Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fulton Mansion - Advanced Construction in Early Texas

Brief History [frontal view]

Cattle baron, George W. Fulton constructed a Second Empire-style mansion in Rockport, Texas (USA) where it overlooks Aransas Bay (Gulf of Mexico). The Fultons constructed their mansion between 1874 and 1877. Following George’s death, his widow moved away. It served as private residence and restaurant until 1976 when the State of Texas purchased the property.

Mr. Fulton, a bridge engineer, worked under Roebling on the Brooklyn Bridge project.

The Texas Historical Commission owns and operates the site and offers guided and self-guided tours.

George and Harriet Fulton lavishly furnished the home with costly items. Although nothing of original materials remained when the State of Texas purchased the home, historians replicated furniture and other items from information gleaned from Harriet’s meticulous records and receipts. She retained receipts from all her purchases.

For its time, the house incorporated many interesting features. Pocket doors, gaslights, hot and cold running water, Coleman warm-air heating system and indoor flush toilets were unusual and advanced features uncommon for the age. Door hardware came from a friend who had a hardware store in Chicago.

Self-guided Tour

Dining Room
Sitting Room
Holden Bedroom
Master Bedroom

Water System

Text on an information placard at the southwest corner

“Although the exact use of this room is unknown, it probably contained a pump mechanism for the water system in the house.

Rainwater collected from the roof was diverted into one of the large storage cisterns in the basement for wash water or into the outdoor cypress cistern, which stood on the circular foundation behind you. This cistern, containing layers of (oyster) shell, charcoal and sand, filtered the water into the second of the basement cisterns for drinking water. The two basement cisterns had a combined capacity of almost 16,000 gallons.

The filtered water was pumped from the basement to a small tank above the tower room. From there gravity provided pressure to supply water to the lavatories and toilets throughout the house. Water was also piped down to a heater attached to the cookstove in the kitchen and then back up to the bathrooms. Waste water ran down through a pipe next to the central vent shaft and out through the basement wall to a septic tank.” [Water System Diagram]

Waste Management

A septic system treated sewage. Technical information is unavailable.

Heating and Ventilation System

Text on an information placard at the southeast corner

“The fuel storage room is conveniently located across the hall from the furnace room. Wood or coal was loaded into this room to be stored until needed.

In the furnace room, air heated by the cast iron furnace rose into ducts and was carried throughout the house. Duct openings were set into the floor or in the mantelpieces resembling fireplaces in the rooms. The ventilation system within the rooms provided a draw to bring the heated air into each room. A duct on the north side of the house supplied fresh air to the heating chamber, and a separate chimney flue vented the combustion fumes from the furnace.”

Fulton constructed fireplaces of slate painted to appear like marble.

Oral history says W. C. Coleman, founder of the Coleman Company, Inc., designed and built this system. I cannot verify this fact. [Heating and Ventilation System Diagram]

Lighting System

Elegant gaslights provided illumination. A complex system used gaseous gasoline for power. [Lighting System Diagram]


Mr. Fulton, an engineer, used laminated pine boards for walls and floors. Anecdotal and credible history from a tour guide of a few years ago, said a ship from the bay, during a hurricane, struck the house. The collision purportedly destroyed the ship. When you see the diagram, you can readily appreciate the house’s structural strength.

Clever shutters, installed on the inside of windows, fold back into a “pocket” when not in use.

Architectural Drawings

Front View
Basement Floor Plan
First Floor Plan
Second Floor Plan
Third Floor Plan
Floor and Wall Construction

Botanical Features

During initial construction, building design called for an L-shaped porch wrapping from the front (east side) around to the south side. At some point in time, Harriet discovered conservatories and insisted George use the Southside leg of the porch as a conservatory. Flowering plants thrived in flowerpots suspended on ornate cast-iron hinged hangers. [Photographs: Interior Exterior]

A Wardian case set by a north-facing window of the second-floor sitting room served as a conversation piece. Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, a physician with a passion for botany, invented the case bearing his name. You will know the case as a terrarium. [Wikipedia link]

Modern Kitchen

The basement housed a modern kitchen, complete with evaporative cooling and dumb waiter that delivered food to a butler’s pantry behind the first-floor dining room.

Text from northeast window of kitchen

“This was the food preparation center for the mansion. Food cooked on the stove, which stood against the opposite wall, was taken to the serving pantry, the small room to the right. Here, a “dumb waiter” carried meals up to the dining room on the first floor.

Perishable foods were kept in the larder or milk room accessible through the doorway across the room. Protected from direct sunlight by the shaded breezeway, the larder caught the prevailing southeasterly breezes.

Concrete troughs, with circulating water, lined the walls of the larder. Large crocks and bowls holding perishable items were placed in the water and covered with damp cloth. Meat hung from the ceiling was also covered by damp cloth. The breezes evaporated the water, keeping the air and the food cool.”


The Fulton Mansion compares to contemporary LEEDS projects, with respect to water system, HVAC, flush toilets, dumb waiter and creative botanical features. In an era of rising energy costs and the slow pace of power-generation plant construction, structures of this kind demonstrate practical rudimentary home design opportunities.

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