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Couple hopes to restore William Jennings Bryan home

Several years ago, Jane Wilson was watering the plants outside her house when she looked up and saw a busload of Winter Texans stopped on the street and watching.

She smiled and turned around and continued watering because it wasn’t an unusual occurrence. Over the years, Wilson has had people ask to take photos outside her home and a few even got to tour it. They weren’t interested in the home itself, though it is unique in South Texas, but its history.

20141110 MISSION William-Jennings-Bryan-House 0669The house was for William Jennings Bryan. Bryan, “The Great Commoner,” was a leader in the Democratic Party in the early 1900s and was a three-time candidate for presidential candidate before he was named Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson.

Over time, Wilson said bystanders’ interest in the house has diminished, and she suspected people are forgetting the original inhabitant of the house on the northwest corner of Bryan Road and Mile 2. In 1909, Bryan built a winter home in Mission at the suggestion of John Conway. The white two-story, two-bedroom home features two fireplaces and hardwood floors. Built into a hill, it’s also one of few homes in the area with a basement.

Wilson and her husband Gerald purchased the house in 1989 and lived there until 2010, when his health began to deteriorate. They moved in with their son and the house has been empty for four years.

After Gerald Wilson died in January, Jane Wilson decided it was time to put the house they loved up for sale. The sign went up two weeks ago and Wilson said she was surprised when days later, they’d already received bids on the century-old structure.

And she was excited to hear a familiar name amongst the bids. Wilson met Ariel King, one of her neighbors, at an estate sale hosted by the Wilsons when they moved out of their home.

King and her husband both had been keeping an eye on the house ever since they found out it would be uninhabited.

She grew up in Sharyland and her husband has lived in the area since the ’80s.

“It’s a very neat old house,” King said. “It’s something I really feel that the community has an obligation to take care of and preserve. We really were fearful that it would fall into the wrong hands.”

So when King saw it had been listed for sale, she called the realtor and set up a viewing at 2 p.m. that Thursday. The realtor said she’d already had an appointment at the house at 1:30. As King was driving over to the house, she said she talked to her husband and found out he was the 1:30 appointment.

There was no debate on whether or not they should put in a bid.

Meanwhile, Wilson said not only did she like and know Ariel King, she loves that the Kings want to restore the old house. They’ve been doing research on Bryan and asking questions about original fixtures in the home.

Back in ’89 when Wilson’s first purchased the home, Jane said she was apprehensive about living in such an old house. Her husband loved it. They worked on it six months before moving in. Then, she’d see a crack and panic, but her husband reassured her the house was just settling. They eventually had it leveled.

She wanted to knock out walls and make the house more functional, but he put his foot down on too many renovations. He wanted the home preserved as much as possible.

In the end, they installed air conditioning, closed off the back porch and closed off some doors in the dining room. Wilson said she believed the front porch had been closed in some time in the 1930s.

The two were antique dealers, owners of Memories Antiques, and the house suited them well. Wilson said when she lived in it, it was filled with antiques, and the longer they lived there, the more she came to love it.


King said she’s trying to put together a chronological list of what’s been done to the house.

“We’ve been trying to make a list and talk to general contractors who have appreciation for historical homes and talk to other homeowners who have historical homes,” King said. “It’s certainly important to preserve whatever history we have.”

The Kings just built their dream house down the street, and Ariel King said she wasn’t sure what they’d end up doing with the Bryan property. King said in this day and age, restoring a house is easier than ever, though she admitted they have an adventure ahead of them.

And Wilson already gave Ariel, a nature lover, a head start in the yard. It’s filled with native plants, King said.

Along with the house, Wilson said she’s leaving behind photos of Bryan’s family as well as memorabilia she and her husband have collected. She’d planned to give it to the Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg, but she heard the city of Mission might be interested in the house and held onto it. Since the Kings are interested in preserving the house, Wilson’s leaving it for them.

Now, as Wilson reminisced, the home is special not because it was built by Bryan, but because Wilson can look at the threshold between the living room and dining room and remember her now 26-year-old granddaughter learning to walk in that house.

The little girl would walk to the entry, then get down on all fours and crawl over the wooden divider between each room, then stand up and walk again.

“We had a lot of fun memories in this house,” Wilson said.

But when her children pushed the couple to move out in 2010, she was happy at first. Her husband was coming down with dementia, and her children worried after he’d fallen a few times. She worried how she was going to take care of him by herself. They moved in with her son, but Gerald Wilson grumbled all the way. He didn’t want to leave his home.

Four years later, Wilson is ready to sell, and she said she’s excited to see what the Kings do with the place. Even so, the sale is nostalgic for the family, and Wilson said her daughter was sad it wouldn’t be their house anymore.

“I told her, ‘Your daddy would be thrilled with this sale,’” Wilson said. “‘He would be so happy that it would be taken care of for many, many more years.’”

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