"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.
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.
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
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
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 visit.”
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.
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, and Virginia.
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
$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
on the National Register of Historic Places
A Texas State Historical Landmark