Overview - Polley Mansion aka Whitehall - Our Story

Polley Mansion aka Whitehall

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Joseph Henry Polley and his wife Mary Bailey Polley, the builders of this house, are Old 300’s, the first settlers under Stephen F. Austin’s colony in Texas during the 1820’s. Joseph H. Polley was born in Whitehall, New York, in 1795. After serving as a teamster in the War of 1812 he left home and headed west, with accordingly to family history, “a horse, a rifle, and 50 cents in his pocket.” Along the way west, he befriended Moses Austin and traveled with him to Texas in 1820. After Moses Austin died, Polley came to Texas with Stephen F. Austin as one of the first twenty-two immigrants to come to Austin's Colony in 1821. After living for a short time at San Felipe de Austin, Polley settled at Bell's Landing on the Brazos. In 1823 he married Mary Bailey, daughter of the celebrated James Britton “Brit” Bailey, another “Old 300.” It is worthy of note that the marriage ceremony was performed three times, first, by the local Alcalde, and second, by a visiting priest, in conformity with Mexican law. Thirty couples were married at the same time in the second ceremony. Just to make the knot secure a third ceremony was performed by a Protestant minister.

Polley was appointed by Stephen F. Austin the first sheriff of the colony. In the "Runaway Scrape", incident to Santa Anna's advance into central Texas during the revolution in 1836, Polley was detailed to escort the women and children out of danger, and he thus missed participating in the battle of San Jacinto.

In 1847 Polley moved from his home on the Brazos River in Brazoria County, which he had called "Whitehall" in honor of his birthplace. He selected a site for his new home on the small knoll overlooking Cibolo Creek about three miles north of old Sutherland Springs, in what was then Guadalupe County (established 1846) and is now Wilson County (established 1860). At this time there were no other anglo settlers in the vicinity, although shortly afterwards settlers came in fast. Polley built a "stake house" and lived in it four years while the big mansion was being constructed.

Prior to the War between the States, he accumulated vast holdings of land and cattle. In 1859 and 1860 he owned 150,000 head of cattle, more than any man in Texas with the exception of the King Ranch. His holding were scattered from Fort Bend County to Marble Falls, from Corpus Christi to Austin and south to the Rio Grande. In 1859 and 1860, 3,500 calves were branded in Guadalupe County alone. During the previous year, the same number had been branded in Bexar County. The total for one season was 10,000 head.

Depredation of the Mexicans alone caused a loss of 16,000 head from the Polley herds. The losses from Comanche depredations must have also been enormous. Polley's brand was "J-P" connected and was first registered in Harrisburg, Harris County (later Houston) in 1840, and later “J-H-P” connected which was registered in Bexar County, San Antonio.

So much for the owner -- Now to the house. Construction was started in 1848, when Joseph's brother, Jonathan, came down from Whitehall, New York, to assist with the design and start of the mansion (Jonathan Polley is sometime referred to as the architect of the house). The house is a most substantial appearing two story, rectangular structure, sometimes described as Greek-Revival architecture. It was built from hard stone quarried at a point about three miles distant, and transported in ox drawn wagons driven by slaves, to the building site. The wagons used the "Old Indian Crossing" over Cibolo Creek. The interior as well as the exterior walls are of solid stone and eighteen inches thick -- It was really built to last.

The house is heated by six open fire places. The woodwork was constructed from cypress timber hauled in ox drawn wagons from sawmills in the vicinity of Bandera, Texas. There are eight rooms in the building averaging in the size about 16 x 17 feet, and two large halls running the full length of the house, 30 x 12 feet in size. The rafters and supporting timbers are partly tied together with wooden pins, nails being used in some places. The rafters are 5 x 7 inches in actual measurement, and the joists are 2 x 12 inches, all from the finest cypress timber. Across the front of the house and extending the full width are porches, 10 x 51 feet, on both the lower and upper floors.

The windows, doors and window shutters were manufactured in New York, transported by water to Indianola, and thence by ox drawn wagon to the building site. The lovely rosewood piano with mother of pearl keys, the carpets and other household furniture were secured in a similar manner.

The lime used to make mortar was burnt from mussel shells gathered in the bed of Cibolo Creek. One story told about the construction of the house is that the mason who contracted to build the chimneys stipulated that he was to receive a jug of whiskey each Saturday in addition to the cost of the work. On one Saturday, for some reason Mr. Polley failed to supply the jug of whiskey. In retaliation the mason partially clogged up one of the chimneys with debris such as chunks of mortar and stone. Of course, ever afterwards this particular chimney smoked when a fire was built. Many years later when the chimneys were inspected and cleaned the debris was discovered and removed, and from then on the chimney worked perfectly.

Rooms in the house were names "Green Room", "Pink Room", "Star Room", "Blue Room", the bridal chamber, and "Tan Room". Polley called the house "Whitehall", after his old home on the Brazos, but it is mostly referred to as the "Polley Mansion" or "Polley House".

The lawn was sodded with Bermuda grass, and the shade trees and shrubs were planted. Two of the old Post Oak trees still survive, one in the front yard, and one in the backyard.

In the rear of the right side of the house and twenty-five feet distant is located the old kitchen. It was connected with the house by a lattice enclosed room, which was used as a Summer dining room, and in which the cowboys were fed. The kitchen was an extremely well built single room log cabin made of hand hewn post oak logs, one of the finest log cabins still remaining in Texas. Cooking was done on a large open fire place. A cotton gin, quarters for the slaves, barns and corrals were constructed adjacent to the house. All of these improvements with the exception of the kitchen have disappeared. On the north side of the house a huge stone lined, underground cistern for drinking water was built. This cistern is still in good condition and is still used. The original stone walled well, located in a small ravine about 75 yards in rear of the house, is no longer in use, a windmill having been erected over it, now overgrown with trees. In season it was
the job of the “picaninnies” to water Mrs. Polley's flower from this old well.

At the time the house was built and for many years thereafter Indians were active in the vicinity, with last known Indian raids occurring in 1855. After a school was started, fear of the Indians interfered greatly with the attendance of the children. It was particularly unsafe to let them go to school in foggy weather. On one occasion two slaves driving a wagon were attacked by Indians. One of them was lassoed and captured and was never heard from again.

Lieutenant Colonel, afterwards General Robert E. Lee (Confederate States Army) was a friend of Mr. Polley's , and was entertained in the house several times. The last letter that Lee wrote from Texas was the one he wrote from old Sutherland Springs to John Twohig of San Antonio on February 19, 1861. For many years, it was believed that Lee wrote the letter from the Polley Mansion, but current historians do not believe that to be the case. Colonel Lee was enroute to Washington City (now called Washington, DC) and Sutherland Springs was the first stop on the stage route out of San Antonio. The stage stopped overnight where he wrote the letter and had it sent back to San Antonio the next morning, as he proceeded to Indianola to catch his ship to New Orleans and then via train to Washington.

Two of the Polley boys went to war in 1861. Joseph B. Polley enlisted in Company F, 4th Texas Infantry, a regiment which was a part of the famous "Hood's Texas Brigade." He served in all the hard fighting of the several campaigns in Virginia until he was severely wounded, losing a foot in 1864. Later he wrote a history of Hood's Texas Brigade and also another book, "Letters to Charming Nellie".

The war between the States ruined the family financially. Joseph Polley lost much of his land and cattle. As a prominent Texan, he had to be pardoned by the President of the United States, and it took two pardon requests, before he was officially pardoned by the United States. He died March 28, 1869 and is buried in the Polley Cemetery just down the road from the mansion. After his death, Mrs. Polley ran a boarding house in the mansion, catering to the many visitors to the nearby Sutherland Springs.

Mrs. Polley was a wonderful woman, gifted with unbounded energy, of small stature, with a lively disposition, and never showing anger. She was the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed at night. The supervision of the dairy, the management of the housekeeping of this huge house, overseeing of the cooking for a large family, and in season, of a horde of hungry cowboys, the rearing of eleven children, besides entertaining a constant stream of visitors, made her days full indeed.

Back on the Brazos Mrs. Polley had the distinction of having helped in moulding the candles used by the first session of the Texas Congress. The candle mold that was used is in the Witte Museum in San Antonio.

She was probably the first woman in South Texas to own a sewing machine and an iron cooking stove. In contrast to the daily marketing of the average housewife of today, it is said that the Polley family only purchased groceries twice a year. They were procured at Indianola and transported overland by ox drawn wagons. As was the general rule in Texas up until the Civil War, flour was always scarce, and hot biscuits were a Sunday morning treat. Mrs. Polley excelled in preserving fruit, and was famous for her brandied peaches and cream, buttermilk, biscuits, baked hams, fried chicken and game dinners.

Mr. Polley owned and killed many hogs for his own use. Mrs. Josephine Polley Golson, his granddaughter, said that as many as fifty would be shot at one time. Hog killing time was really a big event at the Polley Mansion.

Mr. Polley resided at his home on the Cibolo until his death in 1869. He was buried in the old Polley cemetery which is a short distance (across the road) from the home. Polley owned about twenty slaves and according to his family, was a benevolent slave owner. This may be seen by his making specific arrangements in his will for the future of two of his slaves. The will says in part, "It is my will and desire that my Negro slaves Theresa and Anna shall be allowed to choose a master or mistress as they may elect among my children herein before named, provide they shall not be at liberty to choose the same master or mistress and provided further that Theresa shall be entitled to the first choice."

Thus, Polley, a very tall dignified man with a shock of gray hair, was an active citizen, serving his country and his children. Both he and his wife were the souls of hospitality, and their home was the mecca for the young people for miles around. House parties, dances and all other forms of entertainment were frequent until the Civil War came, leaving its toll. The slaves were freed, land was valueless, and drought came to cast the last sweep of wretchedness upon the already stricken homes of the South.

This majestic old home serves as a monument of prosperity of the planters of the south during the time of slavery. It is one of the best preserved mansions of slavery days in Texas, and is the only stone slave plantation house still surviving in Texas.

This "write up" is part of the info that was distributed to visitors during open house visitations while the mansion was owned by Mr. and Mrs. O.W. Linne of LaVernia, Texas, and modified slightly by its current owners.

**Owners of Whitehall**

1) Joseph Henry Polley (original builder 1848)

2) Lou Rinda Polley (1904)

3) E. W. Billings (1907)

4) Charles Moehrig (1917)

5) C. A. Goeth (1922)

6) Oscar Linne (1946)

7) Heirs to Oscar & Esther Linne: Clarence Vorpahl, et al (1990-91)

8) Hemby & Keeland, developers (1992)

9) Mark & Debbie Collins (1993)

10) Keith & Robin Muschalek (2015)

Current Physical Address: 11432 FM 539 La Vernia, TX 78121 (3 miles north of Sutherland Springs, Wilson County, Texas)

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Overview - Polley Mansion aka Whitehall - Our Story