on a bluff overlooking Corpus Christi Bay not quite 13 years after
the fall of the Alamo,
the two-story house has proven almost as enduring as the old Spanish
mission in San Antonio.
Texans remember the Alamo,
but the Centennial House in Corpus
Christi is off the beaten path in a city with Texas’ largest aquarium,
a World War II
era aircraft carrier and a long strip of sand and surf called Padre
Island. Indeed, the house at 411 Upper Broadway in the center of the
city’s business district is only open four hours a week.
No matter its relatively low status on the list of Corpus
Christi’s tourist attractions, the Greek Revival house has the
distinction of being not only the oldest house in this coastal city,
but the oldest between San
Antonio and Laredo.
It also is on the books as the first two-story structure in Corpus
Christi and possibly the first house with a basement (and excluding
large commercial structures, still one of only a few).
thing the Centennial House is NOT is a century old. Forbes Britton
had the house built in the early months of 1849 only three years after
Gen. Zachary Taylor’s army left the bay for the Rio Grande Valley
to take on the Republic of Mexico to settle the question of who owned
The man who owned the new house had arrived with the U.S. troops,
fought in the Mexican War and then returned to Corpus
Christi to raise a family and partner in a shipping business.
From 1857 to 1861 he represented the Nueces County area in the Senate.
In 1858, Britton’s daughter Anne Elizabeth was married to a young
lawyer in a ceremony held in the house. The groom was Edmond J. Davis,
a future Texas governor.
Before moving into the Governor’s Mansion in Austin,
Davis fought for the North during the Civil War, a stand that nearby
got him hanged in Brownsville.
During the war, the sturdy house served as a place of refuge when
Yankee gunships briefly bombarded the town. An even shorter Union
occupation of the town saw the house used as a federal hospital and
Two years after the war, when a devastating outbreak of Yellow Fever
ravaged the coast, the house again comforted the sick and dying.
In 1875, only a couple of years after Governor Davis not-so-graciously
left office in Austin, Mexican
bandits raided Corpus
Christi. Though no details are offered, a short history of the
house prepared by the Corpus Christi Area Historical Society says,
“It is said those fleeing from the vicious perpetrators…sought shelter”
in the house.
ambiguous is the role the house played as a place of safety during
the periodic hurricanes that have battered the city, the worst of
which were an unnamed storm in 1919 that claimed numerous lives and
Hurricane Celia in 1970.
The reason people sought the Centennial House in times of danger is
because it had been solidly constructed of “shellcrete,” a mixture
of lime, crushed seashells and water. Its thick walls had three layers
of this coastal brick covered with a shell-based plaster. Too, it
stood well above the portions of town subject to tidal surge in a
Following Britton’s death in 1861, four families occupied the house
until 1880, when soon-to-be Corpus
Christi mayor George Evans bought it. His family added improvements
and held it until 1936, when the locally-based Southern Mineral Co.
purchased it to serve as its headquarters.
In the mid-1960s Southern Mineral moved to a new building and the
Corpus Christi Heritage Society – created specifically to do what
it did – purchased the old house and had it renovated. More formally
known as the Britton-Evans House, it became structure No. 76002054
on the National Register of Historical Places in 1976.
all it had been through over the years, the house faced its most serious
crisis shortly after the beginning of its third partial century of
existence. While doing routine maintenance, workers discovered the
mortar in the lower, load-bearing portions of the house had turned
to so much white powder thanks to dampness.
The heritage society retained a local architectural firm to solve
the problem, which threatened the structurally integrity of the historic
house. Following completion of the $500,000 repair and waterproofing
project in 2002, architects pronounced the house good to go for the
next 100 years.
House Historical Marker
Photo courtsy Terry
Jeanson, May 2010
Britton-Evans Centennial House is open for tours from 10 a.m. to 2
p.m. on Thursdays only. Special tours for 10 or more may be arranged
by calling 361-882-8691 or emailing info@ccahs.
© Mike Cox
May 23, 2007 column