The Stewart’s Mansion

My family has visited Galveston, Texas, every summer for 30 years, and we’ve grown to love the historic seaport city with its rich history and diverse population. It seems every summer we learn something new about its storied past. It was on one of these vacations that I first discovered The Stewart’s Mansion, located on the west end of Galveston Island. At first sight, I knew I had to write about it.

The mansion was built in 1926 by George Sealy II after he bought the property from Mottexas Ranch. In 1933, Maco Stewart Sr. acquired the mansion in a land-swap with George Sealy, and the name was changed.

 

The mansion sits on Stewart Road at the end of a long driveway. Situated right on the bay, it affords beautiful views. The rambling old home, with its Spanish tile roof and white stucco walls, features a unique walled courtyard with a large fountain.

 

The Stewarts were generous philanthropists. From Stewart’s Beach on the east end of the island to Stewart Road on the west end, the family’s influence and impact are part of Galveston’s landscape. 

 

In 1893, Maco Stewart Sr. founded Stewart Title Guaranty Company, which today has offices throughout the United States and beyond. Mr. Stewart was instrumental in developing the seawall extension and donated 1,000 acres to the federal government to use in part for the construction. The seawall was built to protect the city following the devastating hurricane of September 8, 1900, in which more than 6,000 lost their lives–the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history.

In 1939, Maco Stewart Jr. inherited the property and expanded and remodeled the house using Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. In 1944, the family donated the property to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and it was used as a convalescent home for children. The mansion has been sold several times since then. In 1983, The State of Texas erected an official historical marker honoring “The Stewart Property.”

The mansion site has had several names through the years, including Campeche, Three Trees, Isla Ranch, Mottexas, Dana’s Place, and today, The Stewart’s Mansion. There are many legends associated with it and Campeche (that area of Galveston County), including the tale of the Campeche Hell Dogs, crying children, piano music, and the traditional creepy footsteps of every old mansion. It has long been believed to be haunted.

The mansion sits on the original settlement of Jean Lafitte. On Stewart Road, near the mansion, a State of Texas historical marker recognizes the pirate’s occupation of the area. The property is also the site of The Battle of Three Trees, three bloody days of battle between Lafitte’s men and the Karankawa Indians, after the pirates abducted the only daughter of the tribe’s chief–not the wisest decision. The chief sent more than 300 warriors to dispatch justice. Legend says that when the fighting ended, three dead pirates were found affixed to trees. Some historians believe Jean Lafitte buried treasure on the property, and although many have searched for it, its location remains a secret. For now.

 

I described the floor plan and layout of the mansion as accurately as possible. The three pirate murals the home famous for were real, originally commissioned from a New York artist by Marge Stewart. I was delighted to discover that my assumption that the Stewarts used the landing in the foyer for musicians who played at their many parties was correct.

The actual Stewart family cemetery on the property is nothing like describe in my story. It is a well-tended, brick-walled enclosure. The mansion has been extensively renovated, saving it from further ruin, and I’m delighted that the builder kept the original floor plan.

A number of people have been instrumental in helping me research the property. However, I was especially honored to be able to visit with Stewart Morris. Mr. Morris, who in his late 90s remains active in the family company, was generous in sharing memories of his childhood spent at The Stewart’s Mansion. The stories of his family and their home were invaluable in bringing the mansion back to life. As a journalist who relishes the reminiscences of previous generations, I found them, and Mr. Morris, to be fascinating.