Texarkana, U.S.A. – Sunday, November 24, 2013
Downtown treasure holds an important position at heart of city’s history
By: Aaron Brand
A “wow” moment. That’s what people feel when they step inside the oddly-shaped Draughon-Moore Ace of Clubs House in downtown Texarkana.
True to its name, this Victorian-era home is shaped like a club with three octagonal wings and one rectangular wing. Though paint may peel outside, seeing the interior offers a true perspective on the full measure of this home’s beauty.
For now, the Ace of Clubs has two stories to tell: one about the necessity for repairs and upkeep, another about Texarkana heritage and the home’s utter uniqueness.
When you open the front door and step inside, you’re greeted by a hallway and grand stairwell leading to the second floor. The Italianate home was built in 1885, making it one of the oldest buildings in Texarkana, right in the heart of the original city.
It is truly one of a kind and a home that landed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also a living, breathing Texarkana history lesson.
Looking up after you pass a quaint parlor to the left and a cozy music room to the right and then step into the rotunda area, a cupola hovers 46 feet above, appearing up high with a purplish-pinkish sort of glow when the right angle of sunlight falls through the windows. At that moment, you’re standing in the stair hall, the home’s focal point.
Right now, that hallway owns the festive feel of Christmas, a tree towering beside the stairs. A photo of the Moore family’s Christmas tree is displayed nearby.
For people like Melissa Nesbitt, the Ace of Clubs House curator, and Jamie Simmons, curator for the Texarkana Museums System, the home is an absolute treasure. They’re among the home’s caretakers and, with the Ace of Clubs’ future uncertain, they’re concerned about its welfare.
Nesbitt’s the one who guides tours through the home, offering historical insights and asides as she steers visitors through a succession of rooms. As such, she’s keen to share aspects of the unique Ace of Clubs architecture.
The cupola would have provided the original air conditioning for the home, Nesbitt explains. “Basically what they would do would be to go out onto the second story balconies, climb up on to the roof, open those windows up,” she said, “and when they did that it created an updraft.”
The basement is surrounded by a dry moat, there to help circulate cool air. “The shape of the house actually helps to draw a breeze around as well,” Nesbitt said. She says there are about 76 double-hung windows. The home, thus, possesses built-in natural cross-breezes.
“Of course, for the 1880s that was about all you could rely on,” the curator said.
The stair hall tells another important story, too. “In 1901 the Moores did a huge remodel on the home, and they basically added two wings to the house,” Nesbitt explained. Such additions included modern conveniences like steam heat, running water and electricity.
They also updated the entryway to the way it appears now, changing the lower portion of the staircase to offer a more breathtaking sight. They turned it to face the entrance, Nesbitt believes.
“When you came in this door, it just gave you a ‘wow’ factor, I’m sure, even at that time,” she said. It was obviously a home for prominent, successful people, a reality emphasized by this entryway. Impressive columns, adorned with several fleur de lis, greet visitors in the initial entryway—another part of the remodeling job.
“As I always tell people on my tours, you’re seeing the house going through transitions during its lifetime,” Nesbitt said. “It was occupied for 100 years, and 91 of those years were by the Moore family, three generations of them.”
The parlor nearby is a good chance to show off one of the tambour doors, which can be pulled down just like a rolltop desk.
The music room features a Steinway piano—purchased in 1902. The room also showcases one of the house’s most unusual aspects, an octagonal motif.
“I always love afternoon tours because you get the full effect of the octagonal wings with all the windows,” Nesbitt said as sunlight streamed into the room from all angles. “And then there’s the chandeliers. The chandeliers were original to Miss Olivia (Moore).”
Miss Olivia was the longtime matron of the home who amassed an astounding collection of roughly 500 pairs of shoes, most of them from Neiman Marcus. Her second-floor bedroom is where many of them remain for display, totems to her fantastic fashion sense.
Back downstairs, the music room has a chandelier matching the parlor. Originally they were gas lights. “I can just imagine how gorgeous these were when they were fully polished and with gas flame flickering off of all this crystal,” Nesbitt said.
Adjacent to the music room is a place with a more masculine air, judging by a mustachioed man’s portraits hanging on the walls.
“This is one of my favorite rooms because it is dedicated to the man who started it all, James Harris Draughon,” Nesbitt said, explaining that Draughon, involved in the timber business, came to Texarkana when the city was founded in 1873.
Texarkana was a place he made money, lots of it. “His obituary makes the claim that he owned about 25 percent of the wealth here while he lived here,” said Nesbitt.
Draughon’s story, of course, brings up the Ace of Clubs House’s most intriguing legend, that money used to build the home originated from winning a card game with an ace of clubs as the lucky card.
“That is said to be why he built it in the shape that it is. It makes a wonderful story,” Nesbitt said. But the veracity of the story is unclear, she admits. What is clear is that Draughon was a wealthy businessman, someone who went through at least $85,000 the year the home was built, Nesbitt said.
Toward the back of the home, between a stately dining room and the kitchen, sits what many of us would call an ice box. In reality, it’s a large, custom-built refrigerator manufactured in Ohio. Because of the built-in delivery door, the “ice man” didn’t need to come inside to deposit those blocks.
“I have seen magazine ads from the early 1900s that dub this the jealous husband door,” Nesbitt said. Built into the kitchen wall around the corner, another anomaly is the ironing board with a sleeve board, one of the many particularities of the home that make it so fascinating.
The dining room, the home’s only rectangular room and part of the stem of the club, is where prominent guests like railroad baron Jay Gould dined, Nesbitt explains. Learning about him offers an insight into local history, so indelibly marked by the railroad industry’s rise. And a photo displayed here provides a glimpse of how the dining room—and a housekeeper named Bessie—appeared so many years ago.
Bedrooms are the big draw upstairs, including the childhood bedroom of Henry Moore III, whose Texas High band jacket, Hardy Boys books (first editions) and games like Flying Aces and Magnetic Minesweeper all recall a specific, bygone day, giving this museum a personal touch that adds depth to the experience of touring this home.
Of course, those 500-some pairs of shoes owned by Miss Olivia also lend a personal touch. They’re arranged all over her bedroom, private bathroom, cedar-lined closet and Art Deco dressing room. A formal portrait of her lends her a serious, perhaps even stern, countenance.
Of Olivia Moore, Nesbitt said, “She was a very businesslike lady when it came down to business. But when she was with her friends and family, she loved to laugh, she loved to have a good time, she loved to entertain, she doted on her grandchildren, absolutely.”
Nesbitt’s enjoyed touring historic homes her whole life. She’s been to Biltmore, plantation homes near New Orleans and other spectacular places. She says as far as they know, the Ace of Clubs is the only house built in the shape of club like it is.
Original furniture, letters, photographs and more tell the history of the home. It leads Nesbitt to call the Ace of Clubs a “world-class place” right here in Texarkana, a home that amazes people from all over the world when they visit. She’s been with the TMS for over 18 years.
“Just recently I had some folks that told me pretty much the same thing. They said, ‘Oh we’ve been to Biltmore and this place is every bit as awesome as Biltmore because it’s unique.’ You’re not going to find another house like this anywhere,” she said.
Said Simmons, “And we’ve looked.” She describes it as an asset specific to Texarkana. It’s also part of a larger collection of important historic sites downtown.
“There are very few sites this old left anywhere in Texarkana but specifically downtown,” Simmons said. The Ace of Clubs, along with sites like the Museum of Regional History, hail from Texarkana’s boom period during its first couple of decades. It was a time when Texarkana was advertised overseas as a place to do business.
“This is the oldest house in the original city,” Nesbitt said.
Simmons put it this way: “To lose that footprint, we just completely lose that part of our history.” It’s where Texarkana’s character remains, she says.
They say it’s important that the Ace of Clubs survives without falling by the wayside.
“Ideally I would say I’d like to be sharing it and preserving it as a historic site, but at the same time I want us to be able to share the property with the community and (with) whatever it takes for us to be able to do that. The important thing is we preserve it,” Simmons said.
Nesbitt would love for a benefactor to appear out of nowhere. Or, suggests Simmons, a grass-roots effort.
The estimated cost to repair the house properly is $100,000. Leaks, broken windows and peeling paint are among the problems the historic home faces.
The Texarkana Hospitality Network gave $500 to the Ace of Clubs recently. Nesbitt said the Lone Star Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution will sponsor the Ace of Clubs for a historic preservation grant application, and the THN donation will assist in matching funds for that grant.
Still, there’s much to be done to right the Ace of Clubs.
Want to discover—or rediscover—the Ace of Clubs? Tuesday through Friday tours are scheduled by appointment only. On Saturdays, tours are scheduled for 10:15 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Tours last roughly an hour and 15 minutes. This coming week the Ace of Clubs House will be closed, except for Saturday.
To schedule a tour, call 903-793-4831 and ask for Melissa Nesbitt, or email email@example.com. Only guided tours are available. For groups of 12 or more, call to make a reservation.
(On the Net: TexarkanaMuseums.org.)