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Williford House ~ Fairfield, Texas

May 17, 2010

(NOTE:  Little did I know when I did this painting – or when I wrote the article below – that this old house had become such a landmark for so many people.  Read the article, then be sure to scroll down and read the comments.  Sadly, I received several notes in August, 2011 that this venerable old place had finally fallen victim to the bulldozer.)

*     *     *

On one of our recent trips between Dallas and Houston, we stopped in the town of Fairfield to grab something to eat.  This old house sat somewhat hidden behind the Dairy Queen next door.  Captivated, I grabbed my camera, walked over, and took a few shots.

My initial information indicated the house was built by Carl Neil Williford in 1912.  An email received in November 2010 states that the house was built by Carl’s father E. E. Williford (1860-1956) and his wife Binnie Eubanks Williford (1871-1925).  Sitting near the intersection of Interstate 45 and Highway 84, it has apparently sat vacant for the last twenty years or so, partially hidden behind the Dairy Queen.  A relative of the present owner says she attended a slumber party there in the 1960’s and there were tales of ghosts even then.  It has been gutted, very obviously vandalized, burned, and is posted with No Trespassing signs today.

I wanted to leave it some semblance of dignity, so I was kind to this old house in my painting.  I couldn’t bring myself to paint it the way it actually looked.  Parts of the original house are missing, the grand columns are gone, windows are partially boarded up, roofs are sagging dangerously in places… it’s a real mess.  I chose this view because it appears to be the front of the house, and the shadows under the porch caught my eye.  And besides… it allowed me to shine a little sunlight on the old place.

I did a little research, and found that a lot of people have spotted the house, taken photos, and wondered about it online.  In my limited research, I didn’t find much about Carl Williford.  The records do show that he and his wife Jean bore a son, Graham Devoe Williford in 1926, and a daughter, Harriet.  Graham Williford was raised in Fairfield, and is actually the interesting party here.  According to literature from the Jean and Graham Devoe Williford Charitable Trust, he “cultivated his passion for education among his family of rural East Texas farmers, merchants and teachers. Often gravitating more to the 19th century than his own time, he began a lifelong fascination with the culture, literature, language and arts of the Victorian age as a young man.

By the time of Williford’s death in May 2006, the collection he had spent several decades compiling – one that would help reintroduce an all-but-forgotten era to art collectors and scholars worldwide – had grown to include more than 1,000 American paintings and decorative art pieces. The collection bears the imprint of the man who accumulated it: a genteel, aristocratic bon vivant who believed he had been born “100 years out of his time,” and surrounded himself accordingly with the refinement and grandeur of 19th-century artistry.

“Graham was very much a country gentleman. He definitely considered himself gentry, and dressed and spoke as a gentleman,” recalled his cousin, John Williford, a trustee of the Williford Foundation. “He had extremely expensive traditional clothes, and always – always – wore a hat when he went outside. If you traveled with him or went to lunch with him, anything like that, he always wore a coat and tie. He was old school and he wasn’t going to change. He liked it that way.”

The Jean and Graham Devoe Williford Charitable Trust, named after him and his mother, was founded in Graham’s will after his death in 2006.  It was Graham’s desire that his artwork be displayed as much as possible for the enjoyment of the general public and thus the Foundation has adopted this as its mission. It strives to make Graham’s art and decorative art available to any museum that might be interested in an exhibit, no matter how small or how large.

In 2006, the Dallas Museum of Art presented There and Back Again: Selections from the Graham D. Williford Collection of American Art, which celebrated the significant American paintings and silver of this longtime Museum supporter, and explored a rich relationship between the American and European art worlds after the U.S. Civil War. The exhibition was drawn from the private collection of this Fairfield, Texas native, who began collecting art in the 1950s.

There and Back Again showcased rare and little-known examples of late 19th-century American painting and silver, studying the search for a national artistic identity through “American” styles and subjects back home. It included more than three dozen important American works created by artists who were studying, working and exhibiting in Europe and America within that critical era.

I don’t know if Graham Williford lived in this house.  Apparently, Carl Neil’s daughter Harriet Williford Whatley and her family lived in the house for several years and attempted to purchase it from the other heirs but was never able to reach an agreement.  But it was once, undoubtedly, a grand place.  I find myself trying to visualize the house full of his amazing art collection, and it’s a nice thought.

Interesting stuff for an artist.  You just never know what you’re going to stumble onto…

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39 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2010 7:48 pm

    Love that you have this story. And the painting is beautiful. Another one with impressionist beauty and sparse details.

    • May 18, 2010 9:52 am

      It’s kind of nice to find a story about a place I’ve painted. I tried to portray it without too much detail. Glad it worked.

  2. June 8, 2010 3:37 pm

    Dear Ralph Parker,

    Your painting is truly beautiful!

    I have also done extensive research on Williford House, making it the focal point of a photojournalism essay on the affect of commercialism on historic small town residences.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/glimmerz/sets/72157622304261329/

    Excellent job again,
    Kristin

    • June 9, 2010 7:39 pm

      Hello Kristin,
      Thank you! I believe I saw some of your photographs on flickr when I was researching the old place. I just shot from the parking lot, not going into the weeds like you apparently did!

    • Jennifer Rafferty permalink
      January 23, 2014 11:52 am

      Mr. Parker, I want to thank you again for your story and for your artistic contribution to our collective memories of the Williford House. This is my the house my grandmother, Mary Rebecca Williford grew up in. E.E. Williford was my great-grandfather. It so warmed my heart to see the painting, and to read your story. I have been inside that house, much long after it was empty and worn down, but before it became storage for a furniture store. I have pictures from before it was torn down, and I have old pictures of my family, my grandmother, mother, aunts uncles and cousins standing in front of its porch. I even have a swatch of wallpaper from a stairway wall that I “borrowed” on my first and only visit inside. (Wouldn’t it be lovely to re-create it from memories and photos and have architectural plans drawn up?) I am honored to now be the owner of the painting, and that it will remain in the family, however distant. Ultimately, I would love to leave it to the Williford Foundation, along with the story of how it came to be. Thank you again for sharing your talent with us!

  3. June 21, 2010 2:32 pm

    Hi Ralph,

    Yes, I did brave the weeds, but only for a short time. As soon as I saw a snake, I ran out of there. I’m not one for creepy crawleys or things that slither.

    Best,
    K

  4. Judy permalink
    July 11, 2010 1:16 pm

    Hello, I used to spend the nite in this old house with my girlfriend when I was about 12 years old or thereabout. The upstairs was spooky. My friend’s mom sat on the top of the staircase one night and put a sheet over her head. The bathroom was downstairs next to the staircase and as we came out of the bathroom we saw this figure. My friend’s mom was forever pulling jokes on us in this old house. Mr. Carl Williford was the largest land owner in those days.

  5. Kelly Goodness permalink
    September 6, 2010 7:51 pm

    Great painting and story….but why was it abandoned????:) Tell the rest please.

    • September 26, 2010 11:30 am

      Haven’t found that part of the story, Kelly. Maybe I’ll eventually learn more. Thanks.

  6. Kathy Botard permalink
    November 24, 2010 1:00 am

    What a shame. I hate to see wonderful old houses left to sit and die. I’m glad you saved a little part of this once loved home.

  7. Sherry Whatley Hogan permalink
    February 5, 2011 2:42 am

    Mr. Parker….I spent many summers at the Williford House. My aunt was Harriett Williford Whatley she was married to my fathers brother LeRoy Whatley. I do not recall the family dynamic’s as to why the house was abandoned. I am so sorry to see hear this happen to the grand old home.

    • February 5, 2011 9:37 am

      Sherry, it’s been interesting to hear from people who had some connection with this place. Thanks so much for sharing.

  8. Kela permalink
    February 27, 2011 10:31 pm

    HI! I have been visiting this house since I was little and am now 25. I have been VERY interested in this house!! If ANYONE can email me with any information you know about the house, PLEASE DO! Kela4444@yahoo.com

    • February 27, 2011 11:58 pm

      Kela, I went through there a couple of weeks ago. Now would be a good time to go take another look. All the brush and trees have been cut back around the front and sides, making it very easy to see clearly. I was tempted to ignore the No Trespassing sign and take a peek inside, but wasn’t even sure the porch would hold me. The way things were cleared away, I almost wondered if someone wasn’t getting ready to tear it down.

    • Krystal permalink
      February 28, 2011 12:08 am

      I am very interested in this house as well!!! it is always a stop made on the way to Houston! but the internet has very little info on this house! someone please help Kela and I out!

  9. Stan Robak permalink
    March 20, 2011 11:02 pm

    Mr. Parker,

    Thank you for your research and beautiful painting of this mysterious house. It has fascinated my family for years. We stopped by and saw it today as we traveled back to Dallas from Houston. It’s so nice to have a backstory.

    Stan

  10. March 28, 2011 7:11 am

    Mr. Parker:

    Just stumbled across your blog in a Google search and wanted to say how much I like the painting of the old Williford House ….The painting of the old house immediately caught my attention as I have been fascinated by that old house since I was a little girl. Your work is a wonderful rendition of the old place.

    You see I grew up in Fairfield,Texas. Since coming back I too have taken opportunities to take many photos of the place. I find that it still captures my attention even though I’m much older,now.

    I’m looking for an opportunity to use it in one of my future story quilts.

    I don’t know if you like quilts or not…but I invite you to visit our blog at http://www.quiltstoriesbysherryann.blogspot.com. Enjoy!!!!

    Sherry Ann

  11. Lauren permalink
    April 11, 2011 8:45 pm

    Mr. Parker,
    What a beautiful painting! You captured something amazing about that house. Over the years I have spent many hours driving between Houston and the DFW area, and I always make time to stop by this house. I’m glad to know its name and some of its history. Thank you!

    • April 18, 2011 9:08 am

      Thanks for stopping in, Lauren. That old house has obviously captivated a lot of people.

  12. Ellen permalink
    August 8, 2011 6:26 pm

    I have loved the old Williford house since I first discovered it 4 or 5 years ago behind the Dairy Queen in Fairfield, TX. Even now, in its sad state of decay…the beautiful house that it once was continues to shine through the rubble and many years of having been vandalized. I have so many photos of it and have even considered having blue prints drawn up to have one built just like it.
    Because of my undying interest in that old house, I have found a lovely friend in Fairfield, TX who is a relative of the gentleman that owns it. Sadly, I have just learned that the once eleganant, grand old Williford house has finally fallen victim to the wrecking ball. However, its beauty will live on in my memory and dozens of photographs… and possibly one day…I might have one of my own just like it. If by chance Sherry Whatley Hogan should see this I would love to visit with her to learn more about the Williford house.

  13. Kate permalink
    August 15, 2011 3:45 pm

    Sadly the house has come to a tragic End on august 15th. Me and my family just ate at that very dairy queen and saw that very house being torn down. As u said it was a mess and it was far beyond repair therefor it was demolished by it’s current owner.

  14. Slk permalink
    August 17, 2011 2:38 pm

    I was looking up info on this house and found this page. We have been coming to Sams restaurant for years and just noticed this house for the first time (8-13-11). We didn’t have time to stop and take a picture before we had to get back on the road so we said we’d stop on our way back today (8-17-11) but it has been bulldozed.

  15. William permalink
    August 23, 2011 4:37 pm

    It is indeed a beautiful painting and one that shows the house in a merciful light. I am very familiar with the house and it’s history; I formerly volunteered at the Freestone County Musuem and was even told by the former curator the interesting and highly amusing story about how the house was built. I posted on Flicker a photo of the house taken in the late 1960’s when it was still occupied by the Williford/Whatley family were still in residence. If anyone is interested, they make contact me at mexiamustang@yahoo.com and I will gladly share what I know about this structure and its history.

  16. Kelly Goodness permalink
    August 24, 2011 10:22 am

    How much are you asking please? Thank you

  17. Kelly Goodness permalink
    August 24, 2011 1:05 pm

    Can you please forward a few pics of the framed piece?

  18. September 1, 2011 1:31 am

    Oh how times change!!! I’m sorry to report that the old Williford house is no more. This past month of August it was demolished to make way for a bigger and better MacDonald’s fast food restuarant. So Sad!!! It broke my heart. I was hoping someone would find a way to give it a new life…such as a museum or something…but it’s all over now. We’ll just have to enjoy our photos and paintings to remember it.

    Sherry Ann

  19. Tamara permalink
    July 12, 2013 11:41 am

    As the current owner of this property, I must say that I agree with many of your wishes that this house could have been saved and turned into a beautiful historical building. That was my husband’s wish when he purchased this property. Unfortunately, after having the inspecitions done and receiving the full list of repairs needed to make this house inhabitable and safe for visitors, it was not an option for immediate restoration. We applied for grants and tried to get assistance from Historical Societies for this project, but were told they could not help us start the process, they could only give small amounts after seeing it already in restoration progress. In the years after purchasing this property while we were trying to find a way to save it, you can just imagine how many people vandalized this place. I have honestly never seen anything like it. Every time we went to Dairy Queen drive through or through town, we would find people on OUR property, inside OUR house, and many times taking a ‘piece of history home with them’. It is amazing how many people felt like this place belonged to the public, and that they deserved a piece of it’s history because they remembered seeing it often for years when passing through town. No trespassing signs did not help (as many of you have already admitted that didn’t stop you from getting a closer look), so you can just imagine how many others did the same thing, and maybe were not as ‘nice’ about it as you were. It was an extremely tough decision to finally tear down the house, but it was no longer safe for people to be around, and it was obvious that they were not going to leave it alone. Unfortunately this is a very sad end to this piece of history.

  20. Tamara permalink
    July 12, 2013 11:45 am

    Also, just to clear up a misunderstanding from the previous post by Sherry Byrd, this house was NOT torn down to make way for the ‘bigger better McDonald’s’. McDonald’s relocated on their own property, not the property this house was located on, and did not have any bearing on the decision to tear down this house.

  21. Steve Williford Orand permalink
    November 4, 2013 11:01 am

    I was in Fairfield last week and noticed the house was gone, but families grow and some things you cannot split up. It would be impossible to save every old house, but you can pass on the memories of such places and time gone by. There was another Williford House accross the road and closer to town that was built by the brother of E. Ed, R.l. that was a grand place also, it has long since been torn down, but has many memories for me. I have a few things from the house that was passed down so am still reminded of the days I played in and around the house and sometimes visited the E.E. house of Uncle Carl. The Willifords had a great influence on Freestone county and Texas formation. Be fore the interstate Sam was selling BBQ in front of his Grocery Store on HYW 75. Great painting

  22. Brian permalink
    April 12, 2014 9:28 am

    This has been very interesting reading. I posted two out of three photos I took of the house from the back of the Dairy Queen parking lot on my Facebook page the other day. And more people have been replying and interested in that thread than any others.

    One girl from Houston drove up to find it because she loved the architect of what she saw in my photos so much. After she let me know she couldn’t find it, I started thinking “was it in Centerville, Texas”. Being legally blind nowadays, I don’t get to make the drive or stop in Fairfield unless I’m riding with someone that stops there so I sort of forgot where exactly I originally saw it.

    I’d taken three photos on November 26th, 2008 when riding back home to Spring, Texas from Fort Worth where I’d moved to. My dad was driving and we stopped by the Dairy Queen to grab something to eat before getting down to Spring for Thanksgiving. I’d seen the house before, but only in passing by looking for a place to stop and eat. I never had a camera with me any of those earlier times (1980’s – 2001). So this time, and not intending to see the house on the trip much less when I had a camera with me, I took three photos of it. I’d wanted to walk around the outside of it and take a few more, but my dad was in a hurry so we left. I’m glad I got the three photos I did!

    I just started looking into the history of this house and the owners today. After finding the three photos and posting them on my wall, and with the results and comments people had made after posting them, I decided to see what I could find out about it. This is the first sight I found. And it looks like it may be the best. It is very interesting seeing how many people, as well as Williford family descendants, have seen this page and commented.

    It’s sad to hear the place is gone. But in one sense, it still is around. After all, we’re still talking and commenting about it as well as posting images and making paintings of it too. It’s been a while since the last comment and I imagine there may be someone else like me that finds this page in years to come too…

    Brian

    • April 12, 2014 8:00 pm

      Brian, it’s been really gratifying to see the interest that the original post has generated, and to see the painting find a home in the family. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your own comments.

      • Brian permalink
        April 17, 2014 3:33 am

        And thank you Mr. Parker for bringing like-minded people of interest together here with your painting and post!

  23. Tom Lappin permalink
    July 31, 2014 12:29 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful article. My grandfather Richard Williford, John’s father, was born in that house. When I was a young boy on trips to visit relatives or just going from Houston to Dallas and the house was still in relatively good condition, we would stop by and glance in the windows on the patio. I believe it was being used as an antique store at one point before it really started to deteriorate.

    • August 1, 2014 5:05 pm

      Tom, I have painted quite a few old houses. Even written about some them. But I have never gotten the kind of response I’ve gotten from this one. And they haven’t all been about the painting. In fact, they’ve been more about the house itself, about histories and lives and families. I wish every one I painted generated this kind of interest. Thanks so much for the note.

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