2003 Terry Winner - Ace of Clubs House, Texarkana, TX

Ace of Clubs House
420 Pine Street
Texarkana, TX 75501

The Ace of Clubs House belongs to the Texarkana Museums System. Guided tours are given from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, with the last tour starting at 3 p.m. In September 2006, rates for individual tours were $6 (adults), $5 (seniors), $4 (students), and free (for children 4 and under). With notice of at least 24 hours, group tours of 12 or more can be scheduled through Melissa Nesbitt, the Draughon-Moore Collection Curator (mnesbitt@cableone.net). Members of school tours of twelve or more pay $3.50, and members of adult group tours, $4.50. Additionally, the Ace of Clubs House, its lawn, and outbuildings can be rented for weddings, receptions, meetings, photo shoots, and lawn parties. The website lists prices and terms.

OTHER AWARDS: Medallion Home, Texas State Historical Survey Committee; Recorded Texas Historical Landmark, 1965; National Register of Historic Places, 1976. Featured in Clay Lancaster, Architectural Follies in America (Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1960); Texas Highways ; Bob Villa's Home Again ; and HGTV's Christmas Castles .

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE: The floor plan of the Ace of Clubs House supposedly commemorates the winning card in a game that set its builder on the path to fortune. The Italianate two-story brick mansion with a basement, spiral staircase, and twenty-foot tower is unlike any other in Texas. Its octagonal rotunda connects to a rectangular salon and three other octagonal rooms, forming a cloverleaf pattern very like an Ace of Clubs. Architectural historians compare it to such well-known Southern "follies" as Longwood, in Natchez, Mississippi, and San Francisco, near Garyville, Louisiana. However, its eccentricity should not be overstated. Though lavish and ornate by frontier standards, it has always been a viable home. Former inhabitants include important Gilded Age entrepreneurs and professional men who were instrumental in the development of railroads and lumbering in the Ark-La-Tex.

HISTORY OF THE STRUCTURE: James Harris Draughon, the original owner, was born in Tennessee in 1843. He worked as a clerk before the Civil War, enlisted as a Confederate, rose to the rank of lieutenant, and was wounded, captured, and paroled. To avoid further action, Draughon left for Panama in 1864 and traveled to California and Nevada. He clerked in Virginia City, then headed east, where he attended Bacon Commercial College in Cincinnati, Ohio. At war's end, Draughon returned to Tennessee, married Alice Spencer, and opened a general store. However, his exposure to the vibrant commerce of the North and West convinced him that opportunity lay outside the Old South. The couple soon left for the railroad towns, cotton fields, and newly accessible timberlands of the Southwest. In 1870, Draughon moved his business to Forrest City, Arkansas. There, he heard that a town named Texarkana would be built at the junction of the Cairo & Fulton and Texas & Pacific Railroads. Draughon became one of its first merchants. He added a lumber business to his dry-goods store, became Texarkana's second mayor, and for ten years was president of the city's First National Bank. As a Redeemer Democrat with Yankee business habits and a rising status, his courtesy titles inflated from "Captain" to "Colonel." Draughon wanted Texarkana to keep pace with his own expectations of glory and greatness, but many townspeople lacked vision (particularly those who had not traveled outside the South). They had no concept of what he was trying to achieve for their town. Draughon grew so discouraged that he contemplated a move to Kansas, but instead built a mansion to demonstrate what could be accomplished if the people of Texarkana would just raise their sights. Draughon was an prophet of possibilities, and the Ace of Clubs House became his temple of demonstration.


An article in the Daily Texarkana Independent (Jan. 17, 1885) commented on his house plans, calling the Ace of Clubs House: "octagonal, highly ornamental and superbly finished, with 12 rooms and every modern convenience. When completed, it will be the finest private residence in southwest Arkansas and northwest [sic] Texas." A follow-up on July 14, 1885, said Draughon had invested more than $10,000 in the house. Like the building boom in courthouses, railroads, and commercial spaces that was going on at the time, the construction of mansions gave convincing proof that one's town was a modern, progressive city, worth the attention of investors and emigrants. (Draughon owned much real estate whose value would rise if Texarkana's prospects brightened). Instead, two years later, Draughon sold the Ace of Clubs House, and in 1887 liquidated most of his Texas business interests. In 1890, he even resigned the presidency of the bank to concentrate on lumber, moving in 1893 to what is now Draughon, Arkansas, which he founded around a new sawmill. In 1896, Draughon moved to St. Louis to build a commission merchants' firm, then to Oklahoma in 1898 to found the Round Bale Cotton Company that ginned, compressed and shipped cotton from Oklahoma to St. Louis. He later became vice-president of the Cotton Ginners Association and a co-owner of the Shawnee Electric Light and Power Company. Draughon only owned the Ace of Clubs House for two years after building it, but the size, splendor, bravura, and originality of the house reflects his passion, ambition, and multi-faceted spirit.

The second owner, William Lowndes Whitaker, Sr., was less flamboyant, but no less interesting. Whitaker came from one of the richest planter families in antebellum Texas. His father emigrated to the Republic in 1841 and owned 102 slaves in 1860. W. L. Whitaker, Sr., was a teenager when the Emancipation Proclamation blighted his financial prospects, and he soon looked to railroad building and lumbering to repair the family fortunes. Whitaker married the daughter of a railroad promoter and gathered a coterie of relatives and business associates to found the Texarkana & Northern Railway in 1885. Its original purpose was to build about 10 miles of track to access Whitaker's timber holdings between Texarkana and the Red River. Success led to greater ambitions. In 1887, Whitaker bought the Ace of Clubs House, which he and his wife used to impress and entertain railroad executives, including Jay Gould. Whitaker's company expanded in 1889 as the Texarkana & Fort Smith Railway, with authority to build all the way to Fort Smith, Arkansas. The company built ten miles to Ashdown, Ark., in 1889, and six miles to Wilton, Ark., in 1892. Then, its prospects soured. Whitaker built an ambitious bridge over the Red River for the Texarkana & Fort Smith Railroad, but a flood destroyed the bridge immediately after its completion. This crushed the company's finances. Whitaker's fortune collapsed, and he had to surrender assets to creditors to cover debts. Texarkana & Fort Smith Railway tracks were swept into his rival Arthur Stilwell's effort to link Kansas City to the Gulf of Mexico. Stilwell's railroad, the Kansas City, Pittsburgh, & Gulf, absorbed the assets of Whitaker's road and reached Stilwell's namesake terminus, the town of Port Arthur, in 1897. Since Dutch investors provided much of the capital, Stilwell honored towns and resorts on the route with Dutch names, such as Mena, De Queen, Nederland, and the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge. (Stilwell's road was later absorbed by the Kansas City Southern). Rather than stay in Texarkana in reduced circumstances, the Whitakers moved to Alexandria, Louisiana, and later to St. Louis, Missouri, where W. L. Whitaker, Sr., died in 1905.

Meanwhile, Ace of Clubs House was sold in 1894 to a prominent attorney, Henry Moore, Sr., whose family occupied the home more quietly. The Moores added a bathroom and kitchen wing in the early 1900s, and the house became the residence of Henry Moore, Jr., at the time of his marriage in 1920. He & his wife, Olivia Smith of Tyler, Texas, removed the Victorian cast iron porch, added a Spanish Revival porch with awnings, modernized the kitchen with 1920s appliances, and decorated the music room, master bath and master bedroom with an Art Deco flair. Henry Moore, Jr., at one time a president of the Arkansas Bar Association, died in 1942, but his widow Olivia continued to live in the house until her death in 1985. It was she who deeded the home to the Texarkana Historical Society as a house museum to educate people about the gracious lifestyles of past generations.

RESTORATION: The Ace of Clubs House was continuously occupied by well-to-do inhabitants for a century, so it needed little structural repair. The Texarkana Museums System uses the building to teach about local history and decorative arts history, so most of the restoration work consisted of decorative renovations to revive the home's historic character. Work began in 1986, and the house opened to the public in 1988. Specific rooms are filled with objects from a variety of decades for a "walk through history" approach. Therefore, the restoration aims at no particular, over-arching appearance in time, but interprets and explains changes that occurred prior to 1960. Many of the Moores' possessions and personal items lay about to give a lived-in look. Sometimes, the home's original structural features were deliberately not replicated, such as the iron porch and trim which had been gone for almost seventy years. Since the budget could not accommodate a total restoration, awnings were just taken down to expose the Spanish porch added in the 1920s. The mis-match of styles is actually authentic, as it reveals changing tastes within the family over time. Nevertheless, exterior walls and ironwork were repainted in the original colors, and a finial was added to the tower. Landscape consultants developed a plan for the grounds that included new beds, brick walks and stone pathways. Inside, paint and wallpaper treatments received a greater consistency to match the original decor. A custom reproduction of the original wallpaper graces the stairhall, and the stairhall's ebonized & gilt woodwork is repeated in the formal rooms. Lincrusta-Walton sculptured paper appears in the dining room, and the fireplace and mantel sport their original colors. Because the kitchen was redone in the 1920s, it is decorated to that era, while the master bath and dressing room are left in the 1930s style that the Moores favored. Their son's room evokes the 1940s, and the basement recreation room is reminiscent of the 1950s. To fund the restoration, donors adopted rooms and had their names inscribed on brass plaques. The museum system also obtained state and community grants. The total cost of the project was about $169,000. The contents and decor of the Ace of Clubs House are as spectacular as the building. It really is worth seeing. Hats off to the Texarkana Museums System and all those involved in the preservation of this great landmark!

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