Unhappy twist: O. Henry’s Austin honeymoon cottage went up in flames

Reader remembers the fire on Gaston Avenue


Reader Susan Wukasch writes: “I found an old paper from October 2016 and I read your Austin Found column about houses being moved, so I decided I’d ask you about the O. Henry House.”

As a child, Wukasch remembered being told that the famous author’s house had been moved from its original site to a place on Shoal Creek Boulevard, down the hill from Pemberton Heights and facing Lamar Boulevard where Gaston Avenue dead-ends.

“And I remember vividly driving with my family down Lamar one night — probably in the mid-to-late-1950s — when we came upon this house in flames, with firetrucks around fighting the fire,” she writes. “We stopped and watched for a while.”

Subsequently Wukasch, whose father was an architect with a fondness for preservation, heard that the remains of the house had been moved downtown and the home rebuilt.

RELATED: Moving a house in Texas was never easy.

“Your Austin Found column reported the house (in Brush Square) originally was downtown, not far from where it now stands, so I’m confused about why I thought it was placed for several years a significant distance north and west of that area before moving it back,” she writes. “You say the original move was carefully documented, leading me to wonder what I saw burning on the side of Lamar Boulevard all those years ago. Might my small-child self gotten the name of the house wrong?”

There’s no question that the O. Henry House, now a small museum, was moved to its present location in 1934, and that when O. Henry’s family lived in it, the house stood at 308 E. Fourth St., about a block away.

However, Wukasch’s memory serves her well.

There was a second preserved O. Henry House, his Honeymoon Cottage, that stood in what was Wooten Park (Pease Park now) on Gaston Avenue. It was moved there from the 500 block of E. 11th Street.

The new neighbors didn’t like the idea of it being there, or the Heritage Society’s plans to move the other O. Henry House there as well.

On Dec. 23, 1956, it went up in flames. It was actually the third fire reported at the house, each likely deliberately set. Two recently reinforced chimneys remained.

Historian Bonnie Tipton Wilson wrote a fine article on the conflagration cleverly entitled: “Somebody Around Here Wants to Start a Fire.”



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