By David Lowe
They saw the historic house's potential. Now they are embracing the renovation project.
Longtime Austin residents William and Carriline Bergquist recently bought the Hart House -- a former stagecoach stop and hotel at 511 S. Western Ave. They have begun work to fix the approximately 150-year-old structure, where the couple intend to live when the renovation is complete.
The house was constructed soon after the Civil War, according to a historical marker on the front exterior wall. A Lampasas Record newspaper story in 1973 stated the structure was built by Jim Cook sometime between 1865 and 1868.
The two-room, two-story building served as a stagecoach stop and a hotel, according to the historical marker. The structure was enlarged twice in the 1870s “to board visitors to the local health resort,” the marker states, in a reference to the late 19th century when Lampasas had a number of hotels to house those who came to bathe in the city’s springs. At the time, the mineral waters were believed to have healing properties.
In addition to serving as a hotel, the Hart House also has been used as a tannery, the historical marker states. The building has survived two floods of Sulphur Creek, the marker adds.
Carriline Bergquist has seen other historic documentation from Lampasas resident Jeff Jackson. She also has researched the former owners for whom the house is named.
BACKGROUND OF THE HART HOUSE
Margaret Moore of Lampasas married journalist Louis Hart in 1927, and the couple made their home in Lampasas.
U.S. Census records show that in the 1930s, the couple lived in the house on South Western with their young daughter, Margaret, Bergquist said.
In the late 1930s, Bergquist said, the Harts turned the house into four apartment units. The couple moved to Longview.
After being rented for decades, the Hart House property had a few other owners before the Bergquists closed on their purchase in April of this year.
DH Land Company Broker Terri Harris represented the sellers, Mackey and Brenda Thompson.
“We found it to be a very intriguing property to market,” Harris said. “You could almost feel the history of this building as you walk through it. If the walls could only talk!
“We are so eager to see what the Bergquists have in store for this property,” Harris added, “and the end result, we feel sure, will be a great complement to the city of Lampasas.”
The Bergquists are working with another Lampasas County businesswoman, architect Jennifer Walker of JNW Architects, as they plan renovation of the historic house.
Some work has been done in recent years, but fixing the building to use as a permanent residence will be a long-term project, the Bergquists said.
The Thompsons, who bought the property in 2014, had a new tin roof put on the house. In addition, they hired Ron Ischy Masonry to redo the exterior to prevent leaks.
“It was just falling apart when we got it,” Brenda Thompson said of the house. “We were just trying to save the bones, basically.”
Thompson said she and her husband had hoped to put their offices in the historic building, but they sold their company in 2015 and therefore decided they did not need the Hart House anymore.
Thompson said she is excited for the new owners, who she said have an opportunity to renovate “a wonderful house.”
FEATURES OF THE HISTORIC HOME
Bergquist, who said she and her husband have been interested in old houses for a long time, outlined some of the noteworthy features of the historic building.
She believes a door in the front room, for example, is the original door that led into the stagecoach stop. Although now the main entrance to the house is on the west side, Bergquist said originally, the front entrance was on the east side of the building.
What now is the northwest corner of the house once served as the waiting area for guests at the stagecoach stop, she said. In that part of the building, the ceilings are about 7.5 feet high, whereas upstairs they are 9 feet.
An upstairs fireplace appears to date to the 19th century, the property owner said.
Another unique feature on the second floor is a cabinet -- with glass doors -- made of what used to be a window.
Access to the second floor is via two outdoor stairways on the east side of the house. Jackson -- the Lampasas resident and historian with whom Bergquist has communicated -- has a photo from 1965 that shows wooden stairs on the east side of the house, Bergquist said. At some point after 1970, the stairs were replaced by metal stairways, she said.
Bergquist said she and her husband plan to add stairs inside the house as part of the renovation. They also plan to remove and redo all the plumbing and electrical work, she said.
Bergquist said she believes the floors and some of the windows in the house date to the 1920s.
“We'll be able to keep as many of the floors as we want,” she said, “which is exciting, because any pennies [of savings] are appreciated.”
Bergquist is retired, and her husband works for the Lower Colorado River Authority. The couple have family in Austin and plan to continue living there until they finish renovating the historic house on South Western.
The idea of purchasing the house began as “a whim,” Carriline Bergquist said. Her friend April Garner -- whose husband, Bill, is a contractor -- had seen the Hart House and mentioned it to her. The two couples went to see the house in mid-February -- with a stop at Eve's Cafe planned as part of the trip.
Bergquist said she and her husband enjoyed seeing the features of the historic house but wondered how they would find the right crews to work on it if they bought the property.
Those concerns were allayed that same day when they happened to meet Andy Fish, who is restoring the Keystone Star Hotel on East Second Street. Fish -- whose younger brother went to grade school in Austin with Carriline Bergquist -- gave the visitors a tour of the former hotel and talked about the work that has been done to restore the Lampasas landmark. Knowing they had an acquaintance to refer them to renovation contractors gave the Bergquists confidence as they decided to buy the Hart House, the couple said.
“We have the resources and the benefit of the people [Fish has] worked with before,” William Bergquist said.
Ultimately, the opportunity to own a piece of history was too great to resist, his wife said.
“We just thought, ‘This [property] is never going to come up again,’ ” she said.
HART HOUSE MEMORIES
With the purchase, the historic site is set to get new life.
That prospect has brought back memories for the Eliseo and Josephine Martinez family, who lived in one of the apartment units in the building from 1970-2003.
Josephine Martinez and other members of her family have met the Bergquists and shared details about what the house was like in decades past.
“They were great years,” son Israel Martinez said.
His family had wonderful neighbors who were very friendly, he said.
Martinez said his family lived on the left side of the bottom floor, and another family lived on the right side. Martinez said one of his sisters recalls a woman and her four children living upstairs.
The Busy Bee Laundromat, Goodwill and Napa Auto Parts all were within walking distance, as were the B&D and Piggly Wiggly grocery stores, Martinez recalled.
Fishing in Sulphur Creek, just a couple of blocks away behind a locker plant that used to operate in that part of town, “was so much fun," Martinez said.
“The skating rink was behind our home,” he said. “Terry Lynn sewing factory was also behind our home.”
In addition, a Montgomery Ward office was on the back corner.
Martinez also recalled the tall Wieser Feed Mill building and Brown Feed Store, which he said “was so great for selling pecans, and still is great!”
Inside the Hart House, Martinez recalled the big rooms, long hallways, three outdoor staircases -- including one on the west side that branched to the left and right -- and many bedroom windows.
Martinez said he loved the French doors between the dining room and the living room, as well as the built-in cabinets and shelves.
“Also, the thick walls were great in the summer and the winter to keep us cool and warm," he said. “Upstairs had so much old furniture and one signed picture of Audie Murphy, but we believe that picture was stolen back in the ’70s.”
One time in the 1980s, the family’s refrigerator broke, so Israel Martinez and his father went upstairs and brought down a 1940s or 1950s-era unit to use until the family got a new refrigerator.
“It wasn’t quite as cold, but it was cool enough,” he said.
The property on South Western had some changes in the time the Martinez family lived there, he said.
There once was a four-car wooden garage by the side of the house next to the county jail, he said. The building had a huge sliding door, and one of the garage slots stored many old antique stoves “and other intriguing metal, ornate shelves, and old bed frames,” Martinez said.
The garage eventually was bulldozed due to safety concerns, said the former resident of the house.
Martinez said he liked the approximately one-foot-tall concrete wall that went along Western from the corner of the old white barn to the stop sign on East Fifth Street. When Western was widened many years ago, the city knocked down the short concrete wall, he said. A retention wall -- about two feet tall -- still is visible on the Fifth Street side of the Hart House property, however.
As the Bergquists work to renovate the house, the former resident said he hopes to see the outside staircases rebuilt.
PROMISE OF SMALL-TOWN LIFE
While the new owners said they plan to keep the historic character of the house, Carriline Bergquist emphasized that the work is a renovation, not a historic restoration.
Bergquist has reviewed fire insurance records from 1885, as well as from other years between then and 1912. Those records, she said, include drawn aerial views that tell what parts of the house were constructed of stone, what parts were made of wood and what the roof materials were.
Nevertheless, Bergquist said she and her husband do not know exactly what the house looked like before the 1920s.
As a result, the couple plan to enhance many of the unique features of the historic house, while adding their own touches.
“We want it to be comfortable and have modern functionality," Carriline Bergquist said.
Her husband joked that they will have their friends the Garners either to praise or to blame -- depending on how the renovation goes.
A long list of to-do items awaits, but for now the Bergquists are enjoying their property near the downtown square, visiting Lampasas as often as possible and planning to retire one day to their renovated house on Western.
About a 25-minute drive from here, in the Burnet County community of Joppa, is Carriline Bergquist's parents' ranch -- which includes an 1850s stone house that ranch visitors still use.
The quiet on the ranch and in Lampasas is one thing the Bergquists appreciate. They grew up in Austin, and Carriline Bergquist said decades ago, it seemed like a small city. With explosive growth, that feeling is gone, but the couple's future home offers great promise of small-town life, she said.
“We love Lampasas," she said.