Underwood House moved to safer location

By David Doerr
The Facts

Published August 25, 2005

EAST COLUMBIA — Wearing the concern of loving caregivers on their faces, members of the First Capitol Historical Foundation watched Wednesday as crews moved the Ammon Underwood House away from the banks of the Brazos River.

The river threatened to swallow the landmark four times during the home’s 170-year existence.

The house’s new location, about 300 yards down Main Street, is expected to take it off the endangered list for historical sites by placing it away from the river’s path.

The Underwood House, named after Ammon Underwood, a store owner and trader who moved to Texas in 1834, would be sitting under water in the middle of the river if it had not been moved the first time in 1865, said Beth Griggs, First Capitol Historical Foundation president. Since then, owners of the house have twice moved the house further away from the encroaching banks of the river, she said.

“We wanted to keep it on this side of the river in spite of the fact of what the river has done to us because we talk to school children here,” Griggs said. “We tell children about how so much of the traffic of the early settlers went up this river and it is nice to show them exactly where it was.”

However, the river steadily has carved away its own west bank, which makes a bend upstream of the house, sending a water current toward where it stood until Wednesday.

The project to move the house again began in earnest about year ago, when members of the historical foundation went to the Brazoria County Commissioners Court to request discretionary federal grant money, Griggs said. Pct. 4 County Commissioner Larry Stanley and County Judge John Willy approved giving the group $25,000 in grants to help cover moving costs.

Stanley watched the house graze tree limbs as it made its way down the street, lined with restored homes emblazoned with historical markers.

“When you stop to think about how long the house has been there, what it was for and how many school children have visited it over the years, it is a tremendous asset to our community,” Stanley said.

The house was used to board traveling families after they followed the river north from the Gulf of Mexico.

He credited the foundation’s volunteers with making the move possible.

“That’s the key to this,” Stanley said. “So much of this would not be possible without them.”

Darriel Johnson, who has lived across the street from the Underwood House for about 10 years, said he had fond memories of the people who came by to look at the house.

“It is going to be strange looking out and not seeing the house; it has been here so long,” Johnson said. “We enjoyed having those kids out here. They fired a canon out here once to show the kids and it scared me a bit, but it’s been fun.”

Dow Texas Operations awarded the foundation a $25,000 grant to pay for restoration work on the hand-hewn cedar house.

Wilma Ogilvie, the foundation’s treasurer, said members of the organization hope to host a reception at the house once it is ready to receive visitors again. Donations to the foundation still are needed to cover other costs associated with the move, she said.