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History lives in Berclair Mansion

By chirst
Aug. 24, 2013 at 3:24 a.m.
Updated Aug. 26, 2013 at 3:26 a.m.

The Berclair Mansion in Berclair was built in 1936 by widow Etta Wilkinson Terrell, who was 75 at the time. She lived in the 22-room, 10,000-square-foot home with her four sisters. The home is built of steel.

BERCLAIR - When Kay Mix was a little girl, she delivered groceries to the five sisters who lived in the Berclair Mansion.

The sisters were a mystery, giving her cookies and a drink when she came by but not opening up about their lives.

"You know them as a child, and from your child eyes, you respect them. You visit with them, but you don't visit with them in the same way an adult would," Mix said.

But now, as a member of the Beeville Art Association, which owns the house and all its contents, she said she knows the deceased sisters like never before.

When Etta Terrell was a young woman, the wooden home she was raised in burned to the ground.

So Terrell promised herself she would build a fireproof home in the same spot.

And at 75, after her husband died, she did.

The Berclair Mansion, completed in 1936, was a 10,000-square-foot home built from 60 tons of steel and cement.

Mrs. Etta, as Nancy O'Neal, president of the Beeville Art Association calls her, lived in the home with her four elderly sisters - Bertha Jane Wilkinson, Loreine Wilkinson, Carlyle Wilkinson and Regina New.

The sisters occupied the 22-room house and quickly filled it with endless treasures - a mirror from Napoleon Bonaparte's family, a lost painting from Europe, vases from Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, beds belonging to European princesses and more.

And after they had all passed away, the relatives donated the home and all its contents to the Beeville Art Association.

O'Neal, a former eighth-grade history teacher and an expert on the sisters and their families, couldn't be happier.

Mrs. Etta and her sisters have become like family, O'Neal said, as she combed through the journals and the meticulous records the sisters left behind.

"It's one of the reasons I do this, one of the reasons I haven't gone back to teaching," O'Neal said.

Mix agreed, saying she has built a connection with the sisters she did not have while they were living.

"It is just like home. When I walk in, everybody thinks it is unusual, but I walk in, and I talk to them. I say 'Kay is here again to pester y'all.' or 'We are here to give tours.' As I go through the house, I talk to them. That may sound strange, but I do. When I leave, I tell them goodbye or good night," Mix said, laughing.



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