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Monday, January 17, 2011

The Little House with a Big Story

I've known Bill Nelson almost forever. And I'm glad I've gotten to know his wife Mae as well. Together they've produced a wonderful new book "The Little House with a Big Story" about the Michael Lindner house in Comfort.
I first met Bill when he was with Southwestern Engineering in Comfort, a customer of my father's print shop. Later, when Bill and his first wife, the late Kit Nelson, were with Camp Stewart in Hunt, I saw them quite often.
I met his second wife, Mae Durden-Nelson after I wrote about her book "Four Boys, Two Canoes, and the Guadalupe River" in this space several years ago. That book is about an adventure: the journey from Comfort, Texas to the Gulf, taken by two of her sons along with two of their friends.
It is a voyage most boys who grew up along the Guadalupe River dream about, including me. The difference, of course, is Ms. Durden-Nelson's sons actually made the trip.
Now Bill and Mae have written about another adventure: the Michael Lindner house in Comfort.
Bill was first aware of the house in 1960, and, since it was across
the street from his church in Comfort, he saw it quite often. Having an architectural degree from Texas  Tech, he was intrigued by old fachwerk houses, houses framed in timber, chinked with stones, and often finished with plaster.

The house was given to Comfort's Sacred Heart Catholic Church around 1965, and stood empty for many years. In 1976 a tornado "peeled back part of the tin roof of the old house."
"That poor house," Bill thought at the time. "What a shame."
It occurred to Bill, after hearing the old August Faltin fachwerk house was to be restored, that the Lindner house could also be restored. Bill offered to buy the little house from the Catholic church, and soon the house was his.
One big problem though: he had to move it, within one year.
Moving a structure like the house was a problem. Of course, it was old, probably built in the 1850s. And it was never built to be moved. It had a cellar, for one thing, and the old framing was hand-hewn cypress, with the beams joined with mortise and tenon joints, secured by wooden pegs. The walls were covered with a cypress lath, secured by square nails, and the cavities between were filled with rocks, then finished with plaster.
It's likely the plaster was made right across the river -- by heating limestone rocks "with sufficient heat to drive off the carbon dioxide."  Thus both mortar and plaster were made by early hill country settlers.
The floor of the little house was cypress, probably milled either in Comfort, or as far away as New Braunfels.
Before the house could be moved the entire "skeletal structure" had to be reinforced, just so the house could "withstand the move."   Bill wondered if the building was strong enough for the move -- but it was, and in the spring of 1978 the little house traveled through Comfort.
Here's the thing about the Nelson's book about the old Lindner house: it, too, is an adventure, told in Bill's words, about saving a historic structure. It tells about the hard work, the risks, and the rewards of historic preservation.
I really enjoyed this little book, and I hope it encourages others to preserve historic structures!
For more information about the book, and to order a copy, visit Wolfmueller's Books on Earl Garrett Street, or www.MaeDurdenNelson.com.

This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times on December 15, 2011.


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