Protecting the Past: Historic Preservation in Historic Houston

The Kellum-Noble House was purchased by the City of Houston with the land for the first city park in 1899. Photograph from the permanent collection of The Heritage Society.

The Kellum-Noble House was purchased by the City of Houston with the land for the first city park in 1899. Photograph from the permanent collection of The Heritage Society.

A LITTLE PIECE OF HISTORY | By The Heritage Society –

Though Houston has a reputation for favoring new construction over preservation, Houstonians have long had an eye on the City’s historic architecture. A 1901 newspaper article gives insight into one of the earliest successful historic preservation efforts in the City’s history.

According to a July 28, 1901 article in the Houston Daily Post, preservation was on the minds of several women’s organizations in the City as a group met to discuss strategies to save the 1779 Old Stone Fort in Nacogdoches, which was later dismantled in 1902. At the meeting, Emma Richardson Cherry – representing the Houston Art League – raised an issue much closer to home. She had heard that the City planned to demolish the old Noble Homestead in City Park, now Sam Houston Park. The 1847 brick building, now known as the Kellum-Noble House, had been included in the 1899 land purchase for Houston’s first municipal park. A special committee had been formed to oversee park improvements, which included repair and renovation of the old house.

According to the article’s author, Cherry “fully appreciates the value of the homestead as representing a type of Southern architecture fast disappearing before the rage for things less comfortable, less artistic but more modern.” She urged those present to assist her in saving the building, “the one house of its kind in the city,” and the women formed a special committee to appeal to City Council.

Emma Richardson Cherry and her husband, D.B. Cherry, arranged for the relocation of The Nichols-Rice-Cherry House to its third location  on Fargo Street in 1897.  Photograph from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Emma Richardson Cherry and her husband, D.B. Cherry, arranged for the relocation of The Nichols-Rice-Cherry House to its third location
on Fargo Street in 1897.
Photograph from the Library of Congress,
Prints and Photographs Division.

While it turned out there had been no intention of razing the building, the committee succeeded in securing City Council’s agreement to ensure the building’s exterior would not be changed when it was renovated. The committee went so far as to visit the house during construction, and the foreman there assured them, “I told the mayor that wooden pillars would last longer, but he said you wanted brick pillars, just like the first ones, and brick it has to be.” Surprisingly, the number of columns appears to have been reduced at this time, but the appearance of each column remained the same.

At this time, Cherry lived in another historic home, originally built in 1850 for Ebenezer Nichols and later occupied by William Marsh Rice. Cherry had bought the house in 1897 and moved it from its downtown location to Fargo Street in the Fairview Addition. The move saved the house from demolition after its downtown lot had been sold for a new, two-story commercial building. The commercial building itself was later demolished, and the Harris County Family Law Center now occupies the site.

Today, the Kellum-Noble House and the Nichols-Rice-Cherry House sit across the street from each other in Sam Houston Park. Both were rescued again in the 1950s by the Harris County Heritage and Conservation Society, which is now The Heritage Society. The Kellum-Noble House remains in its original location, and the Nichols-Rice-Cherry House was moved to the park in 1959. While these historic homes now tell stories of early life in Houston through The Heritage Society, they also remind us of the Houstonians who have long endeavored to protect them for future generations.

To learn more about all of the historic buildings in Sam Houston Park, visit heritagesociety.org.