1908, as Sallie Pratt's house was being completed a block from downtown
Hemphill, she "prayed
a hedge" around the imposing structure and asked God to safeguard
her home from man's destruction -- much in the Biblical fashion of
Today, more than a few Hemphill
townspeople are convinced Sallie's prayers 95 years ago have protected
her house from the wrecker's ball and will lead to its eventual restoration.
Sallie's home was built for her by husband, George Edward Pratt, who
had followed his father's footsteps in the general mercantile business
at Hemphill and
Bronson. The house was furnished by quality furniture shipped to Hemphill.
Sallie's bed was so elegant that it was reportedly used in a scene
from the film, "Gone With the Wind."
Sallie's religious faith earned her a reputation as a healer and her
skills were sought by people throughout East
But as the Pratt descendants scattered, Sallie's house fell into disrepair.
When daughter Louise Pratt Neal died in 1993, repairs and maintenance
ended. The proud old house looked as if it might fall down. Turkey
vultures perched on its roof like sinister messengers of doom.
For a while, it appeared the house was indeed destined for destruction,
despite Sallie's prayers, but the First Baptist Church -- where the
Pratts had been members -- bought the home and its land to expand
When Hemphill historians
created the Sabine County Historical Foundation for the purpose of
saving Sallie's home, the church deeded the structure to the Foundation
if it would be moved to another site. Ironically, the new site was
on land once owned by the Pratts.
Today, Sallie's spirit is still at work.
When it appeared the Foundation could not reach its goal of $150,000
to move the home to the new site, the National Trust for Historic
Preservation showed up unexpectedly with a loan of $50,000, telling
Foundation officials only that "you have friends in high places."
Austin attorney Larry McNeil,
who grew up in East Texas,
learned of the home's plight on a visit to nearby San
Augustine. Explaining that the home "touched my heart," McNeil
offered to provide the Foundation with pro bono legal help. He also
gave a personal gift.
An anonymous donor gave $20,000 for the restoration, soon contributed
another $5,000, and later gave $50,000 more -- all because she felt
she "was led to give." The Summerlee Foundation of Dallas showed up
with a $25,000 grant.
Other donors have given smaller amounts, artists have donated paintings
and drawings of the house to be sold for the restoration effort, and
outsiders have popped into Hemphill
with unsolicited gifts.
Mary Ann McDaniel and Donna Alexander, two of the restoration proponents,
are convinced Sallie's spirit is directing the Pratt house restoration
and its eventual use as a community building and museum. "I can't
explain it, but from the very beginning, I have felt this strange
conviction to save this house," said Mary Ann.
Somewhere in Heaven, Sallie Pratt must be smiling.
Things Historical August
10, 2003 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
Published with permission
Bob Bowman is the author of nearly 30 books on East Texas history
and folklore and a former president of the East Texas Historical Association
A story of two homes
by Bob Bowman 12-12-10
Two historic buildings in East Texas made news recently. One story
was sad; the other joyous.