Judge Elred James Simkins Homestead
Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas


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Simkins-Redden Home - Corsicana

The History of The Judge E. J. Simkins Homestead
by Herchel Stephens and Mrs. Allen Edens, Jr.
Navarro County Scroll, Vol XX, 1975
Used with permission of the Navarro County Texas Historical Society

 

THE HISTORY OF
THE JUDGE E. J. SIMKINS HOMESTEAD

The old Simkins Homestead is one of the earliest homes constructed in Corsicana, dating from June 1873.  The earliest record of ownership of the land upon which the Judge E. J. Simkins homestead is built is recorded in the Abstract of Title to Lot No. 5,,  Block No. 346 of the City of Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas as compiled by the Navarro County Abstract Company Incorporated of Corsicana, Texas which has complete abstract of title of all lands and town lots in Navarro County.

The land was originally transferred to David R. Mitchell on September 12, 1849 by the board of Land Commissioners of Bexar County.  The transfer consisted of one-third of a league in the Robertson District, Navarro County, on Mesmerizer Creek, a branch of Pecan Creek, including Corsicana.  This land was then sold by David R. Mitchell to the town Commissioners of Corsicana on January 30, 1850.  The land sale consisting of 100 acres was to be used for the center of a town (Corsicana) that was to become a county seat.

One June 3, 1851, the lot was purchased by William Long and W. H. Beard for the some of $69.00, for which they gave a note, however, they left the state without paying the note so the land was sold to the highest bidder at public outcry at the Court house door in Corsicana on July 5, 1853.  The property was purchased at a high bid of $69.00 by James Kerr, Sen., by his agent James M. Riggs.  A Warranty Deed dated August 25, 1871 shows the Kerr heirs sold the lot to Elred James Simkins for 240 gold dollars.  It was some two years later in June, 1873 that the Simkins home was actually built on the lot.

Judge Simkins' widow, Eliza Trescott Simkins, sold the house on March 20, 1919 to E. Gregory and his brother-in-law, A. Willette.  They kept the house only a brief period as they sold it to Mrs. M. L. Adams on August 15, 1919.  The property was then sold for $4,600.00 on January 20, 1921 (warranty deed filed July 10, 1923) by Mrs. Adams, a widow, to Mrs. Mattie Redden wife of D.C. Redden.  It is this deed that describes the property and states that "the property herein conveyed adjoining the J. H. Woods Homestead on the West side thereof and fronting 90 feet on West Second Avenue and running back to the present fence or about 150 feet together with the house and barn now located thereon, and being the same property pre-to-fore conveyed by Mrs. E. J. Simkins to E. Gregory and A. Willets and others to Mrs. M. L. Adams.... (It is interesting to note that the J. H. Woods homestead is now known as the Senator James H. Woods home, which received a Historical Building Medallion from the Texas State Historical Survey Committee and was entered in the State Archives in 1967 as a Recorded Texas Historical Land Mark).  On September 24, 1933, D. C. Redden died and the property was inherited by the two Redden children, Hubert E. Redden and Gladys M. Newton.  On June 6, 1934 Gladys M. Newton deeded to her brother, Hubert E. Redden her part of the property.  Hubert and his wife, Kela H. Redden lived in the house until they sold it on April 3, 1973 to Mrs. Allen Edens, Jr., the present owner.

In June, 1873 Judge Simkins located his home in an area that was advantageous for an attorney, as his home was only one block from the courthouse square.  At this time in the history of Corsicana the activities of the town and county were concentrated in this area.  Another fact of importance can be noted that the present Second Avenue on which the home faces today was originally named Main Street as shown on the Old Town Plot.  In 1873 the avenue was a well traveled road from the Trinity River to Dresden.  Located in the immediate neighborhood was a home east of the Simkins' lot and has been continuously owned prior to 1853 by Jacob Eliot.  A few blocks west was the home of Roger Quarles Mills, an attorney outstanding for his state and national leadership.

The Judge E. J. Simkins Homestead was built by Elred James Simkins and his wife Eliza Trescott Simkins.  An immigrant to Texas, Simkins was born in 1838 and reared in Elizabeth District, South Carolina, receiving his education at Beaufort and graduating from South Carolina College in 1859.  When the Civil War broke out between the states, he entered the Confederate Army in 1861, serving in the Hampton Legion until 1862, at which time he was appointed to the First Regular Artillery Regiment and served during the war at Fort Sumter and the post around Charleston.  Following the Civil War, Judge Simkins removed in 1867 to Florida where he began the practice of law with his brother under the law firm of Simkins & Simkins.  The following year, 1868, he was elected chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee of Jefferson County, Florida; however, in 1871 he came to Texas and located in Corsicana where he once again engaged in the practice of law.

In a letter to a cousin Judge Simkins related personal news of himself, including such honors as his law practice; District Attorney from 1872-1876; Regent of The University of Texas from 1881 - 1893; delegate to the National Democratic Convention that first nominated Grover Cleveland; State Senator from 1885 - 1892; Judge on the Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals from 1892 - 1895; and author of the "Present Appellate System of Texas."  Contained in the March, 1974 Alcalde, There is A Special Alcalde Supplement on the life of James Stephen Hogg which mentions that with the adoption of the Railroad Commission Amendment, Hogg in drafting the law had the assistance of able men, including Representative A. W. Terral of Austin, Senator M. M. Crane or Cleburne, Representative Thomas Brown, and Senator E. J. Simkins of Corsicana.

Judge Simkins continued his distinguished practice of law until his death on June 25, 1903.  he had spent all of his life as an active member of the Episcopal Church and there is today in the Corsicana Episcopal Church a beautiful stained glass window in his memory.  Following the death of Judge Simkins, the home was maintained by his widow and five children until March 20, 1919 when at that time it was sold to Gregory and Willette.

Lost in the maze of history is the architect and builder of the Simkins home, but from the purity of the Greek Revival lines and the details of the construction, one can readily observe that the builders were true artisans.  The house was originally a one story, three room, hall and porch frame Greek Revival structure.  It also consisted of a basement with the kitchen, dining area with a fireplace, and storage space made of brick which was unique for this area.  For many years the home was known as the only one in Corsicana with a basement.  The foundation was made from cedar blocks with rough hewed timbers and rough sawed timbers of yellow pine from the virgin forests of East Texas.  Rough sawed long leaf yellow pine was used for the 2x8 floor joists; as well, the 2x6 ceiling joists, the 3x4 and 2x4 rafters were of the same pine.  The shingles were 16 inch cypress, while the finished floor was of edge grain long leaf yellow pine, with the inside walls being one inch rough sawed long leaf yellow pine ranging in width from four to 18 inches.  Also of long leaf yellow pine were the door frames, inside trim, doors and windows.  The six-foot double-pane windows had hand-made glass in them, and the ceiling were vaulted and ten and one-half feet tall.  The mantle, hearth, and shelf is one of hone purple-and-green slate.  All of the interior doors were 1 1/8 inch 4 raised panel doors with white porcelain knobs and and cast iron rim locks. Square iron nails were used in the construction of the house.

As Judge Simkins and his wife were natives of South Carolina, it is only natural for them to choose for their Corsicana home the style of architecture to which they were accustomed - Greek Revival.  East Texas could furnish fine lumber, as has already been noted, of cedar cypress and long leaf yellow pine.  At the time the house was constructed, Pecan Creek ran across the back of the property and small Pecan trees, said to have been planted by the Indians, grew along the creek bank.  Two of these original trees and several seedlings are still standing and bear the small, sweet native nuts even today.

As the family increased and as Judge Simkins had more money, a new room would would be bought and attached to the original three rooms.  With the newly attached structures appearing to have been constructed long before the original house.  The rooms were of box construction, and siding of 1x6 beveled long leaf pine was added to conform to the pattern of the original house.  All floors and ceilings were of different height.  It is rather unusual to have such additions to a house older than the original.  In 1909 a new front porch and decorative pillars were added.  Mrs. E. J. Simkins in a letter to her son, Ben, postmarked November 27, 1909, made remarks that referred to repairs on the house.  "What are the improvements at the home, a new porch isn't it? The old one was rotting away when we left. Try to make it a little decorative that is with nice looking pillars."  This was done and today the house still has the "nice looking pillars" on the front porch.

The D. C. Redden family kept the house in good repair, but the barn burned in 1930.  When their son, Hubert E. Redden, inherited it in 1934, he also took good care of the property.  he modified the outbuilding for current needs, one becoming a garage and the other a store room or work shop.  By this time the original kitchen and dining room that were built of brick and located in the basement (1873) had deteriorated.  Through the years the brick began to crumble and water seeping into the basement made it impossible to use, so in 1937 the basement was filled in and the house repaired, papered, and repainted.

The house remained virtually intact until April 3, 1973 when the house was bought by Mrs. Allen Edens, Jr., for a home for her mother, Mrs. Rita Perry Bryant who now resides in the home.  The present owner has completely restored the house to its present condition, keeping with the period in which it was built, but was made completely functional for present day living.  All items that were part of the original house were preserved and all items of architectural significance were incorporated into the house.  Any similar items of this period which could be found were included in the restoration.  Such items include doors, trim, and casings with porcelain knobs with an accumulative age of three thousand years.  The front door is still used, but the old glass was in poor condition and has been replaced with new, which was researched, designed, etched and set by R. D. Freeman of Dallas, Texas.  The chimneys were not usable and they were rebuilt with brick over a hundred years old.  Allen Edens, Jr., designed new ones which were laid by Walter Earl Parker of Corsicana, Texas.

Both the interior and exterior of the house were painted by Gene Martin.  Thomas Statham and Galligan documentary wall paper of the period was used throughout the house and was hung by T. W. Muchow of Waco, Texas.  The restoration was supervised by the Builder's supply Company of Corsicana, Texas, with Gerald Graham of Malakoff, Texas as foreman and cabinet maker.

With the current state of the house in excellent condition, it has been completely restored and reworked, making it perfectly functional in this modern age.  The house has been re-plumbed, rewired, air conditioned, repainted, repapered, with al new appliances put in the kitchen and bathroom.  A prodigious amount of research has been carried out to maintain the house in its original style.  O. L. Sikes of Corsicana, Texas researched and directed the landscaping which is in keeping with the period of the house's origin.  He has also cared for the giant pecan trees which were on the lot when the house was built in 1873.  Mr. and Mrs. Allen Eden, Jr., have traveled all over Texas to study houses built at the time of the Simkins Homestead to be sure that the architecture of the house and the grounds surrounding it conform to 1873 houses.  The structure has always been a residence and the Simkins family made it a center for the legal, artistic and musical life of the community.  As a result of the restoration, it is now an architectural gem of the community.  As the property is the home of Mrs. Eden's mother, the house will be maintained in its present excellent condition and will continue to be used as a residence.

Because of its architectural beauty depicting the Greek Revival, the Navarro County Historical Society requests to commemorate the Judge E. J. Simkins Homestead will be a fitting tribute of the age and architecture of the use which has been completely restored and furnished with antiques of the period.  Included in The History of Navarro County by Annie Carpenter-Love, "The Old Simkins home is a landmark on Second Avenue until this day."  And the statement is still true today after the house has been restored in 1974.  But more important than this is the great contribution Judge E. J. Simkins made to his profession and the City of Corsicana, and the State of Texas.

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Navarro County TXGenWeb
Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox