Castle Heights: from outskirts to heart of city

By: J.B. Smith, Waco Tribune-Herald

May 10, 2008

Patty Rose Trippet remembers when Castle Heights was the boondocks.

In its early days in the 1920s, the subdivision was just a grassy hill at the end of the streetcar line, with a clear view of the ALICO building downtown.

"At that time it wasn't even part of the city," says Trippet, who was born in 1922 and lived in Castle Heights for half a century after she married. "There was a bois d'arc hedge on 39th Street, and beyond that was just farmland."

The city has grown miles beyond those long-vanished horseapple trees. Oaks and magnolia trees have grown up to shade the neighborhood. Through the decades, Castle Heights has remained a prime address for the Waco establishment, impervious to inner-city blight.

Now it's about to be something else: Officially historic.

The Texas Historical Commission is preparing to grant a historical marker to the neighborhood this summer. The commission is working with neighborhood volunteers to get Castle Heights declared Waco's first historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. The district would encompass most of the area north of Austin Avenue from 33rd Street to 39th. It includes the Cottonland Castle , an 1890s Gothic stone structure on Austin Avenue that gave the neighborhood its name.

Neighborhood leaders, including Ellender Chase, Mary Helen George and Lu Treadwell, have been working off and on to get the marker and the historic district designation since the early 1990s. They have painstakingly gathered information and photos of most of the 228 structures in the proposed district.

"It's a lot of work for a little bitty marker," George says. "For me, it's something we owe the people who founded the area. It's a matter of documenting history."

The historic district designation doesn't place any restrictions on altering or demolishing homes, unless it's the government doing the demolition. There are no direct tax benefits, but buildings in a historic district typically find it easier to get federal historic preservation incentives, says Bob Brinkman, historical marker coordinator with the Texas Historical Commission.

He says technical details have delayed the historic designation, but there's no doubt that Castle Heights is a historic area, and he believes it will get the federal designation.

Brinkman says Castle Heights , with its then-novel curving streets, was an example of the early 20th-century "City Beautiful" movement. Its architectural styles are eclectic but good examples of different time periods, he says. Among the architects are famous church designer Birch Easterwood and ALICO building architect Roy Lane.

"It's a really great mix of Tudor Revival, '50s ranch houses, Colonial and Georgian Revival houses by some pretty well-known Waco architects," he says.

He hopes several other areas of Waco, including downtown, can become National Register districts.

Neighborhood identity

Castle Heights has an unusually strong identity as a neighborhood, Brinkman says. It started beyond city limits, and residents fought back in court in the 1930s when Waco sought to annex them. The neighborhood incorporated as the Village of Castle Heights in 1939 and elected a mayor, A. Baker Duncan, father of modern-day civic leader Malcolm Duncan.

Then, in 1945, the village disbanded and was annexed into the city of Waco.

Castle Heights holds many memories for Patty Rose Trippet, who now lives in an assisted living center.

When she was a child in the early 1930s, a local family decided to move a 2 1/2-story house from the corner of 18th Street and Washington Avenue to Chateau Avenue — a distance of about two miles.

"They moved it in the winter," she says. "The road got icy at the bottom of the hill on Austin around 30th Street, and it couldn't be moved up the hill until the ice melted."

As a girl, she often visited that spacious house in the 3700 block of Chateau, which was owned by the Horace Trippet family. In time, she married the Trippets' youngest boy, Harry, in the backyard of that house, and the couple moved across the street, where they lived 48 years.

George, who lives next door to Harry and Patty Rose Trippet's old house, says Castle Heights is a place where people stay and get to know their neighbors.

"I've lived in Waco all my life," she says, "and even as a little girl, I always thought Castle Heights was one of the best places to live, not because they're all mansions — mine is a cottage — but the neighborhood has such character."

Lu Treadwell, who lives down the block and has been involved in the historical marker quest, says Castle Heights is a quintessential Southern-style neighborhood.

"I moved here from Charlotte (N.C.) in 1994, and this is the only place I wanted to live," she says. "It's got great houses and great people. It's really a neighborhood in the best sense."

Return to Places in Time home page
Free Counter