Fulton Mansion – Advanced Construction in Early Texas History

Brief History

Cattle baron, George W. Fulton constructed a Second Empire-style mansion in Rockport, Texas (USA) where it overlooks Aransas Bay (Gulf of Mexico). The Fultons constructed their mansion between 1874 and 1877. Following George’s death, his widow moved away. It served as private residence and restaurant until 1976 when the State of Texas purchased the property.

Fulton Mansion State Historic Site, 317 S. Fulton Beach Rd., Rockport, TX 78382

Mr. Fulton, a bridge engineer, worked on the Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge. Learn more from the Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge Committee (CCSBC).

The Texas Historical Commission owns and operates the site and offers guided and self-guided tours.

George and Harriet Fulton lavishly furnished the home with costly items. Although nothing of original materials remained when the State of Texas purchased the home, historians replicated furniture and other items from information gleaned from Harriet’s meticulous records and receipts. She retained receipts from all her purchases.

For its time, the house incorporated many interesting features. Pocket doorsgaslights, hot and cold running water, Coleman warm-air heating system and indoor flush toilets were unusual and advanced features uncommon for the age. Door hardware came from a friend who had a hardware store in Chicago.

Water System

“Although the exact use of this room is unknown, it probably contained a pump mechanism for the water system in the house.

Rainwater collected from the roof was diverted into one of the large storage cisterns in the basement for wash water or into the outdoor cypress cistern, which stood on the circular foundation behind you. This cistern, containing layers of (oyster) shell, charcoal and sand, filtered the water into the second of the basement cisterns for drinking water. The two basement cisterns had a combined capacity of almost 16,000 gallons.

The filtered water was pumped from the basement to a small tank above the tower room. From there gravity provided pressure to supply water to the lavatories and toilets throughout the house. Water was also piped down to a heater attached to the cookstove in the kitchen and then back up to the bathrooms. Waste water ran down through a pipe next to the central vent shaft and out through the basement wall to a septic tank.” [Water System Diagram]

Text on an information placard at the southwest corner of the Fulton Mansion

Waste Management

A septic system treated sewage. Technical information is unavailable.

“The fuel storage room is conveniently located across the hall from the furnace room. Wood or coal was loaded into this room to be stored until needed.

In the furnace room, air heated by the cast iron furnace rose into ducts and was carried throughout the house. Duct openings were set into the floor or in the mantelpieces resembling fireplaces in the rooms. The ventilation system within the rooms provided a draw to bring the heated air into each room. A duct on the north side of the house supplied fresh air to the heating chamber, and a separate chimney flue vented the combustion fumes from the furnace.”

Text on an information placard at the southeast corner of the Fulton Mansion

Fulton constructed fireplaces of slate painted to appear like marble.

Oral history says W. C. Coleman, founder of the Coleman Company, Inc., designed and built this system. I cannot verify this fact. [Heating and Ventilation System Diagram]

Documented History

Like his Texan contemporary Gale Borden, George W. Fulton was an entrepreneur with a meticulously systematic imagination. Born in Philadelphia, he came to Texas from Indiana at the time of the Texas Revolution. Fulton married the daughter of Henry Smith, who was prominent in the political life of Coahuila y Texas and the Republic of Texas. Fulton and his family left Texas in 1846 and returned in 1867 to develop Harriet Smith Fulton’s inheritance of twenty-eight thousand acres from her father, including the Aransas City townsite. Fulton built a wharf, started a meatpacking company, platted the town of Fulton, and in 1871 organized Coleman, Mathis and Fulton. At the height of Rockport’s post–Civil War boom, Fulton built this three-story house, one of the most architecturally ambitious houses in South Texas at the time.

Raised a full story above grade on basement walls of cast shellcrete, the Fulton House is an early Texan example of a towered villa. The architectural authorship of the house is obscure. It has been attributed to Scottish-born New Orleans architect and builder George Purves, from whom Fulton ordered building materials, as well as to Fulton himself, who possessed the technical skills to be able to design it. Reflecting Fulton’s penchant for engineering improvements is the house’s solid construction of horizontally stacked pine planks (rather than vertical studs) and cypress sheathing. And it had up-to-date services, including indoor plumbing, gas lighting, and central heating. Original furnishings and some of the interior architectural components of the house were ordered from Cincinnati and New Orleans suppliers.

To read more, click here or on the link below.


Lighting System

Elegant gaslights provided illumination. A complex system used gaseous gasoline for power.


Mr. Fulton, an engineer, used laminated pine boards for walls and floors. Anecdotal and credible history from a tour guide of a few years ago, said a ship from the bay, during a hurricane, struck the house. The collision purportedly destroyed the ship. When you see the diagram, you can readily appreciate the house’s structural strength.

Clever shutters, installed on the inside of windows, fold back into a “pocket” when not in use.

Architectural Drawings

Note: Much of the original material, in particular the floor plans were posted on my old website that was decommissioned upon my retirement. When, if, they become available, I will update the links or upload the drawings. JNW

Front View
Basement Floor Plan
First Floor Plan
Second Floor Plan
Third Floor Plan
Floor and Wall Construction

Lighting System Diagram

Having grown accustomed to life in some of the most metropolitan cities in America, George and Harriet spared no expense equipping their Mansion with amenities that were still quite novel in southern Texas. Two massive concrete cisterns installed in the basement collected rainwater for drinking, while a thousand-gallon tower cistern supplied gravity-fed running water to the sinks and toilets throughout the home. A gas lighting system, supplied by an on-site gas generator, kept the house well lit without a need for candles, while a basement furnace kept the Mansion’s four stories warm in the winter. The furnace even diverted heat into a nearby brick enclosure, which served as a drying rack for the family’s laundry! Crystal chandeliers, patterned tiles, slate mantelpieces, and thick, hand-stitched carpets were imported from as far away as London, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York.

Friends Of Fulton Mansion
Fulton Mansion Plumbing – Friends of Fulton Mansion
Fulton Mansion Wall Construction – Friends of Fulton Mansion

Instead of building the Mansion by erecting a wooden frame and covering it in drywall, George opted to stack pine boards, one on top of the other, to create 5” thick, solid wood walls and floors that could withstand even the roughest hurricanes. The wood required to build just one wall in the Fulton Mansion would probably be enough to build a small house today!

Friends Of Fulton Mansion

Over the years, my visits were led by several different tour guides, some more knowledgeable than the rest. One story, an apparent verbal history, told how during a hurricane a ship from the bay crashed into the house, destroying the ship, barely marking the house.

Botanical Features

During initial construction, building design called for an L-shaped porch wrapping from the front (east side) around to the south side. At some point in time, Harriet discovered conservatories and insisted George use the Southside leg of the porch as a conservatory. Flowering plants thrived in flowerpots suspended on ornate cast-iron hinged hangers. [Photographs: InteriorExterior]

A Wardian case set by a north-facing window of the second-floor sitting room served as a conversation piece. Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, a physician with a passion for botany, invented the case bearing his name. You will know the case as a terrarium. [Wikipedia link]

Modern Kitchen

The basement housed a modern kitchen, complete with evaporative cooling and dumb waiter that delivered food to a butler’s pantry behind the first-floor dining room.

Text from northeast window of kitchen

“This was the food preparation center for the mansion. Food cooked on the stove, which stood against the opposite wall, was taken to the serving pantry, the small room to the right. Here, a “dumb waiter” carried meals up to the dining room on the first floor.

Perishable foods were kept in the larder or milk room accessible through the doorway across the room. Protected from direct sunlight by the shaded breezeway, the larder caught the prevailing southeasterly breezes.

Concrete troughs, with circulating water, lined the walls of the larder. Large crocks and bowls holding perishable items were placed in the water and covered with damp cloth. Meat hung from the ceiling was also covered by damp cloth. The breezes evaporated the water, keeping the air and the food cool.”


The Fulton Mansion compares to contemporary LEEDS projects, with respect to water system, HVAC, flush toilets, dumb waiter and creative botanical features. In an era of rising energy costs and the slow pace of power-generation plant construction, structures of this kind demonstrate practical rudimentary home design opportunities.


Published by John White

A lifetime (over 50 years) of experiences with automation and control systems ranging from aerospace navigation, radar, and ordinance delivery systems to the world's first robotic drilling machine for the oil patch, to process-control systems, energy management systems and general problem-solving. At present, my focus is on self-funding HVAC retrofit projects and indoor air quality with a view to preventing infections from airborne pathogens.

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