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Texas | Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

FDR and Nine Acres

by Bob Bowman

Bob Bowman
With luck -- and an infusion of funds -- a historic Kilgore home built in the 1930s could be on its way to regaining its stature as one of East Texas’ most interesting homes.

Set in sylvan splendor in the middle of the East Texas Oil Field, the home of oilman Tom Potter is best known as Nine Acres, a place where President Franklin D. Roosevelt probably visited in the thirties.

In recent years, the two-story structure has fallen on hard times. Three Longview residents, Dan Darmer, Kevin Fagan and Christoper LaStad, joined by Kilgore businessman Warren Lee Willard, learned that the home was on the verge of being demolished and pooled their resources to buy an option for purchase.

Now embarked on an effort to raise $5 million for a restoration effort, they hope to bring back the old grandeur of the home, whose owner, Tom Potter, made a lot of money in the oil fields and was well connected with the Democratic Party of Franklin D. Roosevelt.


There have been long-standing stories that FDR and his wife Eleanor made a secret, unpublicized visit to Potter’s home in 1936 or 1937. Although there are no newspaper clippings to substantiate the visit, O.W. (Buddy) Potter, a nephew of the estate’s owner, said the FDR visit is entrenched in the Potter family history.

“I was just a kid of eleven or twelve, but I remember my Uncle Tom and my father Julian talking about the visit,” he said. Harry Crow, who later owned Nine Acres, said he was a delivery boy for a Kilgore grocer and made several trips to Nine Acres to deliver “the very best steaks we had” for use by the Potters and Roosevelts. Crow said he often saw FDR rolling around the estate in his wheelchair.

“Roosevelt’s security people were always in the trees, looking out over the grounds,” said Crow, who once carried his grocer boss to the estate “because he wouldn’t believe me.”

While old editions of the Kilgore newspaper fail to mention Roosevelt’s visits, history does record that FDR was in Texas during 1936 and 1937 for extended visits.

He came to the state in June of 1936 for a speech celebrating the Texas Centennial and again in May of 1937 to visit Texas A&M, fish with friends in the Gulf of Mexico, and spend some time with his son in Fort Worth.

Interestingly, during his Fort Worth visit, FDR used a seven-passenger Cadillac convertible owned by Tom Potter. The car was driven by Kilgore Police Chief Jack Freeman.

If FDR did visit Nine Acres, the reasons for the secrecy are unclear. But they may have been to avoid the embarrassment of being associated with a wealthy oilman or to enlist Texas pledges for oil in the event America was drawn into Germany’s widening war in Europe.

Potter left Kilgore in the 1940s and moved to Dallas, where he founded radio station WFAA -- another Texas landmark. Nine Acres, meanwhile, became the property of several other owners and served as an apartment complex and restaurant. It is now unoccupied.

Meanwhile, Warren Lee Willard is trying to validate another long-standing rumor connected with Nine Acres. Was the building designed by Paul Phillippe Cret, who designed the University of Texas and many of its buildings in Austin?


All Things Historical January 9, 2006 Column
Published with permission
(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman is a past president of the Association and the author of more than 30 books about East Texas.)

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