The entry to the estate
The Stewart's Mansion from Stewart Road
The Mansion's enclosed courtyard
The Mansion's rear entry via the circular drive
One of the three over-sized pirate murals in the home's foyer
The Stewart’s Mansion
My family has visited Galveston, Texas every summer for more than 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.
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 is located on Stewart Road just west of 12 Mile Road. 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, and their history and kindness are woven in the very fabric of the city of Galveston. 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. The Mr. and Mrs. Stewart and their daughter, Sarah, whom I write about in my novel, are entirely fictional, and no member of the Stewart family was murdered at the mansion.
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 on the East End Flats, 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 men, women and children were killed.
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, and now sadly in disrepair, is slated for demolition. In 1983, The State of Texas erected an official historical marker honoring “The Stewart Property.”
The mansion site has had a number of names over the years, including Campeche, Three Trees, Isla Ranch, Mottexas, Dana’s Place, and today, The Stewart’s Mansion. There are many legends associated with The Stewart’s Mansion and Campeche, including the tale of the Campeche Hell Dogs, crying children, and people feeling cold breath on the backs of their necks, all of which I’ve included in this novel. It has long been believed to be haunted - by those who believe in such things.
Other mysterious occurrences reported over the years have included piano music and the traditional creepy footsteps of every haunted mansion. Some historians believe the pirate Jean Lafitte buried treasure on the property, and although many have searched, none has been discovered. Yet.
The area where the mansion is located is called Campeche, and is the original settlement of Jean Lafitte. On Stewart Road, near the mansion, is a State of Texas historical marker recognizing 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 - clearly a stupid move. The chief sent more than 300 warriors to dispatch justice.
I have described the floor plan and layout of the mansion as accurately as possible. The three pirate murals are real, and were commissioned from a New York artist by Marge Stewart. The landing in the foyer was, in fact, used by the Stewarts for musicians. I was delighted to discover that my assumption about this was correct.
After years of neglect, the mansion fell into a sad state, and I feared it would be razed. However, it was bought by an investor who valued its historic importance and wonderfully restored. I was thrilled that they kept the original floor plan. It has now been resold, and I look forward to the new owner’s plans.
The actual Stewart family cemetery on the property is nothing like described in this book. It is a well-tended, brick-walled enclosure, honoring the family’s patriarchs.
A number of people were instrumental in the writing of this novel, and without their help and input it would not have been possible. However, I was especially honored to be able to meet and visit with Stewart Morris. Mr. Morris, who in his 90s is still active in the family company, was generous in sharing entertaining memories from 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, simply fascinating.
AUTHOR PHOTO Scott Pena