Texas Heritage, Fall 1983 Page: 4
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The two-story house measures 54.4 feet in
length and 42.7 feet in width. It is thirty-seven
feet high with a hipped roof. The walls of the
house are made of sandstone except for the upstairs
interior walls and the upper half of the
chimney, which are made of brick. The exterior
walls of the first floor are twenty-six inches thick
and the interior walls are sixteen inches thick.
The exterior walls of the second floor are sixteen
inches thick and the interior walls are the same as
the first floor. A central corridor extends the full
depth of the house with a flooring made of cedar.
All other rooms of the house have pine flooring
and ceilings, and square nails were used throughout
The first floor has four spacious rooms with
ten-and-a-half foot ceilings. The east room has a
sandstone fireplace and serves as the sitting
room. The west room is a bedroom; the adjacent
room is the living area. The north room is the
kitchen with a dirt floor cellar used for storage.
Upstairs is the ballroom, which extends the
full length of the house and over half its width,
measuring thirty-one by thirty feet. The two remaining
upstairs rooms are used as guest rooms.
After Neese's untimely death in 1872, the
house passed through several owners, and in
1966 it was in danger of collapsing from neglect
and destruction by the elements. Fortunately
Charles Bybee had begun his well-known preservation
efforts in nearby Round Top and he
decided to add the Neese house to a growing list
of historic structures he was determined to save
as a heritage for future generations.
Bybee's interest in history came naturally.
On his mother's side, he was a Lewis of Virginia,
their branch having been early settlers in Montgomery
County, where they built Elmwood
Plantation near Conroe. The Bybees were from
Kentucky and had settled nearby to breed race
horses and raise tobacco, which was then one of
Texas' principal cash crops. With an eye to history,
Charles Bybee and his wife, Faith, had
traveled extensively in the Old South and in New
England, where they saw first-hand the benefits of
historic preservation. Determined to do the same
in Texas, the Bybees were able to draw on his
engineering background (before deciding to become
a banker, he had majored in engineering
--during early years at Rice Institute) and on her
--passion for historical research and collecting.
with other German-Texans, and soon was a proprietor
of a store and a cotton gin in the small town
of Neeseville named in his honor. The town's
name was later changed to Warrenton in honor of
Warren Ligon, an early Anglo settler.
The industrious Neese was the town's leading
citizen. He was its first postmaster. He hauled
its cotton to the port-town markets in ox carts,
returning with the staples and imported luxuries
available in his store. During the Civil War, Neese
smuggled cotton into Mexico to avoid the Union
blockade. And in 1868 he began the construction
of one of the grandest early houses of Texas.
Neese's first wife had died after bearing him
seven children. Proposing to take a second wife,
he promised his much-younger wife that he
would soon move her out of their primitive
double-pen log house into a fine stone mansion.
Constructed by gifted local-German craftsmen, it
was to be a lofty two-story mansion, with thick
walls and high ceilings and it would even include
an enormous second-floor ballroom measuring
nearly a thousand square feet. The crowning
touch would be stenciled and free-hand painted
decorations by Fayette County's talented
Matthias Melchior in the
rooms designed for
'P.^ "^uei^^ hospitality.
The Lone Star - flying on the Texas flag,
carved in stone atop the San Jacinto
Monument, massively enlaid on the floor of the
Capitol's rotunda - it's the state's most
omnipresent symbol. It can also be found in
out-of-the-way places, none of which is more
charming, or more thrilling to discover, than
on a second-floor ceiling of the old Wilhelm
Neese house in Warrenton. A successful Houston
banker, the late Charles Bybee, discovered
this particular Lone Star in the mid-1960's, and
thanks to his dedication to historic preservation,
that star and that house remain to be
A hundred years before Bybee saw it, the
Neese house (pronounced "nay-zee") was the
glory of Fayette County. Travelers along the
old trail between La Grange and Brenham had
never seen anything like its massive stone-andbrick
walls and chimney, its thirty-two multipaned
windows, or its two-story portico with
an iron balustrade imported from New
Orleans. The builder, Wilhelm Neese, had
come to Texas from his native German principality
of Lippe-Detmold in 1847 at the age
of twenty-three. From Galveston he
trekked to Fayette County,
where he settled
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Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Fall 1983, periodical, Autumn 1983; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45449/m1/4/: accessed June 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.