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SAVING SALLIE'S HOME

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
In 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 Job 1:10.

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 Texas.

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 the church.

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.

All 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

See Update:

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.

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