Woman parts with family home (video)
By BY DIANNA WRAY - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Feb. 19, 2013 at 7:01 p.m.
Updated Feb. 19, 2013 at 8:20 p.m.
EGYPT - Your eyes follow the gentle curve of the road to take in the house.
There it sits on the gentle slope of a hill, gleaming white with black roof and graceful lines, Egypt House, standing as it has for generations.
Lou Anne Kellman tipped her head back, smiling as she took in the beautiful lines of the place. It looked like this when the boards were first hammered into place and painted more than a century ago.
Because of Kellman, it looks like this again. But after generations in the family and years of work restoring the house, Egypt House is for sale.
Kellman, a woman with white hair and glowing skin, stepped out the doorway of her home. After so many years of work, she's ready to move out of Egypt.
"A lot of my childhood fantasies have been realized, but now it's time to move on," she said.
When her ancestors first came to Egypt, it was known as Mercer's Crossing until a drought gripped Texas. Many were starving, but the land along the Colorado River was fertile, and crops continued to grow. The land fed people from all around, and, remembering the rich land of the pharaohs with the Nile running through it, the little Texas town was renamed Egypt.
Here along the river, cotton was grown and the old plantation model of living was used, the labor of slaves employed to get the cotton planted and picked.
William Heard, known in the family today as Uncle Billy, arrived in Egypt in the 1830s with his wife and children, establishing himself as a sugar and cotton planter. He owned slaves, as did many people living and growing cotton along this part of the Colorado River in Wharton County, and eventually he built an elegant house in the center of the community - a white, wood-framed construction with graceful lines settled on a gently sloping hill of smooth green grass. He wrote his mother of the summer and winter dining room he was planning, a house in keeping with the Southern plantation tradition.
A part of Texas history
However the people of Egypt may have been modelling their lives on the South, but they were living in a wilder place.
History streamed around them, pulling and shaping their days, even as it does now.
The people learned of the fall of the Alamo with the alarm that shook many settlers across the country, causing some to pack up and flee when Sam Houston ordered his army to retreat.
Important people, signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence who had been couriers to the Alamo, who held posts in the Texas government, settled in Egypt.
In the days after the Texas Revolution, the first stagecoach line came to town. A few years later, Texas joined the United States. The people of Egypt lived their lives along that river, taking it all in from their corner of the world.
Building a home
In the 1850s, William Heard built the house he'd been planning. It had high ceilings and wide windows designed to allow the wind to cross through the house, cooling the place.
The men of the family worked the land, farming and running cattle to provide for their families. It was one of the big houses in town, one of the big places in the county.
Hard times would come and go for the people, but there never seemed much question that Kellman's ancestors would keep hold of their family land.
Keeping it in the family
Kellman's grandmother inherited the place from her father, and as a child, Kellman would wander through it.
The house wasn't much like its former self. The upstairs had rotted away and finally been pulled off at some point. The family kept hold of the house, but nothing much was done to modernize it.
Running around the place as a child, Kellman could see the bones of its former glory. She would walk along a sidewalk that ran along the side if the house, following its trail.
"A sidewalk to nowhere," she'd think, puzzling over it. She would examine the outer edge of a large square hole where a cellar had once stood, wondering why it was empty, what had happened to it.
Her mother wasn't much for country living, but her father loved Egypt House and insisted they live there when her grandmother died.
Kellman grew up and met her husband, a man from Chicago named Joe, but when they visited her mother, she was still a little girl, imagining this place her ancestors built, trying to squint and see what it must have looked like when it first appeared in the world.
Buying her dream home
When her mother died, Kellman saw her chance. She bought the house from the estate, and she and her husband went to work.
She would make her childhood vision a reality. She would finally see what it had been like, if it could be as beautiful as she'd always imagined.
The builders built the house along the lines of the old one - the same footprint - though not the exact same blueprints, she said.
She modernized some things, adding countless bathrooms for her huge family of children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins for when they would come to stay. The old kitchen had been a tiny space, so small that when her family had gathered there in childhood there wasn't room to actually cook. Kellman solved that, knocking out the walls of the old kitchen to expand the large, high-ceilinged living room she was constructing and adding a small kitchen for entertaining and a larger one updated with all the finest equipment to be had.
The house designs continued from there, growing as her ideas and needs grew.
When the master bedroom proved too close to the living room where people would get so rowdy, she expanded, made the room into a dressing room and put the master bedroom farther away from the noise.
She finished the sidewalk to nowhere and filled the gaping hole that had been a cellar, turning it into a saltwater pool.
When the family grew large enough, she built a guest house to handle any extra friends or relatives during the holidays or the elaborate parties she and her husband would throw.
Along the stairwell, she hung three framed pictures of the house - as it was when first built, as she'd known it as a child and then as she'd made it.
Gleaming white with black shutters, Egypt House sat on the hill sheltered by oak trees, just as it had when Heard had it built. She'd done it.
Much of the original house was gone, but the glass in most of the windows was still the wavy, framed, ancient stuff that generations had peered through. The portico that horse-drawn buggies once pulled to rest beneath was still there, a gentle curve with pillars. On the walls were pictures of her grandparents and great-uncles and the dozens of people who made up her history.
But then she started making other changes to the house. Her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, so the house had to be fitted to allow a wheelchair to move through it; she even installed an elevator.
As his illness grew worse, the dazzling parties they once threw became less frequent, then they came to the house less often. Still, he knew she loved the place. They came back to Egypt House to celebrate his birthday in 2010 and the family was gathered together for the party.
They were there when he died.
It was a jolt. Suddenly, her husband was gone. She put their home in California on the market, not intending to sell but entertaining the idea, and that house sold so quickly she didn't know where to go.
She thought about it.
"I had a dream one night. I thought I heard Joe was telling me, 'Well, I built that house for you in Texas. Now go get in it.'"
After so many years and so much planning, she came home to Egypt House.
Walking through the rooms, she could take in the years of effort and love that had gone into rebuilding the home. It was what she had always imagined, the house she had envisioned as a girl.
But it was quiet at night up on the hill. The wind would rustle the trees and she'd sit in the warm glow of a lamp. The house, with all its rooms, would stretch out around her, so vast one person could never hope to fill it.
She had always pictured growing old in Egypt House and being buried with her people in the little family cemetery just down the road, but now she knew that wasn't the right path.
She treasured all the marriages she's seen here, all the happiness that has been had here, but she knew it was time to let go.
Selling Egypt House may seem like a move that almost defies Texas standards where land is never let out of family hands without a fight, but Kellman has seen where that way of thinking can lead, she said. And she doesn't want that for her family.
Ginny Jackson, a Houston Realtor, is a distant cousin of Kellman's. When Kellman decided to put the house on the market, Jackson agreed to help her sell it.
Jackson came here as a little girl for family parties and watched as Kellman continued to transform the place over the years.
"It's very unusual to see properties of this size on the market," Jackson said. "These kinds of properties usually aren't for sale."
The place designed for entertaining, for huge family gatherings at the holidays and elegant dinner parties doesn't fit her any more.
"It's a life I don't have anymore and don't want," she said. "But I'm excited for the next owners to come in, to see what the next phase of the house's life will be."