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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

The Colonel’s Home

by Bob Bowman

"Today, Myrtle-Vale is one of the most magnificent pre-Civil War homes still standing in East Texas."
Bob Bowman
When 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.



I
n 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.”

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, 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 another occupant.



The $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.

All 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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