Heritage, Volume 10, Number 1, Winter 1992 Page: 9
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Galveston's Moody Mansion
Gets A Facelift
By Julie Caddel
Treasure trove of documents provide blueprint
for meticulous $10 million restoration project.
Imagine an archaeological dig with a
map of the treasures buried beneath the
The restoration and interpretation of the
Moody Mansion and Museum in Galveston
was conducted with the help of the contemporary
equivalent of a treasure map. The
Moody archive, a collection of nearly one
million items and 1,500 cubic feet of documents
that span 150 years of family history,
provided the blueprint for every stage of
restoration in the eight-year, $10 million
project. The information contained in the
collection paints a vivid and lively picture
of the early 20th century life of the Moody
The Moody family history in Texas began
in 1851 when Colonel W.L. Moody Sr.
moved to Fairfield, Texas, after graduating
from the University of Virginia Law School.
There, he, along with his brothers, established
a mercantile and cotton business.
Following his service in the Civil War,
Moody moved his family to Galveston to
take advantage of the greater business opportunities
to be had in the flourishing island
business economy. There he established
W.L. Moody and Company with his two
W.L. Moody Jr., the oldest son of W.L.
Moody Sr., prospered from the partnership
with his father. Shortly after the devastating
hurricane of 1900, W.L. Moody Jr. demonstrated
his confidence in the future of
Galveston and purchased a four-story, 28room
mansion for a bargain price of $20,000.
The 1893-1895 mansion was built by
Mrs. Richard S. (Narcissa) Willis in an
effort to lure her daughter back from New
York. Mrs. Willis died prior to the 1900
storm, and her daughter had no desire to
keep the property. English architect William
H. Tyndall had been commissioned to
design the brick and limestone residence.
The house featured lavish arches, turrets,
practical conveniences such as a one-passenger
elevator, a dumbwaiter, a laundry
room with heated drying racks, a rainwater
collection system, and a steel framework,
one of the first of its kind in Texas.
The interior was decorated by the wellknown
firm Pottier & Stymus, who created
a grand and elegant effect using rare woods,
impressive details, and elaborate decorative
schemes for each room.
W.L. Moody Jr. continued to prosper
from investments in insurance, hotels,
newspapers, and the banking business. At
his death in 1954, Mary Moody Northen,
the oldest and most favored of his four
children, was named executrix and given
the responsibility of operating her father's
vast holdings and companies, including
the Moody Foundation. Widowed in 1954,
Mrs. Northen lived in the mansion until
1983 when damage from Hurricane Alicia
made the house uninhabitable. She then
Planning for the preservation of the
Moody Mansion began in 1964 with the
creation of the Mary Moody Northen,
Inc., a private foundation. The purpose of
the foundation was to preserve the Moody
home "as a museum dedicated not only to
the Moodys and their accomplishments,
but to the preservation of an important era
in 20th century America." After the death
of Mrs. Northen in 1986, Mary Moody
Northen, Inc., continued the work on the
The Moody archive was essential in
the restoration and interpretation of the
mansion. Its existence, however, implied
a challenge to the restoration team to
produce an exceptionally accurate presentation
of the past. The Mary Moody
Northen Foundation hired expert preservation
professions, including Patrick But
HERITAGE * WINTER 1992 9
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 10, Number 1, Winter 1992, periodical, Winter 1992; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45418/m1/9/: accessed April 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.