| Columns | Bob
Bowman's East Texas
On the National Register of Historic Places
A Texas State Historical Landmark
"Today, Myrtle-Vale is one of the most magnificent pre-Civil
War homes still standing in East Texas."
Colonel John Dewberry came to Texas in
1835, he was looking for a place to put down new roots.
The War of 1812 veteran from Georgia settled on Saline Prairie in
what would become southern Smith
County. By 1845 he had helped establish a voting place in his
home, built a pioneer cotton gin and became one of five men appointed
by the Texas Legislature to locate the boundaries for Smith
County and the new county seat of Tyler.
Around 1852 Dewberry embarked on the construction of his family’s
dream home on land where General Thomas J. Rusk and the Army of the
Republic camped in 1839 while they pursued the Cherokee Indians and
its legendary chief, the Bowl.
Dewberry soon became one of Smith
County’s most successful entrepreneurs. Tyler
merchants seeking loans came to Dewberry, who at one time had $100,000
stuffed in a safe at a drug store in Tyler.
The colonel also had interests in stores at Larissa
and old Jacksonville.
Dewberry’s Greek Revival home near Teaselville
soon became the center of a vast cotton
plantation of 20,000 to 30,000 acres.
Built of massive beams, handmade bricks, cypress siding, heart pine
floors, and square nails, Myrtle-Vale -- named for rows of crepe myrtle
trees flanking the home’s drive -- was built to last a lifetime.
But it almost didn’t.
When Dewberry died in 1877 his estate went to his heirs and he was
interred in an above-ground tomb not far from his home. Myrtle-Vale
was sold, but without the care and pride of the old colonel, the mansion
began to deteriorate. Soon, it was hidden by the forest’s growth.
In the l990s young Andy Bergfeld of Tyler
went driving one day, looking for “an old home someone had told me
about.” As he stopped beside a road fifteen miles southwest of Tyler,
he happened to look down a hidden lane. There, in the deep woods,
were the columns of Colonel Dewberry’s home, “beckoning me to come
For reasons known only to him, and perhaps the spirit of Colonel Dewberry,
Bergfeld decided he wanted the old home. He haggled with fourteen
heirs of the previous owners and finally bought the crumbling mansion
and five surrounding acres.
Married only fourteen months, Bergfeld and his wife soon began an
exhaustive restoration effort. They found new cypress lumber in Baker,
Louisiana, period glass in New Orleans, and new brass fixtures in
Baton Rouge. Wallpaper designs came from old homes in Natchez, Mississippi,
Bergfeld also unearthed tidbits of the house’s history. He learned
that one of the previous owners had burned down an outhouse while
he was reading a Sears catalog by candlelight, which led to the construction
of a interior bath in a corner of a sitting room. Bergfeld ripped
out the bath.
In another room he found an old piano. As his wife opened the piano’s
keyboard cover, she screamed. Inside was a snakeskin left by another
$194,000 restoration was completed in 2001 and Colonel Dewberry’s
proud old home is now open for tours, receptions and other events.
The restoration also earned the Bergfelds the prestigious Terry Preservation
Award given annually by the East Texas Historical Association.
Today, Myrtle-Vale is one of the most magnificent pre-Civil War homes
still standing in East Texas.
Visitors are awed by the mansion’s beauty, its history and the long
driveway flanked by majestic crepe myrtles.
Some visitors even say they’ve seen Colonel Dewberry’s likeness standing
on the porch, smiling broadly.
Things Historical January 12, 2005 Column
Published with permission
(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman
is a member of the Texas Historical Commission and the author of more
than 30 books about East Texas)
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