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Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Story of Kerrville's Castle on the Hill

Montevista -- built by Josephine Leckie in 1925 -- on a hill south of Kerrville.
Click on any image to enlarge.

This is the story of an interesting house in Kerrville built by an interesting woman.
Recently Gary Saner, who has helped me with other columns, including solving the mystery of the missing mill built by one of his ancestors, dropped by a folder of information about an old house in Kerrville. The house, on Overlook Drive, was once the childhood home of his father, Walter Saner, from about 1937 - 1948. 
1920 passport photo
of Josephine Lecke
I think the common name for the house when I was growing up was the “castle,” and it’s been owned by many people since it was completed in 1925. It once stood alone on 140 acres, purchased in 1922, on a site commanding a view of the Guadalupe River valley and the Camp Meeting Creek area. The land extended all the way from the hilltop, and Highway 16, down to the Guadalupe River; this was before 173 was built. Today other houses are close by, and the house sits on a lot slightly less than 2 acres.
The house was built by a widow, Josephine Haltom Goodhue Leckie, as a summer home. Mrs. Leckie, born in Beaumont, Texas in 1864, was widowed twice. Her first husband, John Goodhue, with whom she had a daughter and son, was a developer and builder in Beaumont who died in 1906; her second husband, John Leckie, was a Scot, and passed away in 1918. She met her second husband, John Leckie, while on a visit to Constantinople; his brother was said to be a member of Great Britain’s House of Lords. Locals called Mrs. Leckie “Lady Leckie,” though it was probably not her actual title.
Both husbands left considerable resources to their widow, Josephine.
Josephine Leckie was 60 when she purchased the property on the hill just south of downtown Kerrville. She was specific about what she wanted to build there. A 1922 article reported “she wants the house to appear as though it was a part of the surroundings and built right out from the high hill there.” It was to be built of local stone and native cedar and cypress.
Mrs. Leckie chose to build here in Kerrville due to her life-long friendship with Mrs. Bertha Ward Fishback Wheless, whose father was the 17th governor of Arkansas. I’m not sure how the two women became acquainted.
Mrs. Leckie hired the San Antonio architect R. Vander Stratton to design her house, and Moeller & Weibacher of San Antonio to build it. Construction began in October, 1924, and was under the watchful supervision of Mrs. Leckie’s nephew, W. G. Leckie. When construction began, Mrs. Leckie left for an around-the-world tour.
A more recent photo of Montevista
The house took over 900 loads of native stone, and cost about $25,000 to build. It had “ten rooms and three baths; large and commodious hallways connect the various apartments.” The “spacious living room and dining room, which are joined by a large arched entrance, so that they can be thrown together into one large room 60 feet in length.”
It was designed “after the old Norman style of architecture, as far as exteriors are concerned.” It featured a flat roof, where a dance floor was constructed. The steel window frames were imported from England, and the “artificial lighting system is electric, current for same being supplied by the city of Kerrville. The entire building is steam heated and water is supplied from their own system.”
Another unique feature was a sleeping porch over the driveway and porte-cochère -- it had big windows on three sides, and was high off of the ground -- making it the coolest room in the house on hot evenings. 
She called the house “Montevista.” After returning from her extended vacation in April, 1925, six months after she left, she found the construction was completed, she decided to spend the summer there. 
In December, 1925, public notice was given that Mrs. Leckie was constructing a dam on the Guadalupe River, “5 ½ feet in height, 175 feet in length, and 5 inches in width,” to provide irrigation for her fields below the house. (Those fields now are home to places like the area near the Rio 10 Movie Theater, for example, and part of the Kerrville River Trail.) This dam would also allow for a swimming spot, which may have benefited others nearby, including the Westminster Encampment.
While here, Josephine Leckie was involved in the Kerrville Literary Club, the Kerrville Country Club, and several bridge clubs. When she left Kerrville, in June, 1937, the society page listed several events held in her honor. At one farewell event she described a recent trip where she had attended the coronation of King George IV. 
Ever the traveler, Leckie left Kerrville for a trip to Scandinavia, France and England. I’m not sure she ever returned to Kerrville.
Josephine Haltom Goodhue Leckie died in April, 1940, in New Orleans, and is buried in Beaumont next to her first husband.
Later owners called the house “Stonehaven.” O. B. Saner (Gary’s grandfather, I believe) purchased the land and house in 1937.
The house is a private home today. Please respect their private property if you drive by to see the old house.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys researching local history. This column appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 30, 2022. 

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4 comments:

  1. In the mid '70s Dejuan Abel purchased this home and moved his family from St. Louis to the Hill Country. Mr. Abel patented a product called hexacomb, a cardboard packing product borrowing design ideas from bees. As a child I had the good fortune to spend many days and nights at this interesting home. A Staircase going to the flat roof was a highlight.

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  2. Boy, she certainly lived a long life. Fancy seeing George IV crowned!

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  3. In the 50's and 60's the house could be seen like a sentry standing high over Kerrville on its mountain. It could be seen from many vantage points especially on Hwy 16 as you approached town driving from Comfort. Over the years the Cedar and other fauna overtook its lofty perch obscuring its stone walls and flat roof from view.

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  4. Fantastic story....it is what makes Kerrville so magical. Thank you! Janice, who visits Kerrville every summer from Nebraska.

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