A grand 19th-century San Antonio home named for two prominent families who filled it with treasures is now open to the public.
The Maverick Carter House, a showcase of San Antonio history, science, and the arts over the course of 125 years, has undergone a three-year, $2 million restoration. Now the current owners, the direct descendants of H.C. and Aline Carter, have opened its doors to the public for guided tours two days a week.
Their hope is that the home, located downtown at 119 Taylor St., will again serve the music, poetry, and astronomy passions of matriarch Aline Carter.
Designed in 1893 by noted architect Alfred Giles, the home was built on the banks of the San Antonio River for William Maverick, the sixth child of Samuel Augustus Maverick, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. The three-story, 23-room limestone house is an example of Richardsonian Romanesque-style architecture, named for architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who popularized the style featuring solid masonry and rounded arches.
With its rounded towers, conical roof, and porte-cochère, the stately home surrounded by lush gardens and shade trees is a head-turner amid its urban setting. From inside, copious windows offer views of The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and Auditorium Circle, a road that roughly mimics the San Antonio River as it meandered past the house long before the waterway was re-channeled for flood control in 1920.
H.C. Carter purchased the house from the Maverick family in 1914 and settled there with his first wife, who died shortly after. An attorney and third president of the State Bar of Texas, Carter later married Aline Badger, who had grown up at the Eagar family home (which still stands at Hemisfair), and the couple had three children, Henry Champe Jr., Frank, and David.
It is Aline’s influence that is most seen and felt throughout the house today. A noted poet, astronomy educator, musician, and humanitarian, she converted the first-floor library into a chapel, installed her 1915 Wurlitzer Starke harp in a turret, and constructed an observatory on the roof of the home.
On the third floor is a collection of her fossils, rocks, and other natural specimens. Here and in the sitting rooms, she held classes for local orphans, prisoners, and others, and used a projector to show images of outer space.
Widowed in 1948 and having given much of her wealth to charity, Aline eventually converted the home into apartments that she rented for income. She eventually sold the home to her son David but resided there until her death in 1972. For a time afterward, the home sat empty and fell into disrepair.
David Carter who was born in the house, returned to live there shortly before his death in 2013. His son Paul Carter, who now owns the home with his sister Marline Carter Lawson, recently completed a three-year conservation project overseen by Lawson’s son, Carter Brown, the latest generation to maintain an apartment and office there.
“That may have been the impetus for really examining the house and considering restoration,” Brown said. “David wanted the house to simply look beautiful again and for it to have some educational purpose.”
But its age was showing. Foundation issues, roof leaks, cracking walls, and a carpet beetle infestation had taken a toll. Brown felt a restoration was in order, one that would be as faithful and delicate as possible to save the home he appreciated even as a child.
“We remember the house with unorganized piles of old furniture, papers, boxes, and other interesting items,” Brown said. “It was also the place where we made buñuelos during the summer in the carriage house. It was always an adventure to rummage around in the basement or attic. David, my grandfather, would make the old house and its history incredible with his lively tours and stories as he would point out old items or rooms.”
During a recent tour of the home for the Rivard Report, Brown described not only the house’s history and the painstaking restoration process, but also told tales of the Maverick and Carter families and how the home came to hold its many treasures.
The main level features an impressive staircase, maple columns, oak wainscoting, hard pine doors and window frames, sandstone mantelpieces, parquet floors, and coffered ceilings. A charming formal sitting room, music and dining rooms, a butler’s pantry, and kitchen are also on this floor, as well as the only bathroom original to the home, its pink granite vanity still intact.
Each room is brimming with pristine furnishings, valuable artwork, old photographs, and other décor dating to the home’s earliest days and situated as it would have been when in use by the Maverick or Carter families.
In the “courting corner,” an alcove of stained glass and carved benches tucked under the stairs, the home’s original telephone hangs on a wall. The chapel is a dim and serene space with vaulted ceilings and an antique pump organ, where the family held weddings, confirmations, and baptisms. At the top of the stairs is a photo of Alamo “savior” Clara Driscoll, who was a friend of Aline’s aunt, Florence Eagar, one of the first custodians of the Alamo.
The second floor features several bedrooms and bathrooms, H.C. Carter’s law office, and a wicker-furnished solarium. Throughout the rooms and hallways are countless works of art by Aline and others, a map collection, colorful quilt wall hangings, photographs of early Battle of Flowers parades, and a rare copper daguerreotype. A set of steps leads to the cook’s bedroom, and a doorway opens onto a spacious porch where Aline once raised doves.
Receive updates on the local impact of coronavirus in your inbox every morning.
On the third floor, which the Maverick boys are said to have called a “gym” and the girls a “ballroom,” more historic photographs, books, architectural plans, correspondence, receipts, and other papers are on display, along with framed poems written by Aline to her grandchildren. For historians, this part of the home is a bonanza documenting San Antonio’s past.
Click through the gallery below to see more images inside the Maverick Carter House.
In 2008, the Carter family invited David Johnson, former University of Texas at San Antonio history professor and vice provost for academic and faculty support, to view the family papers stored there. Some dated to the 1840s. “It was essentially a classic moment, where you walk into the storied archives in the attic, and it was indeed quite extensive … so suddenly, as a historian, I was standing in heaven,” Johnson said.
Johnson recalled being especially elated to find diary entries and letters detailing the Texas Revolution and receipts and other papers that shed light on daily life in the city during the 1870s. Many of those papers are now a permanent part of the UTSA Libraries Special Collections and available for viewing and research.
But more than half the papers and documents remain in the home, Brown said, where professional archivist Marlene Richardson has been at work in the attic for 18 years, cataloging and archiving each piece. She once discovered a petrified fruitcake in a box with letters from the 1800s and bank statements from the 1960s. “Nobody ever threw a thing away,” Richardson said.
Also on the third floor is a room where Aline once slept that still contains many of her personal belongings. A narrow set of stairs leads to the rooftop observatory where Aline held stargazing parties for her students from the Witte Museum. Added in 1925, the observatory’s domed ceiling rotates and opens for sky viewing.
Inside, a gleaming 1918 Bausch & Lomb refractor telescope is being restored by the UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy and the San Antonio League of Sidewalk Astronomers, which occasionally holds lectures in the Maverick Carter House.
The Carter family is also partnering with literary arts group Gemini Ink to produce a student poetry writing competition that will be held at the house during Fiesta. Gemini Ink Executive Director Alexandra van de Kamp said she is working with Lawson on the program and details will be announced soon.
“This home, to me, has always been a place to share,” said Lawson, who has fond childhood memories of visiting the house and currently resides in a historic home of her own in Monte Vista. “[Aline] was such a remarkable woman of her generation, so this is an homage to her. Every piece has something to do with the family, every memorabilia, every photograph, and I think it also has a direct line to how San Antonio’s history flowed.
“There is just so much history here inside these walls with all the people who were part of it, so it’s almost not ours to live in.”
The home is open for guided tours on Tuesdays and Saturdays (except holidays) and is also available to rent for events. To cover the cost of docents, admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and military, and free for children. Proceeds from rentals go toward the cost of hosting nonprofit group meetings at no cost and toward preservation of the home.