A Home For Leaders: The Pennybacker-Campbell-Wommack House In Palestine, Texas- This two-and-a-half story frame dwelling is typical of the many large Queen Anne-style houses found in the neighborhood south of historic downtown Palestine, known as “Silk Stocking Row.” However, the Victorian residence that was constructed in 1890, served as home to several prominent East Texans, following the tragic events that occurred when the first homeowners inhabited the home.
A deed states that the land was transferred on February 6, 1890, from J.T. Pells and S.R. Pells to Oscar B. Sawyers, secretary of the Palestine Loan Association. Sawyers built his home on the lot a short time later and he and his wife Carrie Jones Sawyer lived there until December 19, 1893. That December proved to be a dark time for the Sawyers. According to local legend, a local man named Mart Lacy notified Judge Gardner and Dr. Jameson, a local doctor, requesting that they come to the Sawyers’ residence. When the two arrived they found Sawyer dead and his wife severely wounded. Locals speculate that what Judge Garner and Dr. Jameson walked in on was a failed suicide pact. According to locals, the Sawyers were experiencing extreme financial distress and decided to end their lives to escape.
Mrs. Sawyers waived all right to the administration of Sawyers estate on January 24, 1894. The home was then appraised at $6,000 and purchased by Percy V. Pennybacker and his wife Anna for $5,000. Pennybacker served as the superintendent of the Palestine schools until his death in 1899. Mrs. Pennybacker was a prominent female social leader, and was the author of the first Texas history textbook used in state schools, “A New History of Texas for Schools.” After Mr. Pennybacker’s death, Mrs. Pennybacker sold the home and relocated to Austin, where she was instrumental in the formation of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs.
June 22, 1900, Thomas Mitchell Campbell and his wife, Fannie Bruner Campbell purchased the home from Pennybacker. Mr. Campbell had been appointed receiver of the I&GN Railroad in 1891, then in 1893 he became general manager of the railroad. Later he was elected governor of Texas for two terms in 1907 and 1909. In 1911, Campbell returned to his law practice and helped to found the Campbell State Bank, which later grew into the East Texas National Bank.In 1922, Campbell employed a local architect, Theodore Maffitt, to remodel the house and enlarge it to its present size. A porch was also added along the front and the south side of the house.
October 26, 1966, a plaque was placed on 814 South Sycamore Street in Palestine. The home is also a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark. Today the house is still owned by descendants of Governor Campbell, Drew Wommack, Jr., great-grandson of Campbell.
Today, the 121-year-old home still stands firm but is showing signs of its age. Nevertheless, one can’t help but be taken back in time when standing in front of this historical home. One might imagine the second native Texan governor in his study making decisions that impacted the state’s history, as they stand in front of the structure. Others may imagine the author of the first Texas history book as she was busy writing about the state’s history. Either way, the old house will transcend time and invoke historical romance for those who stop to admire this historic home.