A Tour of Waco’s Historical Homes

By Kevin Tankersley

Baylor professor’s latest book chronicles 120 local homes

Pictured: Photo by Taylor Mezger

For the last couple of years, it might have appeared to Kenneth Hafertepe’s neighbors that he was simply walking his dog, Rascal, a canine of indeterminate breed who followed Hafertepe home on a walk in 2009.

Truth be told, however, Hafertepe was actually doing research on his Sanger-Heights neighborhood. A dozen houses on Colcord Avenue, one of the main streets in Sanger-Heights, are featured in his book, “Historic Homes of Waco, Texas.”

“It was an important early subdivision in Waco,” Hafertepe said. “There was kind of a cluster because it was so close to Providence Hospital, which was right there at 18th [Street] and Colcord [Avenue], although there were not really a lot of doctors living in the houses. But it was intentionally developed as a nice street by Samuel Colcord from New York. And people found it appealing. The streetcar came all that way out, so that was a nice advantage. When you went to work, you could just hop on a streetcar. It’d be downtown in a jiffy. It’s an interesting accumulation of houses.”

In addition to the walking research he conducted around his own home, Hafertepe said he and his students — he’s chair of the museum studies program at Baylor — often did “windshield” tours of Waco, just driving through Waco and looking at interesting houses.

“I’ve been living in Waco for 19 years this July, and I tend to get interested in the built environment of wherever I’m living,” he said. “I’m curious about why things look the way they do, who designed the buildings, who they were built for, that sort of thing.”

He did the same thing in Austin, where he lived during graduate school and four years after. He ended up writing a book about Abner Cook, the self-taught architect who designed the Texas Governor’s Mansion (and the first state penitentiary, in Huntsville). Hafertepe’s career then took him to Massachusetts, where he was director of academic programs at Historic Deerfield, a museum consisting of about a dozen historic homes. He moved to Waco in 2000 to begin teaching at Baylor.

“Historic Homes of Waco, Texas,” is Hafertepe’s seventh book. His previous book, “The Material Culture of German Texans,” was named an outstanding publication by several historical societies. And a method Hafertepe refined while working on that book was put into use on the Waco book, he said.

“Probably the most important method is a commitment to ordinary buildings, ordinary houses,” he said. “The fancy term for it is vernacular architecture. I belong to the Society of Architectural Historians, but I also belong to the Vernacular Architecture Forum. And they’re interested in ordinary houses, different ethnic and folk traditions, industrial buildings, cultural landscapes, all sorts of stuff.”

Hafertepe said some of the inspiration for his latest work came from the fact that previous books on historic Waco homes didn’t mention the “ordinary buildings, typical Waco houses,” but instead focused on the “extraordinary” homes of Castle Heights, Austin Avenue and Karem Park. There are plenty of those in Hafertepe’s book — of the 120 homes featured, 27 of them have Austin Avenue addresses — but he also writes about homes that were occupied by African-American families, recent immigrants to America and working-class Wacoans.

After Hafertepe chose the first 80 or so houses for the book, he realized there weren’t any that had been occupied by African-American families. Some of the houses already selected had living quarters for domestic workers, but they were relegated to the “back of the house,” or garage apartments. Hafertepe decided to analyze city directories and census reports to find the homes where pastors of historically black churches lived, “because they’re prominent citizens, as ministers, and they’re going to be African-American,” he said. But that turned up naught, as the houses at all those addresses had been demolished. He then turned to the neighborhood around the former Paul Quinn College and found “this cluster of houses built for and probably by African-Americans. And so we began to get a little more representation.”

He then found another home in that area by happenstance. He was reading the book “And Grace Will Lead Me Home: African American Freedmen Communities of Austin, Texas, 1865-1928,” by Michelle M. Mears. In the review methodology, the author, a university archivist at the University of North Texas, mentioned a Ph.D. dissertation by Dr. George Conner, an African-American physician in Waco, a name that wasn’t familiar to Hafertepe. An online search revealed that Conner’s dissertation and, in fact, all his papers were housed at Baylor’s Texas Collection.

“He was the second black physician in Waco, but he was also the music director at New Hope Baptist Church. And he was a pretty prominent guy,” Hafertepe said.
Conner and his wife, Jeffie, built a large house, which was curious, since they didn’t have any children. Hafertepe figures that Conner — who was 31 years older than his wife — wanted Jeffie to have her own house in case he should die before her and to have enough room to take in boarders to provide some income in addition to what she earned as a demonstration agent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dr. Conner died in 1939, and one of the first guests that Jeffie welcomed after his death was Marian Anderson, the opera singer who would eventually become the first African-American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera. Anderson came to Waco at the invitation of Dr. A.J. Armstrong, chair of the English department at Baylor, and Waco, being “a city in the American South in 1939,” didn’t have a hotel room available for her, Hafertepe said. Armstrong contacted J. Newton Jenkins, pastor of New Hope, asking for help in finding a nice room for Anderson during her trip to Waco, and Jenkins arranged for Anderson to stay at the Conner home, which is still standing at 617 South 12th Street.

The homes in Hafertepe’s book are listed in chronological order, with the William Collett and Rebecca Cobbs Walker House, at 3407 Dever Drive, from the 1850s, being the oldest.

“And they’re sort of clustered by style,” Hafertepe said. “I wanted to do that so that people could see what the common things are, what makes a house a Colonial Revival. Then the next four, five, six, seven, eight houses are that, or Spanish Colonial or Tudor or whatever.”

Hafertepe said the newest house — the last one featured — was built about 1940 or ’41, and that provided a natural cutoff point for the book. New construction had pretty much come to a halt with the beginning of World War II, and when it ended in 1945, “you tend to move into a period of mass production of houses, and the parts are made nationally,” he said. “They’re interchangeable. It becomes just a question of moving things around.”

There are maps in the back of the book devoted to different areas of town and include addresses of each of the 120 homes, making it easy to do a driving tour of the houses, Hafertepe said.

Hafertepe has a second Waco book in the works, “a mashup between an architectural guide and a coffee table book that discusses all the other nonhouse buildings: churches, public buildings, businesses, banks, gas stations, schools, universities. They’ve never really been written about.”

“Historic Homes of Waco, Texas,” with a cover price of $40, was published by the Texas A&M University Press. It’s available through the press’ website as well as other online book retail outlets.

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