William Cameron House

For eighty-eight years, the William Cameron House stood as a nineteenth-century architectural treasure near the intersection of Twelfth Street and Austin Avenue. The fine embellishments on the mansion dazzled Waco residents, and helped it to become a familiar and revered residential landmark of the city. 

Born in Scotland on January 11, 1834, William Cameron moved to the United States in 1852 and worked as a construction foreman for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Cameron enlisted for the Union Army during the Civil War and was captured at the Battle of Springfield in 1861. After his release, Cameron worked in Missouri to supply grain for the government. While in Missouri, Cameron married Letitia Stewart and had two children. In 1865, Cameron began work for the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad and soon built retail lumberyards along the rail lines toward the Southwest and continued accumulating wealth. Cameron’s first wife died very early in life, and Cameron then married Flora Ann Berry of Little Rock, Arkansas. He became the father of three more children and provided generously to them all. The family moved to Waco, Texas, in 1876, where Cameron opened an additional lumberyard and headquarters for the William Cameron Company.  He also got involved in the grain and flour mill business, and was a director at the First National Bank of Waco. 

While residing in Waco, Cameron built a mansion for his wife Flora and their three children. The house was completed in 1885 as a surprise for his wife. The designer of the sophisticated structure architect was William Winant Larmour, the same man who designed the construction on Baylor University’s Old Main and Burleson Halls. The house was beautifully decorated with white architectural millwork and ironwork and boasted a French blue background. Highlights of the mansion included windows made of heavy crystal glass, massive mahogany stairs that complimented the parquet flooring, and a roof topped with an iron-crowned cupola. The plentiful space served as a home for Cameron, his family and in-laws, and provided space for domestic employees.

After the death of Cameron in 1899, the house was passed down to his son, William W. Cameron, and then to his grandson, Edward Cameron Bolton who saw the home fit for demolition.   Coca-Cola Bottling Company bought the home and made plans to clear the property. Many citizens of Waco were disappointed; however, historic preservation was out of the question due to the condition of the house, its immense size, and the level of upkeep required. In 1966, a young entrepreneur, Homer Owen, took the responsibility of selling the contents of the house before demolition. Citizens of Waco were excited to pay fifty cents apiece to view the inside of the house, while antique buyers encountered a feast. Everything inside, outside, and even parts of the house were for sale. Contents included love letters from Cameron to his second wife, proving that he was a very affectionate man. Doors, windows, trunks, evening clothes, wedding attire, and even structural items went into the hands of buyers. 

Once the interest of the public swayed from Cameron’s house, mysterious reports came to light about the presence of a ghost. As Homer Owen was preparing for the demolition of the house, vandals broke into the home and caused damages, and as a result, Owen stayed in the house to keep watch during the night. Owen laid awake and reported strange noises and footsteps. He asked several individuals such as teenage boys, Baylor University students, and carpenters to stay in the house overnight and keep watch. Some of the guests stayed overnight but never returned, and some only lasted half of the night. Many citizens of Waco rejected the stories, while some took them seriously and provided a theory that it was the ghost of the architect trying to drive people away to keep them from demolishing the house, or that it was the ghost of William Cameron himself.

After many years of serving as a beautiful landmark in Waco, the empty house caught fire in 1966, and the remainder of the house was later demolished. Today the William Cameron house rests in photographs, history books, and the memories of the citizens of Waco. 

Images

Hauntingly Beautiful (c. 1940)

Hauntingly Beautiful (c. 1940)

William Cameron hired architect William Winant Larmour to build the big blue house on a lot that was previously a cornfield. In the house’s later years, it sat empty with the family’s belongings scattered throughout the rooms. Many locals believed it to be haunted and told stories of closets containing wedding clothes found open after being locked with the only key. | Source: Image courtesy of Lee Lockwood Library and Museum View File Details Page

Beautiful Gardens (1940)

Beautiful Gardens (1940)

The gardens in the back of the Scot-American's mansion added another element of refinement to the property. | Source: Image courtesy of the Lee Lockwood Library and Museum View File Details Page

Architectural Jewel (1964)

Architectural Jewel (1964)

The house featured ornamental balustrade, beveled leaded crystal glass windows, brass that told the story of the Flying Dutchman, and had forty rooms that provided ample space for Cameron™s family and domestic employees. | Creator: Photograph by Daniel D. Reiff View File Details Page

Arson Suspected but Never Proven (1966)

Arson Suspected but Never Proven (1966)

In the latter part of 1966, fire damaged the William Cameron house before scheduled demolition began. It is uncertain if arson or an electrical fire caused the blaze. Soon after the fire, the remainder of the house was razed. | Source: Photograph by Daniel D. Reiff View File Details Page

Audio

Demise of the Marvelous House

Lavonia Jenkins Barnes tells the cost of the upkeep of the William Cameron house and her feelings about its demolition. | Source: Barnes, Lavonia Leverett Jenkins, interviewed by Pamela B. Crow, March 8, 1976, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Using Elements of the Cameron House

Lavonia Jenkins Barnes speaks of the architectural elements from the William Cameron house that now exist in other Waco homes. | Source: Barnes, Lavonia Leverett Jenkins, interviewed by Pamela B. Crow, March 8, 1976, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Sarah Miller, “William Cameron House,” Waco History, accessed May 29, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/151.

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