That was George Washington Hufstedler’s idea. With his wife, Mary, and his 15-year-old daughter, he moved to Bee County in 1896 from Clarksville, Texas.
Bee County, rich in a plant called huajilla, was perfect; bees love it because its nectar produced desirable honey.
Hufstedler built hives for his queen bees – which he sold – and, in 1901, built a Queen Anne home of cypress lumber brought by wagon to the ranch in western Bee County from the railhead in Beeville.
They named it “Oakland Heights.”
TODAY, THE home still stands, lovingly maintained by Hufstedler’s great-great-granddaughter, Linda, and her husband, Ed McKay.
Texas has recognized the ranch for being operated by members of the same family continuously for more than a century. Linda and Ed are the fourth generation to own it.
On a cool and nippy Wednesday morning, Ed and Linda sat in the 100-year-old home chilled by one of the first cool spells of the fall.
The house is neither air-conditioned nor heated. But on summer days, opening the front and back doors creates a significant, cooling draft.
Numerous Hufstedler descendents occupied the house until the early 1950s. It remained dormant for almost 30 years.
Linda and Ed reside in their own home on the property. They both were teaching school in Beeville.
“We used the place for storage for a while,” she says.
Finally, the couple began the gradual process of refurbishing.
“We did it little by little,” Ed says. Or, perhaps it was Linda. They bounce facts off each other for verification.
“When we started,” Ed remembers, “the wallpaper had fallen off the walls.”
Work started in the kitchen, then progressed one room at a time, including two bathrooms dominated by lions-claw tubs.
Linda used to teach homemaking; Ed is a former Air Force Arctic Dew Line radarman.
“Our goal at first,” he says, “was do just enough to keep the home from falling down.”
“Just enough” included leveling the house, which required the removal of the kitchen floor.
Next was clearing acres and acres of underbrush.
“The place was overrun by hackberry trees that Hufstedler had planted as a windbreak,” Ed remembers.
Meanwhile, the plumbing and the wiring were waiting.
“And then there is our eternal challenge,” Ed says. “The leaking roof.”
In an upstairs bedroom, Ed unlatches a small door that leads to the attic. He flips on the lights to reveal a lamp fixture connected to two cloth-insulated, parallel electric wires.
“This is old wiring, before REA (the New Deal Rural Electrification Administration),” Ed says
To walk into the home is to enter a time capsule. With the exception of a microwave oven and a television set, the clocks seemed to have stopped in the late 1940s to early 1950s.
Each room has its own theme. Babies are predominant in the blue room, a bedroom with blue walls, furnished with cradles and photographs of toddlers.
Across the center hall is the “bird room” because Linda’s grandmother raised canaries there.
On a vanity top in one room are faded newspaper editions announcing Neil Armstrong walking on the moon and another proclaiming Eisenhower’s victory over Adlai Stevenson for the 1952 presidency.
In the living room: a pump organ and a Fischer of New York upright piano.
“My mother and father were married in front of that fireplace,” Linda says.
The fireplace no longer is functional, Ed says, because the chimney bricks collapsed in the attic.
Up 17 steps in three stages to the second floor is the toy room, filled with children’s toys from many eras.
“This is the favorite room for the grandchildren,” Linda notes.
An adjacent bedroom – the one with the door to the attic – is what the McKays call the “Rancher’s Room,” with an antler hat rack, an iron bed, saddle stands, a Royal portable typewriter and a cedar closet stuffed with feather mattresses.
A third, upstairs bedroom is the ladies sewing room, complete with two treadle sewing machines, one made my Singer, the other by Davis. Stuffed in one of its drawers, the original instruction manual.
All three upstairs bedrooms are connected by a central hall with bookshelves holding hundreds of period books, many book-of-the-month selections circa 1950-60.
Today, the McKays make occasional use of the home.
“We have spent Thanksgivings and Christmases here,” Linda says, “depending on the weather.”
In May each year, the Bee County Retired School Personnel group holds its last meeting of the year at the house.
“Its also been used for church retreats,” Ed says.
The land that began with beekeeping remains true to its purpose. Not far from the Victorian home are numerous beehives operated by a Canadian firm.
As the McKays locked the doors, preparing to return to their home, numerous bees batted against the screen porch adjacent to the kitchen.
“They haven’t figured out yet they can escape through this open door,” Ed says, trying to shoo them to freedom. “But, they will.”
Driving away from Oakland Heights, a slight rise keeps the home hidden from road traffic.
“It’s been difficult,” Ed says, “but it’s been a pleasure, too.”
Watching the house disappear behind oak trees only a few days before Thanksgiving, Linda adds, “It’s our way of honoring those who have gone before. I hope, if they are looking down at us, they approve of what we have done.
“It means family; it’s all about family.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.