti-German and pro-secession sentiment in San Antonio, Wulff moved his family and business to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande at Presidio del Norte, where he supplied both United States and Confederate garrisons at Fort Davis with hay and corn. Baylor, commanding the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles at Fort Bliss, called Wulff a spy and ordered that he be enticed into Texas and arrested.

Anton Wulff and his family returned to San Antonio after the Civil War and built his so-called “castle” in 1869.



Story Power by Kate Farrell

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