With Howard Days just around the corner, I thought I’d provide a little history and information on the Howard House. While the exterior of the house has remained virtually unchanged, thankfully the inside has been improved with the addition of central air conditioning, a must have during the scorching hot summer days in West Texas.
In 1919 Dr. Isaac Howard purchased the house from Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Coffman for $1500; he paid $500 in cash and the remainder in promissory notes. The wood frame house was apparently built by the Coffmans for their granddaughter and her husband, a Dr. Boomer. However, one source indicated the house was new when Dr. Howard bought it. Either before or shortly after they moved in, Dr. Howard added a bathroom and a rear L- shaped enclosed porch. A portion of the porch served as a small bedroom, used at first by Dr. Howard or by a cousin who lived with the Howards briefly, and, later, as Robert’s bedroom and office, and the remaining portion as a sleeping porch.
Here are excerpts of a description of the exterior of the house from the National Register of Historic Places Narrative, which was written in 1993 by Howard fan Steve Mitchell:
Robert E. Howard House, Highway 36 west, Cross Plains, Callahan County, is a one-story, roughly T-shaped single family dwelling of box, or board-frame, construction. The vertical boards which serve as the structural system are sheathed in weatherboard, and the house rests on brick piers with brick infill. The intersecting gable roofs are covered with asphalt shingles. Turned posts with decorative spindlework support a shed roofed porch on the facade, or north elevation. Despite a shed roofed addition on the rear elevation and interior alterations, most of which are reversible, the house retains its original form and design and its floor plan has been essentially preserved. It retains integrity of design, materials, workmanship, location, feeling, and, especially, of association. (…) The intersecting gable roofs are covered with asphalt shingles. A single brick chimney pierces the ridge near the eastern end of the shorter, east-west axis. There are returns in all three gable ends.
The gable end of the longer north-south axis projects on the facade, or north elevation, and, with the north elevation of the shorter axis, forms a truncated ell. A shed roofed porch supported by turned posts with spindlework shelters the front entrance to the house, located nearer to the projecting gable end, and a single one-over-one double-hung window. The door opens into a central hall which runs the length of the house. Paired one-over-one double-hung windows are centered in the gable end and open into the parlor. At an unknown date, a concrete slab replaced the original wooden porch floor.
The west elevation faces Avenue J, an unimproved dirt street which connects Highway 36 and an alley which runs parallel to the highway; in Howard’s lifetime, this alley may have served as the Howards’ driveway and may not have extended through the east-west alley which now runs along the rear of the property. Asymmetrically arranged in the west elevation are five windows. The northernmost window is one-over-one double-hung and opens into the parlor. Paired one-over-one double-hung windows are located near the center of the elevation and open into the dining area. The remaining pair of windows, also one-over-one double- hung, open into the kitchen and are smaller than the other windows on the elevation.
Descriptions of the interior of the house during Robert’s lifetime are hard to come by. In 1934 Novalyne Price Ellis unexpectedly paid Robert, the purpose of which was to discuss writing. This is how she described her first visit to the house:
The house was average. A white frame house in need of paint. The walk was average. The yard was average, no better kept than the yards next door. Nobody here had done anything spectacular about the place he lived in. She was unimpressed with the interior. Ushered by Dr. Howard into the parlor to wait, she assessed the furnishings: I looked around the room. It wasn’t impressive, but it was the feeling it gave me that was important…. This was the kind of unfashionable living room you might find in a house where there wasn’t much money and people were more concerned with their feelings than with beauty.
The divan was old, and the side where Mrs. Howard had sat didn’t stand up as high as the middle. The other furniture was nondescript too. A rocker or two and a straight chair, a table or two. A double door led into a dining room. A white cloth was on the table and books and papers [where Robert had been writing].
After the deaths of Robert and Hester, Dr. Howard led a lonely life, he kept the house for six years, living there off and on, before selling it:
In 1942, Dr. Howard sold his house for $1050.00 to Mrs. Nancy Elizabeth Grisham. [Being in poor health, he had been living in Ranger with a colleague, Dr. Kuykendall and his family since 1940, where he worked at the West Texas Clinic & Hospital until his death in 1944.] Some interior alterations and the expansion or replacement of the rear porch probably occurred shortly after the house was sold.
In 1989, the Howard house was purchased by Project Pride, Incorporated, a community service organization “intent on keeping Cross Plains a clean, attractive and developing community and in preserving and documenting the history and heritage of the area.” Since that date Project Pride has operated the house as a museum dedicated to the works and life of Robert E. Howard. The museum is open by appointment and once each year on the anniversary of Howard’s death and has hosted visitors from all over the world. The organization has undertaken the maintenance and restoration of the house.
A few years ago, Norris Chambers, a friend of Robert and the Howard family, attended Howard Days. He was interviewed in the house by Leo Grin and provided some insight to life in the Howard home and on the Howards themselves. Video and additional commentary by Ben Friberg.
Today as you wander through the house, you try to imagine what it was like living there in the 1920s and 1930s. If you listen real closely you can almost hear the tapping of Robert’s fingers on the keys of his battered Underwood typewriter and hear Hester talking to him through the window between her bedroom and his.