Have you recently driven by the McClendon House at the corner of Houston and Vine and wondered about the families who once lived there? Living History Tours of the stately Bonner-Whitaker-McClendon House are scheduled for the last 3 Saturdays in October allowing interested visitors to learn more about the history of the 1870s-era Victorian home and its colorful family members. Guided tours – featuring character actors portraying former residents dressed in period attire – are offered by the Society for the Restoration and Historic Preservation of the Bonner Whitaker McClendon House Inc. Character actors make history come alive for all who participate in one of the tours presented on the last 3 Saturday evenings in October.
The McClendon House is open to the community and guided tours are available year round. The “Living History Tours” are a unique way to showcase some of the history of Tyler and tell the stories of people who lived at McClendon House during the past century and more.
The McClendon House is located on a tract of land Judge M.H. Bonner, a Texas State Supreme Court Associate Justice, purchased from his former law partner, Texas’ first governor J. Pinckney Henderson.
When Bonner’s oldest daughter Martha Matilda (Mattie) Bonner married attorney Harrison Whitaker, the couple was given two acres of the land on which to build a home. Mattie and Harrison shopped in New York for lavish furnishings, and filled their home with fine quality furniture and artwork. The house, surrounded by lush landscaping and architecture, quickly became a magnet for social gatherings.
A few years after Mattie’s untimely death, her husband remarried and moved the family to Beaumont.
The house was sold to Mattie’s younger sister, Annie and her husband, Sydney McClendon, who raised nine children in the house. Their youngest, Sarah McClendon, was an ambitious go-getter who became a journalist, went to Washington D.C. and covered 11 presidents during her lengthy, often controversial and always colorful career.
By 1981, only two McClendon sisters, Annie and Patience, remained in the house. After their father’s death, the women essentially drew the shades and shuttered themselves away from society to write and research family history.
Decades passed and the house fell into extreme disrepair.
Neighborhood children began to whisper about the “witches” after sighting the sisters boiling their clothing outdoors in a big kettle. After the deaths of Annie and Patience, trunks filled with Patience’s carefully scripted poems and archives were stored in a warehouse where they would sit for nearly 20 years before being rediscovered.
Relatives decided to donate the home so it could be historically restored, prompting the creation of the non-profit McClendon House Society. In the early 1980s, the house was emptied so the society could begin restoring the interior, but within weeks, an arsonist set the house on fire. Damages were minimal due to the high quality of construction.
The McClendon House, with much of its original furniture, was opened to the public as the 1988 Designer Showcase for Historic Tyler’s Heritage on Tour. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and noted as a Texas State Historical Landmark and Tyler Historic Landmark.
Efforts continue to catalogue 125 years worth of history, revealed through rare books, 1880s newspapers, Victorian textiles, music, personal letters and effects. Information contained in these family treasures has provided the society with a “remarkable” glimpse into the past lives of three families, said Daye Collins. Members enlisted as character actors say the information has been valuable in helping them to mold their characters.
For more information about the tours, call 903-592-3533 or contact us online.
All proceeds are for maintainance and restoration of the McClendon House.