History

Fulton Mansion: An Enduring Legacy of Texas Beauty and History

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My husband and I spent several hours visiting the beautiful and historic Fulton Mansion on a recent trip to Rockport-Fulton. We try to visit Rockport at least once a year, and the stately house on Fulton Beach Road, with its commanding view of Aransas Bay, is always a must-see. Every time we visit this Texas state historic site, we learn more about George W. Fulton and the palatial home he built for his wife Harriett and their family.

On one memorable December visit, we enjoyed an old-fashioned Christmas caroling evening at Fulton Mansion. School choirs sang traditional music on the candle-lit lawn that featured over 200 luminaries. Authentically costumed docents led tours of the mansion’s first floor and served us hot cider and gingerbread in the education center afterward.

Harvey Wreaks Havoc

Fulton Mansion: An Enduring Legacy of Texas Beauty and History

Photo: Fulton Mansion Sunroom

After Hurricane Harvey devastated the resort town, we returned a few months later to find the mansion closed for extensive repairs and renovations. The Category IV Hurricane made landfall in Rockport Aug. 25, 2017, and the eye of the storm lingered there for hours. Harvey demolished hotels, schools, homes, and many other structures in the area. But the 143-year old mansion, with its stacked wood plank construction and Shellcrete foundation, was so solidly built, it weathered the storm better than most modern structures.

The mansion’s flat metal roof and chimneys were destroyed, though, and inside carpets, plaster walls, and collections were badly damaged. Fulton Mansion’s Education and History Center reopened Nov. 2 in 2017. Although the mansion would not reopen for visitors for some time, we were able to continue studying its history by visiting the center.

Touring Fulton Mansion

Fulton Mansion: An Enduring Legacy of Texas Beauty and History

Photo: Christi Morgan

This year, with renovations finally finished, we were privileged to take a more informative tour of Fulton Mansion. Christi Morgan, the museum store manager, was our articulate and well-informed tour guide. She took us to view upstairs rooms and the basement area we’d never been allowed to see before, while filling us in on more Fulton family lore. We were once again amazed at George Fulton’s entrepreneurial spirit and engineering expertise. His innovations included a system for flushing toilets and heating/cooling the structure’s four stories.

Designed in the elaborate French Second Empire architectural style, Fulton Mansion was a work in progress from 1874-1877. It featured indoor plumbing that provided water to sinks in all six bedrooms, plus gas lighting and central heating. The family home even boasted three bathrooms (at a time when many rural Texans relied on outhouses) with built-in bathtubs. These engineering feats must have been especially extraordinary in the late 1800s. The mansion was originally called Oakhurst, for the numerous live oak trees populating the 60-acre grounds.

George Fulton Joins Texas Republic

Fulton Mansion: An Enduring Legacy of Texas Beauty and History

Photo: Texas Historical Commission

Learning about George Fulton’s life is almost like reading a Texas history book. Like Davy Crockett from Tennessee, George tried to bring a band of volunteers from his Indiana home to fight in the 1836 Texas war for independence. Unlike Crockett, he arrived in Texas too late to fight in the war that had ended in April at San Jacinto. Fulton still enlisted in the Texas Republic’s army, and when he left military service he was awarded land grants. He became friends with Henry Smith, a key figure in the Texas Republic. Smith was elected provisional governor of Texas while it tried to escape Mexican rule.

The two men partnered on several business ventures, and Fulton married Smith’s 17-year-old daughter Harriett in 1840. In 1846 George and Harriett moved east with their three children (two more children were born later). George became successful in everything he tried. From 1846-1865 he worked as a newspaper reporter, railroad superintendent, civil engineer, bridge builder, and inventor of a patented device to improve ship propellers. But when his homesick Texan wife expressed her longing to return home, George agreed to return to Texas.

From Civil Engineer to Cattle Baron

Fulton Mansion: An Enduring Legacy of Texas Beauty and History

Photo: George Fulton’s study, courtesy Texas Historical Commission

In 1867, soon after the family returned to Texas, George established the town of Fulton. Always an innovator, George built a wharf on Aransas Bay and also established a meatpacking business. He partnered with local ranchers Coleman and Mathis to start a ranching enterprise and even patented an improved method of curing and cooling meat. In 1879, the Coleman-Fulton Pasture Co. had 200,000 acres of ranch land. George had become known as a Cattle Baron.

When George was 83, he died at home in the palatial mansion he built for his beloved Harriett. The couple had been married 53 years, and their golden anniversary was celebrated with a lavish party at Fulton Mansion. The party was lovingly detailed by society papers across Texas. Harriett only stayed at Fulton Mansion a few years after George’s death before moving to Ohio to live with a daughter’s family. The family sold the vacant Fulton Mansion in 1906, and Harriett died in 1910 at age 88.

Texas Historic Site Since 1976

Fulton Mansion: An Enduring Legacy of Texas Beauty and History

Photo: Mary Alvarez

George and Harriett Fulton are buried side by side in the Rockport Cemetery. Their lovely mansion endured years of changing owners and neglect. It slowly fell into disrepair, since most owners didn’t have the funds needed to maintain such a large house. One owner tried running a restaurant there. For almost 20 years, from the late 1950s until 1976, it was part of a trailer park. The mansion’s basement was used as a recreation area.

Fortunately, the State of Texas designated Fulton Mansion as a historic site in 1976 and purchased the property for $150,000. Renovations began in 1979; it took seven years and $1.6 million to restore the mansion back to its original condition. After Fulton Mansion opened to the public on Dec. 10, 1983, over 1,600 visitors toured the mansion that first month. More than 20,000 visitors tour the Fulton Mansion each year. It is maintained by Texas Historical Commission with support from the nonprofit Friends of Fulton Mansion and the cities of Rockport-Fulton.

Fulton Mansion stands as a magnificent monument to American ingenuity and perseverance, and a rich legacy gift to Texans. For more information about Fulton Mansion, or to schedule a tour, please visit their website at visitfultonmansion.com.