Polley Mansion Timeline
Construction began on the Polley Mansion after Joseph Henry Polley purchased the land on the Cibolo Creek from his son-in-law, John James, in what was then Guadalupe County, Texas (now Wilson Co.). At the time, there were no other settlers in the vicinity, but that quickly changed . The large Polley family, with 8 children (one having passed away in the Brazoria district at age 5, and two yet to be born in 1848 and 1851) built a "stake house" to live in while the larger family home was being built.
One week after the birth of Polley son, Jonathan James, the first tragedy occurred at the new home site when Polley daughter Emeline Elizabeth Polley James died during childbirth at the age of 17. Her child, Emeline Elizabeth James, survived for a year and a half, but then also died. The Polley family cemetery was created as the final resting place for these beloved family members.
Construction on the Polley home was completed around 1850-1851 and the family was able to live in the main house.
Description of the Polley Mansion
(Taken from material distributed by the Linne family when they would offer visitations of the Polley Mansion)
The house is a substantial two story home, built from hard stone quarried at a point about three miles distant, and transported by ox-drawn wagons driven by slaves, to the building site. The wagons used the "Old Indian Crossing" over Cibolo Creek. The interior as well as the exterior walls are of solid stone, eighteen inches thick.
The home was heated by six open-pit fireplaces. The woodwork was constructed from cypress timber hauled in ox-drawn wagons from sawmills in the vicinity of Bandera (roughly 90 miles away). There are eight rooms in the building, averaging about 16 x 17 feet, with two large halls running the full length of the house (30 x 12 feet in size). The rafters supporting the timbers are partly tied together with wooden pins, nails being used in some places. The rafters are 5 x 7 inches, and the joists are 2 x 12 inches, all from the finest cypress timber. Across the front of the house and extending the full width are porches, 10 x 51 feet, on both the first and second floors.
The windows, shutters, and doors were manufactured in New York, transported by water to Indianola, and thence by ox-drawn wagon to the building site. A lovely rosewood piano with mother of pearl keys, the carpets and other household furniture were secured in a similar manner.
The lime used to make the mortar was burnt from mussel shells gathered at the bed of the Cibolo Creek. One story told about the construction of the house is that the mason who contracted to build the chimneys stipulated that he was to receive a jug of whiskey each Saturday in addition to the cost of the work. On one Saturday, for some reason, Mr. Polley failed to provide the jug of whiskey. In retaliation, the other mason partially clogged up one of the chimneys with debris such as chunks of mortar and stone. Of course, ever afterwards this particular chimney smoked when a fire was built. Many years later, when the chimneys were inspected and cleaned, the debris was discovered and removed, and from then on the chimney worked perfectly.
Rooms in the house were named "Green Room," "Pink Room," "Star Room," "Blue Room," the bridal chamber and "Tan Room." Mr. Polley called the house "Whitehall," after his hometown in New York state (this was also the name he gave to his home on the Brazos River in Brazoria County).
The lawn was sodded with Bermuda grass, and shade trees and shrubs were planted. Two of the old Post Oak tress still survive.
In the rear of the main house, twenty-five feet back from the right side is the old kitchen. It was connected with the house by a lattice-enclosed room, which was used as a summer dining room, and in which the cowboys were fed. The kitchen was an extremely well built single room log cabin made of hand-hewn post oak logs. Cooking was done on a large open fireplace. A cotton gin, quarters for the slaves, barns and corrals, were constructed adjacent to the house. All of these improvements, with the exception of the kitchen, has disappeared. On the north side of the house, a huge stone-lined, underground cistern for drinking water was built. This cistern is still in good condition, but it is not used. The original stone-walled well, located in a small ravine, about 75 yards in the rear of the house was still in use in the later half of the 20th Century, a wind mill having been erected over it. In season, it was the job of the pickaninnies to water Mrs. Polley's flowers from this old well.
Prior to the Civil War, Joseph H. Polley had accumulated a vast holding of land and cattle. The 1860 Census records Joseph Henry Polley as possessing $70,000 in real estate assets and $65,351 in personal estate. In 1859 & 1860, he owned 150,000 head of cattle, more than any man in Texas with the exception of the King Ranch. His holdings were scattered from Fort Bend County to Marble Falls, from Corpus Christi to Austin and south to the Rio Grande. In 1859 and 1860, 3,500 calves were branded in Guadalupe County alone. During the previous year, the same number had been branded in Bexar County. The total for one season was 10,000 head. Polley's brand was "J-P".
Depredations of the Mexicans alone caused a loss of 16,000 head from the Polley herds. The losses from the Comanche depredations must have also been enormous.
At the time the house was built, and for many years thereafter, Indians were active in the vicinity. After a school was started, fear of the Indians interfered greatly with the children's attendance. It was particularly unsafe to let them go to school in foggy weather. On one occasion, two slaves driving a wagon were attacked by Indians. One of them was lassoed and captured, and was never heard from again.
But not all was so dire. The Polley home was known as a place of large gatherings and great joy. Mrs. Polley was a wonderful woman, gifted with unbounded energy, of small stature, with a lively disposition, and never showing anger. She was the first one up in t he morning and the last one to bed at night. The supervision of the dairy, the management of the housekeeping, overseeing of the cooking for a large family, and in season, of a hoard of hungry cowboys, the rearing of nine children, besides entertaining a constant stream of visitors, made her days full, indeed.
She was probably the first woman in South Texas to own a sewing machine and an iron cooking stove. In contrast to the daily marketing of the average housewife today, it is said that the Polley family only purchased groceries twice a year. They were procured at Indianola (roughly 120 miles away), and transported over land by ox-drawn wagon. As was the general rule in Texas up until the Civil War, flour was scarce, and hot biscuits were a Sunday morning treat. Mrs. Polley excelled in preserving fruit, and was famous for her brandied peaches and cream, buttermilk, biscuits, baked hams, fried chicken, and game dinners.
(For an interesting side note, the Cart Wars, is an interesting story in Texas history that involves the transport of supplies from Indianola up through the San Antonio area. Click here to learn more.)
Mr. Polley owned and killed many hogs for his own use. Mrs. Golson (a grand-daughter of Joseph H. Polley) says that as many as fifty would be shot at one time. Hog killing time was a really big event at the Polley Mansion.
Both Joseph Henry and Mary Bailey Polley were well known for their hospitality, and their home was a mecca for the young people for miles around. House parties, dances, and all other forms of entertainment were frequent until the Civil War came.
One of the darkest chapters in American history, was also a dark chapter at the Polley Mansion. Joseph Polley was a slave holder with 19 slaves recorded on the 1860 Census Slave Schedule just before the outbreak of the Civil War. Joseph Henry Polley was recorded as being a reluctant supporter of the Confederacy, as he, and many Southern men did not wish to see the country brought to war.
Two Polley sons joined the war effort for the Confederacy.
Joseph Benjamin Polley became a Corporal in Company F of the 4th Texas Infantry which fought under Colonel John Bell Hood and General Robert E. Lee. The 4th Texas Infantry fought in many battles, including Gaines Mill, Second Manassas, Antietam, and Gettysburg, among others. At the time of surrender, the 4th Texas Infantry had suffered severe losses. As Jeffrey William Hunt states in the Handbook of Texas, "Despite such heavy losses, or perhaps because of them, the Fourth Texas Infantry and its parent Texas Brigade won a reputation as one of the hardest fighting and most reliable units in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia." Joseph Benjamin Polley served in most of the hard fighting campaigns in Virginia until he was severely wounded, losing a leg in 1864.
Joseph Benjamin Polley would later go on to write Hood's Texas Brigade, published in 1910, which is one of the definitive accounts of the Texan fighters under John Bell Hood. He also wrote A Soldier's Letters to Charming Nellie, published in 1908, which is a compilation of his letters home from the front. A modern publishing of the same title, with annotations by Prof. Richard B. McCaslin offers greater context and insight into the letters.
Abner Hubbard Polley served as a private with the 33rd Texas Cavalry. The 33rd Texas Cavalry, also known as Duff's Partisan Rangers, was organized in April 1863 (when 'Hub' was 17 years old), and was responsible for patrolling the Rio Grande valley and defending against raiding bandits and unionists from Mexico. As the war went on, the 33rd Texas Cavalry also went north, helping to escort federal prisoners to Camp Ford, in Tyler, Texas.
The Polley Family also had sons-in-law who fought, including:
C. F. Henderson, husband to Susan Rebecca Polley, who fought alongside Joseph Benjamin Polley in the 4th Texas Infantry, dying in the Battle of Gaines Mill. He was buried at the site of battle. He left Susan with two daughters, Mary Bailey who would die at age 4 (Polley Family Cemetery), and Connally Finley who was named after her father, and born 4 months after his death in battle.
Dr. David H. Houston was a courtier of Harriet Roxanna Polley during the War. He went to study medicine in his family's home state of Alabama. When the war broke out, he was recruited and acted as an assistant surgeon in the 9th Alabama Infantry, which was active in the campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Another interesting tale from this period is that Robert E. Lee wrote his last letter from Texas while visiting the Polley Mansion in 1861. This is even marked on the historical marker affixed to the house.
Robert E. Lee was stationed with the Second Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army in San Antionio, Texas in 1856. They were charged with keeping the frontier border secure. In late 1857, he returned to Washington D. C. to administer the estate of his father-in-law, George Washington Custis. While there, he commanded a detachment of Marines which captured the violent abolitionist John Brown. In February of 1860, Lee returned to his post in Texas. He was recalled home by General Winfield Scott in February of 1861, as Texas seceded and Lee was supposed to assume command of Union forces. Through much turmoil, Lee chose another path, but none the less, he left San Antonio, Texas in February of 1861. The first stagecoach stop from San Antonio would have been near the Polley Mansion. So, while we do not have definitive proof of Lee's time at the Polley Mansion, or the depth of his relationship with the Polley family, if any, we do like to keep this story alive, in case we come across evidence someday.
After the Civil War, the family was financially ruined. Joseph H. Polley received a pardon from President Andrew Johnson, but he was unable to recover the family's fortunes before his death on March 28, 1869.
Joseph Henry Polley is buried in the Polley Cemetery on FM 539 in Wilson County, Texas. Affixed to the headstone he shares with his wife, Mary, are three impressive medallions: 'Citizen of the Republic of Texas,' 'Austin's Old 300,' and 'War of 1812.' At the foot of Joseph's grave is a veteran's stone with the words, "Teamster Capt. Brown's Co. War of 1812."
The family suffered further loss when daughter Sarah Adel died on May 22, 1969, at the age of 32. Sarah is also buried in the Polley Cemetery.
Mary Augusta Bailey Polley ran a boarding house in the mansion after the death of her husband, catering to the many visitors of the nearby Sutherland Springs.
Three grandchildren and one great grandchild of Joseph Henry and Mary Bailey Polley also died in this time period and were buried in the Polley Cemetery.
1870 Edith Houston, daughter of Dr. David and Harriet Roxanna Polley Houston, age 2 ½.
1875 Joseph Henry Polley II, son of Joseph Egbert Polley II and Julietta Grayson Polley, infant.
1877 George Smith Houston, son of Dr. David and Harriet Roxanna Polley Houston, age 4.
1878 Susan Fletcher Brooks, daughter of J. D. and Susan Rebecca Polley Henderson Brooks, age 1 ½.
This was a time of hardship for the Polley family at the Polley mansion, but it was also a time that the Polley children were growing their own families and making names for themselves away from the Mansion.
Mary Augusta Bailey Polley died on January 21, 1888. She was interred next to her husband in the Polley Cemetery on FM 539 in Wilson County, Texas.
Following the death of the family matriarch, the Polley Mansion passed into the hands of the Polley sons, none of whom wished to live in the home. Abner Hubbard Polley was recorded as suggesting that the home may have been inhabited by spirits, but there is no other supporting evidence of other-worldly inhabitants.
In 1904, the Polley sons sold the Mansion to Lou Rinda Polley.
in 1907, the Mansion was sold to Wilson Country Commissioner, E. W. BIllings.
In 1917, the Mansion was sold to Charles Moehrig.
In 1922 the Mansion was sold to Judge C. A. Goeth. Some renovations were undertaken during his ownership.
In the 1930's, the Works Progress Administration, one of the New Deal programs during the Great Depression, sent men out to survey and record information about historic homes around the country. The Polley Mansion was one of the homes that was chosen for the project (which has surveyed over 38,600 structures to date). On April 28, 1936, Photographer Arthur W. Stewart took photographs of the home's exterior and the cook house exterior. On May 5, 1936, measurements were taken, and on May 25, 1936, drawings were created from those measurements. All of these photos and documents are held with the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS (Historic American Buildings Survey), and can be found online at https://www.loc.gov/item/tx0235/
April 28, 1936 Photographs by Arthur W. Stewart (WPA)
(click on the side arrows to scroll through 8 photos)
May 25, 1936 Drawings (WPA)
(click on the side arrows to scroll through 8 photos)
The house was bought by Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Linne, who undertook extensive efforts to improve the home. They made the Polley Mansion a very comfortable place to live for many years. The Linne's were a gracious couple, often opening the historic home to visitors and family. Many people who visited the home during this period, remember their time there fondly.
In 1955, the L.H.&S.A. Olson Drilling Co. of Midland leased acreage from merchant Oscar W. Linne that had been part of the Old Polley Plantation. The company found oil on April 1, 1955, on what would be named Linne Poth A Sand Field. The discovery dwarfed other finds in the area. By the next year, the company completed over 30 wells in the field that yielded high quality oil. The Linne oil discovery had a profound impact on the economy of Wilson County. Although dating later than most major oil finds in Texas, this one still led to a similar economic boom for the discovery area. The county's population grew as businessmen flooded in and discovered additional fields. More importantly, the impact was long-lasting. From 1967 to 1968, Linne Field produced another 25 wells as the oil industry continued to grow. Additionally, O.W. Linne Well No. 1 was still producing over 50 years after its initial founding, and the field has supplied millions of barrels of oil over the years, continuing to be an important source of tax revenue for Wilson County. (Uncovered Texas, 2006)
The Polley Mansion was granted a State of Texas Historic Marker in the first year of the marker program. The text of the marker, as recorded by the Texas Historical Commission, reads, "Built by Joseph Polley (1795-1869), one of "Old 300" settlers of Stephen F. Austin, and the first Austin colony sheriff. From Fort Bend and Austin counties, he at last settled here, where he had cattle herds called largest in Texas. In 1847-51 he built this stone mansion, with framing of Bandera Cypress, and cabinet work shipped by sea from New York. This was area social center. From here house guest Robert E. Lee wrote his last Texas letter. Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1962"
The current text of the marker hanging on the home reads, "White Hall", Built 1847-1851 by Joseph H, Polley, first sheriff in Austin's Colony, detailed in 1836 to guard "Runaway Scrape", exodus of settlers fleeing Santa Anna. Cabinet work came by sea from New York. Bandera cypress framing. House guest Robt. E. Lee wrote his last Texas letter from here. Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1965"
An application for the marker can be found HERE, in the Texas Historical Commission's Portal to Texas History.
Oscar Linne passed away in 1988, followed by his wife in 1990. The Linne's had no children, so the home passed to their nephews, who then sold the home to Buddy Hemby and Steve Keeland, local real estate professionals.
The Polley Mansion was bought by Mr. and Mrs. Mark Collins.
The Polley family cemetery, across FM 539 from the Polley Mansion, has remained in the hands of the Polley family descendants, and not transferred ownership with the mansion over the years. However, by the 2000's the cemetery was in disrepair. With a tremendous effort by Shirley and John Grammer, the cemetery was cleared, and restored in 2003-4. In 2005, the Texas Historical Commission approved a historical marker for the site, and donations from Polley descendants helped to pay for the marker, which was erected in 2006. A flag pole was erected, and flags were donated by Mary Featherston of Waco and Glenna Hamley of Georgetown, great granddaughters of Joseph and Mary Polley. The Texas flag flew over the Alamo on the evening of May 1, 2004.
On May 6, 2006, Polley descendants gathered in La Vernia at the Immanuel Lutheran Church for the dedication of the cemetery (due to inclement weather the event could not be held at the cemetery). Over 100 people attended the dedication.
In May 2008, Polley descendants and friends gathered for a reunion in Wilson County. At this time, Joseph Polley Paine, a descendant of Joseph Henry and Mary Bailey Polley, was interred in the cemetery.
In 2011, Claudia and Gary Goldman donated a new 'Polley Cemetery' sign that Claudia made in her metal shop. In January 2012, a new fence project was started for the cemetery. Edward Uhlig took down the old fence and readied the ground for a new one. Keith Johnson, John Grammer, and their oil field friends donated pipe for the fence. Eric Fryer helped with the welding. The Wilson County Restitution Department provided labor. Monetary donations were made by Polley descendants and friends of the Polley Association. Dr. Barry VanWinkle of Townsend, Tennessee, a collector of Polley letters, who heard about the project sent a donation to help out as well.
Polley descendants and friends continue to pay dues of $25 per year to keep the cemetery looking beautiful. Lupe Campos of La Vernia, Texas is in charge of the mowing and trimming, and does a great job.
In late 2015, the Polley Mansion was sold to Keith and Robin Muschalek. After two and a half decades of neglect, the Mansion was in a very poor state. The property was covered with trash and junk and the home was facing total ruin. The Muschalek's have undertaken a grand restoration of the home. By mid 2016, the property has been cleaned up, a new roof placed on the Mansion, the front porch has been secured, the chimneys have been protected against weather, the 1940's addition on the back of the home was taken down, the property has been graded, drainage leading to the original cistern re-installed, power restored, and more. The Muschalek's aim to restore the home to its former glory, staying true to as much original detail as possible.
To follow along with the updates to the Mansion as they happen, you can follow the Facebook page that is updated by the Muschalek's with photos from current projects.
The Friends of Polley Mansion is a non-profit 501(c)3 set up to take donations for the restoration costs. All donations will be put toward the materials, supplies, and labor required to bring the Polley Mansion back to life. Donations of all sizes are greatly appreciated.
On February 28, 2016, the Polley Mansion was added to Preservation Texas' Most Endangered Places List. Preservation Texas is a statewide organization that aims to protect and promote historic structures in the state. It is an honor for the Polley Mansion to be recognized as an important structure in the history of the state of Texas.