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Fulton Mansion restoration aims for education

By IAN TERRY
March 20, 2014 at 10:05 p.m.
Updated March 22, 2014 at 10:23 p.m.

Scaffolding surrounds the historic Fulton Mansion as part of a restoration projection of the home in Rockport.

ROCKPORT - As a Philadelphia native, entrepreneur George W. Fulton naturally incorporated a basement when constructing his dream home in Rockport in 1874 with his wife, Harriet.

The moist breeze blowing off Aransas Bay may have provided respite for the couple on smoldering summer days, but it's a challenge now for crews faced with restoring the continuously damp downstairs rooms as part of a full restoration of the old Second Empire-style house.

Overseeing the $3.4 million project is Fulton Mansion State Historical Site manager Marsha Hendrix, of Rockport.

"Structurally, a lot of it was starting to fail," Hendrix said on what prompted the restoration, which broke ground in June 2013 and has a completion goal of early 2015.

Humidity isn't the only problem workers are facing now, though. Hendrix lists leaks, broken tiles and a severe termite infestation among other complications.

"We had [invasive] Formosan termites eat through much of the old wood," Hendrix said.

Handling the material problems that pop up during the restoration is easy, though, in comparison to deciding which antiquated pieces to preserve and which to replace.

"The issue is ... do we go and replace every chipped and every cracked tile? Or just the really bad ones?" Hendrix said.

It's a fine balance that Hendrix, along with a team of architects, is trying to get right in order to best preserve Fulton's story.

The man was a key figure in the Coastal Bend region's high point of trade and commerce in the mid-1870s and amassed his wealth by shipping cattle tallow to and from New Orleans.

Fulton's knack for innovation - America's first-ever refrigerated slaughterhouse was built in Rockport - was apparent throughout his mansion, with luxuries such as central heating, indoor plumbing and gas lighting.

Facts like this are taught to local students who frequent the mansion for educational programs.

Hendrix cites education as the ultimate goal of the Fulton Mansion State Historic Site, and though it's closed during renovation, the adjacent Education and History Center will remain open.

"One of the things I like to say is it's not just a pretty house," Hendrix said, "It's a learning tool."

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