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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Preservation Work Forges Ahead at the Maxey House

By Lynn Deal, Sam Bell Maxey House Site Manager

The Sam Bell Maxey House exterior preservation project is in full construction mode. In addition to restoring the home’s wood exterior, preservation-related construction is occurring from the top of the roof to the bottom of the basement! The site also recently had six decorative exterior streetlights installed.

This exterior preservation project creates educational and recreational opportunities, and it will also enhance economic growth and development. Even though the project underwent a two-year planning stage and took another year to execute, it will ultimately preserve the house for many years—if not centuries—to come.

When the residence reopens to the public this fall, visitors will gain personal insights about former U.S. Senator Sam Bell Maxey and his family. Like many of today’s homeowners, Maxey’s experiences prior to building this house were complex and interesting. Sam and his wife Marilda had been married for 15 years when they built this home. Maxey had already served both the United States and the Confederate States of America. He had also gained experience as a court clerk, an attorney, and a district attorney. Through it all, he maintained personal relationships, including those of a husband, father, son, brother, and friend.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the house is the brief window of time in which it was built. Construction began in 1867, just two years after the end of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction, a time when most people, particularly Southerners such as the Maxeys, had limited funds.

Part of the current construction project involves repairing, stripping, priming, and painting all of the decorative millwork that has been lost or damaged over the past 142 years. This includes the decorations on the top of the front porch capitals and under and around the hooded windows; the carved roof pediment; the widow’s walk; and the upstairs back porch railings. Repairing, re-staining, and returning the shutters to operational condition and repairing and painting the original windows—including repairing and reinforcing the original lead glass windows above the front porch door—are also in the works.

The 2010–11 construction project also involves extensive behind-the-scenes work, which will transition this traditional residential structure into a functional, 21st century museum. These structural changes require a very delicate balance, as the original intent of the home must remain while allowing modern technology to be introduced, creating a safe environment for the entire structure, its artifacts, and the public. 

To achieve a balance between historic and contemporary needs, the original Victorian architecture has been modified so it accommodates items like a fire suppression system. Sprinkler pipes and heads and strobe lights (shown in the photo below) are being added as well. This technology will ultimately preserve and protect the home and its 10,000-plus original Maxey family artifacts. Additional improvements, such as better ventilation, will assist preservation and economic sustainability.

A grand re-opening to the public is currently in the works. Meanwhile, a specially designed, temporary exhibit entitled “Presently Preserving” is open to the public. The handicapped-accessible exhibit is located in the trailer on the grounds next to the parking lot. This exhibit details the story of the tremendous amount of work that was completed before the construction process could begin. The temporary exhibit is free and open 9 a.m.–4 p.m., Tuesday–Sunday at 812 Church St. in Paris.

For more information, call 903.785.5716 or visit The Sam Bell Maxey House is located in the Texas Lakes Trail Region.

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