This is a Bedford-built house believed to have been built circa 1908 for the W.R. Sells family. Mr. Sells was a banker/rancher who moved to Georgetown so that his children could attend Southwestern University and is situated directly across from the Southwestern University campus. The home is built on the site of a home built by Dr. Hyer, which is believed to have burned around 1908 and may have been partially or completely destroyed. It was at this time the property was sold to the Sells family. It is uncertain exactly when the Sells house was begun as the Bedford Lumber company records frequently were not kept up-to-date; however, Mr. Sells’ grandsons have put the completion date around 1908 based on their father’s age when he began classes at Southwestern.
After the death of Mrs. Sells in January of 1921, the house was sold to Dr. Albert Rice and his wife Jewel. During WWII, Mrs. Rice and her son Jimmy lived in the current owner’s private quarters while a naval officer and his staff rented the rest of the house. Upon Dr. Rice’s return from the war, the house was sold and passed into the Henderson family’s hands in 1944. Sam and Lillian Henderson owned a dime store on the north side of the Square, in what is now Diva’s. Their daughter was married in the house.
In 1969, Burl and Patricia Brooks bought the home. Mr. Brooks owned the Sears store in town, which was also on the square at one time, installing a number of Sears’ appliances, sheds and fences throughout the property. According to neighbors, Mrs. Brooks had a huge cookbook collection that she kept in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in what is now the kitchen breakfast room. The family kept chickens and sold the brown eggs at the Sears store. Neighbors also reported that the Brooks kept “a pack of St. Bernards” in the house.
In 1994, John and Sarah Milburn bought the now run-down home and began the extensive renovations that brought the house back to its former glory. When the Milburn’s bought the property, bushes climbed to the eaves of the porch and extended out so far that the sidewalk across the front of the house was not visible. Linoleum tiles were glued to the wood floors, and the linoleum ran one-third of the way up the walls. The pantry was located in the front hall where the powder room is now located, and a small toilet was located off of the kitchen.
John and Sue Wiley then bought house in May of 2000 with the intent of turning it into the San Gabriel House Bed and Breakfast. They added three bathrooms, so that each of the five guest rooms would have its own bath, a new privacy fence required by the city that incorporated a guest parking area and planted gardens of antique roses and native Texas plants.
Legend has it…
This beautiful Arts and Crafts style mansion, located in the University-Elm Street Historic district of Georgetown, Texas, has many stories, as you would expect from almost a century of owners. As we have met prior owners, neighbors and Georgetown residents and listened to their versions, we offer some of our favorites.
The current house is built on the site of a house, owned by Dr. Hyer, which partially or completely burned around 1908. Dr. Hyer moved on to Dallas to become the first president of Southern Methodist University. When the Sells’ family rebuilt, they were so concerned about fire that a fire extinguisher system was located in a central area and ran hoses to the second floor. This is still in place today.
According to the grandsons of Mr. and Mrs. Sells, fraternities from the dry Southwestern University campus held parties in the home, dropping the heavy curtains down over all front windows. At one such party, Ms. Katherine Sells was said to have done the shimmy down the stairs.
The house has seen many special events. One of Georgetown’s residents remembers a band playing in what is now the upstairs library while couples danced on the balcony during a Southwestern prom night. Another, cousin to the Henderson’s, remembers the sideboard in the kitchen loaded with desserts for the holidays and lights bouncing off of the beveled glass. The prisms still march across the floors when the sun is shining.
Due to the close proximity of the campus, the Sells house was “campusized” and since shorts were forbidden on the Southwestern University campus, they were also forbidden in the Sells house and grounds, even when mowing the lawn. The story goes that this unfortunate event occurred when the girls were caught sneaking over to the house to sunbathe on the sleeping porch. (Now the French Room).
One of the most tragic events reported was the death of Mrs. (Olive) Sells in 1921. She was electrocuted in one of the bathtubs while attempting to regulate the controls of an electric wall heater.
The carriage house, believed to be older than the current house, was turned into apartments for Southwestern University students before the Second World War. Dan Moody, the famous Texas State Prosecutor who fought the Ku Klux Klan, reputedly lived there. At the same time, many Georgetown residents who had habitable outbuildings were asked to convert them into housing for military men who were stationed here for maneuvers on Southwestern campus during WWII and the Carriage House may have been turned into housing at that time. We leave you to speculate and decide which scenario to believe.
It is during the Brooks’ family residence that some of the most interesting stories derive. During their sojourn, the guest parlor was filled with boxes of old Sears catalogues. Mrs. Brooks was a member of the Georgetown Garden Club, and she hosted an annual flower-arranging contest in which every room housed gorgeous arrangements. Guests had to view the arrangements by walking through aisles of boxes. Another story concerns Mr. Brooks. With his easy access to Sears items, he took advantage of the craze for siding and covered the carriage house. When the siding was removed in the 1990’s, the carriage doors, hayloft, windows, Dutch door and hardware were found, exactly as they had been, approximately thirty years ago.
Many guests have enjoyed watching the gold fish pond. This was built by the Wiley’s to replace an earlier pond in a raised frame. This earlier pond was built over the site of a large wooden cistern house that was dismantled. The cistern house is said to have been among the last of its kind in Georgetown. The wood was used for other buildings on the property.
Throughout the gardens, paths and ornaments are contrived from marble pieces and slabs found at the back of the property, quite likely from an ornate mantel or other pieces in Dr. Hyer’s home until it was destroyed by fire.
About the house/rooms
Guests will enjoy sitting of the large, wraparound front veranda or strolling in the gardens located behind the house. Inside, a charming parlor located downstairs is available for watching cable television or reading and a large but cozy library on the second floor provides a spot to read, play games or relax and visit with fellow travelers.
The San Gabriel House offers five spacious second-floor guestrooms, each with its own private bath. The rooms are lavishly appointed with each guest’s ultimate comfort in mind and include a comfortable easy chair, lamps for reading and top-of-the-line pillow top mattresses.