Preservation is not just about saving a wonderful old home like this beautiful Prairie Foursquare. It’s also about preserving the stories of those that have called these houses home. That story may be about who built it or who owned it in the 1900s. Each of those stories lends a rich layer to a home’s history.
Digging through The Dallas Morning News archives is like taking a trip down memory lane. You can find anything. When I started searching for information on this Prairie Foursquare, I was delighted to find several stories on the gentleman that lived there most of his life, W.J. Newcom, known as the fiddling cowboy. One that gave me a chuckle referred to him as, “An old cowhand from the Rio Grande.” After his years as a trail driver on the Old Chisolm Trail, he settled down in this Prairie Foursquare with his wife, raised six daughters here, and celebrated his 100th birthday in this Old East Dallas house.
His 1954 obituary gives us some insight into why he was important to Dallas:
As a young Tennessee mountaineer, he tucked his fiddle under his arm and set out in 1876 on a year-long trek to Texas.
Newcom hired out as a cowboy after reaching Cooke County and rode the cattle trails to Kansas through Indian territory. The hostile tribes made it rough, burning the grass ahead of the herds and stampeding the cattle at every opportunity despite Army patrols, he recalled.
Later, Newcom helped clear the sites for White Rock Lake and Lake Dallas for use as water reservoirs. It was while on the Lake Dallas project that he selected a site at the lake and founded Camp Tejas, a private camp for boys, which is still in operation.
Let’s fast forward to another interesting story about this house. You may be wondering about that 12-burner Wolf range, two convection ovens, and the gigantic a six-by-nine-foot kitchen island. I know I was! I figured it had to be owned at one time by a chef, and I was right. Andrew Ormsby is one of the best chefs in the country. He and his wife spent a couple of years sailing the world on a luxury yacht. Andrew was the private chef for Trammel Crow before settling in Dallas.
“When you finally hit land, you want a house with your stuff in it,” Ormsby said. Ormsby and his wife love old homes, so when he spotted this 1914 Prairie Foursquare, he knew it was the perfect place to settle in, open a catering company, and raise his children.
He immediately knocked the back of the house off, thinking he’d build a huge kitchen and start his company from his home. His catering company took off faster than he’d imagined, so they had to get a commercial space. But they were left with an absolutely fantastic 400-square-foot kitchen.
The Ormsbys did a fair number of cosmetic updates as well. I don’t have any information on who lived in this two-story Prairie Foursquare after Mr. Newcom and before the Ormsbys, but they liked color.
“The wallpaper was outrageous,” Andrew said. “There was purple paisley in one room!”
Everything was stripped back to the plaster, re-plastered where necessary, and painted. A bedroom and bathroom were taken back to the shiplap, which was stained and polished. With the expansion of the kitchen, the house now has 2,784 square feet, three bedrooms, and three bathrooms.
Two years ago, Kate Nielsen and Michael Tait made this Prairie Foursquare their home.
“I’m not a chef, but I love the kitchen,” Kate said. They moved from Los Angeles several years ago and had grown weary of the Dallas cookie-cutter-style home. It was time for something different.
“This house had history and charm and reminded me of Hancock Park in Los Angeles,” Kate said. The couple had renovated a 1940s home in Malibu. They understood the value of living in an older home.
“When we saw this house, it did not seem like a headache of an old house that you often see,” Kate said.
They kept the original floors and fireplace, and we updated the downstairs bath to create a vintage feeling.
“I added new light fixtures and painted the front of the house white to keep it from feeling dark, but I went for some drama in the living room!”
That room and a dining room feature wall got a coat of Sherwin Williams Greenblack that provided exactly the right amount of drama.
This Prairie Foursquare has been well-loved by many families. Ormsby told me if he had not started a new project, he’d happily move back into this home.
“My kids love that house, and so do I,” he said. “They are always nagging me to get it back.”
Ormsby may get his wish, but only if the next owners don’t stay over 40 years as Mr. Newcom did!
Karen Eubank is the owner of www.eubankstaging.com. She has been an award-winning professional home stager and writer for over 25 years. Karen teaches the popular Staging to Sell class and is the creator of the online course, The Beginners Guide to Buying Wholesale. Her love of all dogs, international travel, good chocolate, great champagne, and historic homes knows no bounds. Her father was a spy, so she keeps secrets very well!