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LOVE IN THE TIME OF DIPHTHERIA
or
Art and Science on the Brazos

“Miss” Elizabet Ney, Dr. Edmund Montgomery and
The Haunting of Liendo Plantation

by Luke Warm
Editor’s Note: For many years now the most notable landmark (read eyesore) of Hempstead, Texas has been a large car dealership where they (allegedly) “clobber big city prices.” Now that commercial development has all but abandoned downtown Hempstead to cater to the just-passing-through crowd, its ugliness is now encroaching upon a true historic landmark – the 1853 plantation of Liendo. As the crow flies, the house is not a half- mile from the highway and fast food restaurants are even closer.

Famous for its ante-bellum history as much as it’s role in the Civil War, the home once belonged to a rather unusual European couple. She was a famed German sculptress and he a Scottish physician / philosopher. The clash of interests and strong personalities was bound to produce an epic Texas tale. But instead, it turned into a saga of loneliness, separate rooms, unshared success, and one of Texas’ most unusual ghost stories.
Liendo Plantation TX

Liendo

In 1830 José Justo Liendo purchased eleven leagues of land from the Mexican government near present-day Hempstead (About 40 miles NW of Houston). In 1841 Leonard Waller Groce purchased half of this tract and bought the remaining half in 1860. The price for both came to less than $3,000. Groce is a historical footnote in the Texas Revolution for ferrying Houston’s army across the Brazos on the way to San Jacinto.

Groce started cultivating the land and in 1853 built a grand house which he magnanimously named after the property’s former owner.
 Docents on front step of Liendo Plantation TX
Terry Gurley (l) and Michele Ann Wendt on the front steps of Liendo. If you could order docents from a catalog, they couldn't come any better.
Brazos River clay brick, Liendo Plantation TX
Hand-crafted Brazos River Mud
Built by Groce’s slaves, the foundation of the house was constructed of handmade bricks formed of Brazos River clay. The interior details include a hand-carved banister, long leaf pine floors and stenciled ceilings.
Hand painted roses and morning glories ceiling stencils, Liendo Plantation TX
The hand-painted ceiling of the drawing room is mix of roses and morning glories.
Groce built a school for his and his neighbor’s children (no longer extant) and with an annual income estimated to be close to six figures, he was able to turn Liendo into a popular overnight stop for the rich and famous of the day. (There is a reason why the Sam Houston bedroom is called the Sam Houston bedroom.)

During the Civil War, Camp Groce, a Confederate recruiting station, was established at Liendo. Later, in the final days of the Civil War, it was turned into a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp.

For three months during Reconstruction (Sept. to Dec. 1865), Gen. George A. Custer camped at Liendo.
Fighting battle
General Custer remembering happier days at Liendo
 Looking out to Groce's Folly from Liendo Plantation TX
On the inside looking out at "Groce's Folly" - the cistern-fed fountain that never quite worked.
Without slaves, the plantation was cast into dire straits and Groce was bankrupt by 1868. In 1873 Leonard W. Groce, Jr., sold 1,100 acres of the property to Elisabet Ney and Dr. Edmund D. Montgomery for $10,000.
Elizabet Ney's Bust in Liendo Plantation TX
A self-carved bust of the sculptor
The new owners had interests other than bringing in a cotton crop. They had first tried their hands at farming in Georgia with little success other than producing two sons (Arthur and Lorne). Both Ney and Montgomery were already famous in Europe. Elisabet for sculpting the heads of state, musicians and authors and Edmund for practicing medicine in nearly every European capital. But their Continental reputation cut little (if any) bait in Hempstead, a town that was once known as "Six-shooter Junction." Their lifestyle was looked upon with suspicion. Elizabet wore togas and turbans and frequently dressed Lorne the same way. In Hempstead, circa 1875, fashion was a statement – not a question. Went visiting town, Lorne’s velvet britches made him a laughing stock among the canvas and dungaree-wearing crowd of Six-shooter Junction.
Bust of Dr. Edmund Montgomery, Liendo Plantation TX

Physician, Scientist, Philosopher &
Secretary of the Waller County Melon Growers Association, Dr. Montgomery's bust is about one tenth the size of Miss Ney's. Michele Wendt refers to the diminutive bust as a "wallet-sized" sculpture.

Montgomery kept busy with a vibrant and constant correspondence with his fellow scientists in Europe and Elizabet set aside her art for nearly 20 years. It was during this period that son Arthur contracted Diphtheria, which was then making the rounds of coastal Texas.

Doctor Montgomery knew enough to quarantine the house from the townsfolk, but his extensive medical knowledge wasn’t enough to save little Arthur’s life. After a few days of raging fever, their little boy was gone. Knowing the threat of contagion, it was decided to cremate Arthur and legend has it that this unpleasant task was performed in the drawing room fireplace.
Liendo Plantation TX Fireplace
The (alleged) crematorium
The fact that Arthur’s ashes were placed in an urn over the mantle is undisputed. But it’s not the boy’s cremation that got the family included in the late Ed Sayer’s Ghosts of Texas. It’s the cries of little Arthur that some say are still heard at night – coming from the estates "gentleman's quarters" - the unattached lodging for single male guests.
Elizabet Ney's study of Loren's hand
A plaster study of Lorne’s forearm was discovered in Liendo’s attic years after Ney’s death.
Sursum, statues by Elizabet Ney in Austin Texas
Sursum
Ney's sculpture entitled Sursum now adorns her Austin studio. Sursum is Latin for "Upward."
No one can say when the “haunting” of Liendo started, but between the eccentric lifestyle of the foreign couple, the spooky landscape and the fact that it was once a prisoner of war camp, the locals didn’t have to use too much of their collective imagination to conjure up stories of active spirits at Liendo.

Other Spirits, Other Rooms

Besides baby Arthur, there are reportedly several other entities on the property. A benevolent female spirit has been known to visit the foot of the bed in the Sam Houston room inquiring about a guest’s comfort while another presence (thought to be Miss Ney herself) pulls the covers off of some guests.

Michelle Wendt relates a more chilling tale: "There is another story I was told. As I remember it, two guests were staying in separate rooms, experiencing a fitful night because of a Texas heat wave. In one room the air suddenly cooled and what [one guest] thought was her friend coming in the room circled her bed then climbed in. By morning "the friend" was gone, and when she asked their host at breakfast if the air conditioning had been turned on, she received the reply that it wasn't working. She then asked her friend "did you climb in my bed?" Her friend said "no, I stayed in my room all night and couldn't sleep because of the heat.... "

Austin TX Elizabet Ney Studio
Elizabet Ney's studio "Formosa" in Austin
The property was not properly maintained and after Elizabet moved to Austin to her fortress / studio, Edmund became known as the “hermit philosopher.” He did sometimes support local education and served the nearby community – but not as a physician. He once served as the Secretary of the Waller County Melon Grower’s Association – which in Hempstead is a prestigious position indeed.
Austin TX Elizabet Ney Studio interior
Interior of Elizabet Ney's studio today
Elizabet died in June of 1907 and Edmund suffered a stroke just two months later. He remained an invalid until his death in 1911 shortly after publishing his magnum opus, Philosophical Problems in the Light of Vital Organization.

Dr. Montgomery was interred in an unmarked plot – presumably alongside Ney’s gravesite. It is said that the urn containing the ashes of little Arthur were interred with his father.
Docents at Liendo Plantation cemetery gate
Docents Wendt and Gurley flank the gate to the “family” cemetery where Ney, her husband and a granddaughter are interred with several former property owners.
Elizabet Ney's tombstone,  Liendo Plantation Cemetery

A modest inscription for an accomplished artist.

According to docent Wendt, Elizabet Ney referred to her self as a sculptor, not sculptress.

Resident calico at Liendo Plantation TX
One of Liendo's resident cats, "Cali" inspects a potential draft
All TE photos, October 2008
Liendo Plantation 1936 Texas Centennial marker
A 1936 Texas Centennial Marker stands in front of a rare (in Texas) Walnut tree estimated to be 500 years old. The tree still produces fruit for Liendo's abundant squirrel population.
Liendo Plantation 1936 Texas Centennial marker
Liendo Marker detail.
More Texas Centennial
Liendo Plantation grounds
Another Walnut tree was uprooted by Hurricane Ike in Sept 2008.
Liendo Plantation balcony view

Liendo's balcony where Elizabet Ney proclaimed that it would be her home. The iron fountain (just left of center) was known as Groce's Folly. Gravity-fed from a cistern behind the house, it never worked properly. It is said that the lead pipe carrying the water was "mined" for Confederate musket balls during the Civil War.

Liendo Plantation bath tub
Ney traveled between Liendo and Austin alone in a buggy hired from a Hempstead livery stable. Part of her luggage always included this metal bathtub.
Red Brahma cattle, Liendo Plantation Texas
Liendo is also a working ranch and home to a beautiful herd of Red Brahma cattle as well as a flock of peafowl. If spirits walk the grounds of Liendo, these are probably the best witnesses, but unfortunately, they aren't talking.
The painstakingly restored Liendo Plantation is available for tours on the first Saturday of every month and plays host to a “Civil War Weekend” the weekend before Thanksgiving. Visit their website for more detailed information: www.liendoplantation.com


TE photos
October, 2008 Feature
© John Troesser

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