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Midland Living

Bringing History to Light

Apr 22, 2019 04:13PM
by haley ragsdale | photos by studio 1401
*History of the Brown and Dorsey Family courtesy of the Midland Historical Society.


If the walls could talk of the Brown-Dorsey Medallion House, what a story it could tell. A story before electricity, a story before oil, and the story of a man from Illinois who heard the call of the wide-open ranges of Texas, and moved his family West. 

This home is the oldest standing house in Midland. It sits on North Weatherford, sandwiched between office buildings and Habitat for Humanity. The proud Victorian looks very much the same as it did over one hundred years ago.
 
The year was 1850, and Zachary Taylor Brown, or Z.T., was born in Honey Point, Illinois. Z.T. was well educated and earned a law license and degree in civil engineering from Blackburn University. In 1870, he met Sarah Mulholland, who was a maid in the Brown household, and they were married. Z.T. began practicing law in St. Louis. In his first case, Z.T. represented a man who claimed he was innocent, and Z.T. won the case. But after the verdict, the man admitted his guilt and Z.T. ended his law career. The couple then moved with his family to East Texas, and began their family. 

Lulled by tales of knee high sea grass, Z.T. and his brother-in-law came to West Texas in 1882 with a flock of 1,000 sheep. They set up a ranch seven miles southwest of a railroad stop called Midway. However, the sheep struggled to survive with the harsh conditions, and by 1890, Z.T. sold all his sheep.
 
He went into the mercantile business and built a small house for his family. 


 

In 1894, Z.T. became a rancher once more after selling his interest in the mercantile business and bought 76 sections of land 35 miles southwest of Midland to raise cattle on what he named the Railway Ranch.
 
In 1899, the Brown Home that is still standing today was built by Z.T. who ordered the kit house for $2,800 dollars. The kit was similar to those later available through the Sears catalog. The lumber was shipped by rail and was built by T.B. Wadley. (The man Wadley Avenue is named after.) Z.T. also helped start the first Catholic Church in Midland and the Midland National Bank.
 
The Brown family had six children, the eldest, Mary, died as a child. Daughter Sarah, married Hugo Dorsey from Alabama. The Dorsey’s and their seven children all lived in the house. The house stayed in the family until 1968, when Sarah sold the house to the Midland Historical Society.
 
The Society has restored the home to its present condition and succeeded in gaining the designation of a National Registry of Historic Structures and a Texas Landmark. Jim Collett, the President of the Midland Historical Society explained that the home is currently undergoing some renovations including new electrical work.

“Once we get the new wiring complete, we will have a specific time and day when we will be back open to the public for tours. In the future we want to be open for special events, like having the house decorated for Christmas,” he said.
 
Collett explained that the house is significant to Midland. “When people think about the history of Midland, they think about oil. Well there is also a whole history before oil in the area. Midland was at first a railroad town, and then a ranching town. The house is really part of that history,” Collett said.

Cheree Smith, Vice President of the Midland Historical Society, explained that they hope to utilize the house with other downtown events. “A lot of towns have a historic district, but Midland doesn’t have that. So, this house is really special,” Smith said.


 

Midland Living Magazine toured the Brown-Dorsey Medallion House, and the first thing we noticed was a very solid front door. Collett explained that this is the original oak door with brass door bell. The doorbell is like a bicycle bell because the house was built before electricity. As we stepped across the threshold, we were captivated by one of the most striking features of the home, a Gothic arch window with blue, yellow, green and rose art glass. The society refers to this window as the ‘miracle’ window because there have only been two minor breaks in that glass and they have been repaired.

The front room of the house is the parlor, and is the nicest room in the house. Parlors were used as a marker for social status and featured the best furnishings and works of art. The parlor showed that the Brown’s had become prominent citizens in early Midland. In the corner, we noticed a backless chair. Colette explained it is a bustle chair. The chair allowed women to sit with a bustle that was popular during that time. A bustle is a type of framework used to expand the fullness or support the drapery of the back of a woman’s dress, occurring predominantly in the mid-to-late 19th century.

One of the most unique features of the home is the triangular fireplace. There is a fireplace in the parlor, dining room and sitting room that all fit together like a triangle and uses one chimney. They would use wood or coal to heat the house.
 




The dining room features a table laden with china, including a sugar bowl that would indicate their wealth.
 
 “Mr. Brown had cowboys that worked for him on the ranch and when they would come to town they would eat with the family. But they didn’t enjoy it because Mrs. Brown had a lot of rules including washing their hands and fingernails, and they couldn’t relax,” Collett said.
 
Many of the furnishings in the home are original to the house, but other pieces like the wood burning kitchen range are from other Midland families. “The range was a gift from Mrs. Lineberry who used it on her Frying Pan Ranch,” Collett said.

In the kitchen is the door to a cellar that was used as a wine cellar. Mr. Brown grew grapes in an arbor and made his own wine.
 
We walked into the sitting room next as Collette explained this was more of a private room for the family. Sarah Brown and her husband Hugo Dorsey were married in this room.
 
There are no closets in the bedrooms, but a few downstairs is a luxury for a house of this age. There is also the original bathtub to the home. When the Brown’s lived in the home it drained into the garden because there was no running water.
 

 

A narrow stairway leads to an upstairs hallway and three bedrooms. “There was another door on the landing of the stairs that allowed renters to come and go. Mrs. Dorsey rented out the bedrooms to servicemen during World War II,” Collett said.
 
There is also a small attic room that was once a second bathroom for renters, but the historical society has restored the room to more of a toy room. All the bedrooms are set up with period furniture including handmade quilts from that time period.

 

Touring the Brown-Dorsey Medallion House is truly like taking a step back in time. Collette detailed a crucial step, “If you don’t know your history you are really impoverished. It is so interesting to know how different it was in the past. How they lived, but also how their lives were the same,” Collett said.
 




For more information you can contact the Midland Historical Society at 432-688-8947. †

Digital Issue Summer 2019

 

  
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