All the Wiser: Mystery mansion

By Joy Burgess-Carrico | Published Saturday, April 27, 2019
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Giant Mansion

GIANT MANSION – El Castile, built in 1883 by Dan Waggoner, sits at the east end of Main Street in Decatur. It is privately owned and not open to the public. Messenger photo by Joy Burgess-Carrico

Joseph Levings stated on Facebook: “My children have asked several times about El Castile that seems to be abandoned.”

“We learn,” say the March 30, 1883, Messenger, “that Dan Waggoner is having the plan and specifications drawn for a $25,000 house to be built on the hill East of the depot.”


Joy Burgess-Carrico

El Castile, or the Waggoner Mansion, is a house at the east end of Main Street, just past the railroad tracks. You really can’t miss it.

It was used as the model for the house in “Giant,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean in 1956.

It is a recorded Texas historical landmark and on the national register of historic places.

Dan Waggoner built the house in 1883. He lived in it until his death in 1903. It cost him around $40,000.

It was offered to the city of Decatur in 1940 by the widow of Dan Waggoner’s son, but the city passed on the offer, worried about the cost of upkeep. It was sold to Col. and Mrs. George T. Spears, who owned several Texas newspapers. They gave it to their daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Phil Luker. When the Lukers took over, it had not been lived in for decades.

The Lukers lived there and restored the place during the ’40s and beyond. At some point after Col. Spears died, Mrs. Spears moved in with them. In 1959, the Denton Record-Chronicle did a feature on the house giving details of the interior. The Lukers were still in the house at that point.

It is currently owned by a member of the same family and has not been lived in for quite some time, as far as I can determine.

It is one of the most significant examples of Victorian architecture in Texas. Those who seem to know about such things state with enthusiasm that the house is “authentic” with a great deal of its original craftsmanship and material still in place. From what I have read, I suspect it is precisely because El Castile has been unoccupied for long stretches that it has remained “authentic.” Had it been lived in, it would have been more readily changed.


I first came across the name “Waggoner” years ago when I was doing title research in Wichita County. I had never heard the name before, but “Waggoner” crossed my eyes so often in my research of various properties that I walked away with the distinct impression that whoever “Waggoner” was, he was a land baron. Whether it was our boy Dan or his son, W.T., that I encountered, I cannot tell you.

It wasn’t long after beginning to work here that I heard about the Waggoner Mansion. The name rang a bell. I looked very briefly into it and determined that the Decatur Waggoner and my Wichita county land baron was the same person, or at least the same family.

“In the very earliest days of the settlement of Wise … a young man came out from Hopkins County, driving before him a herd of cattle and horses. At his side for company and help was a little negro slave boy whom he owned.” From that 242 cattle and one unnamed slave worth $400, Dan Waggoner built an empire of epic proportions, and a house on a hill in east Decatur named El Castile.

His first wife, the mother of his only child, died young and he married a girl from Wise County, Sicilly (spellings vary) Ann Halsell, daughter of Electious Halsell. His son would later marry her youngest sister.

He stayed in Wise though the unfortunate unpleasantness between the states and the raiding years, despite the constant danger. He suffered many losses, but didn’t lose his second wife and son. He came out the other side of the endeavor alive and with his ranch interests intact and his instincts apparently honed to super-human levels.

He seems to have had no formal education.

He was primarily a cattle rancher. But he had his fingers in many pies. He was one of the founders of First National Bank, along with Mr. Greathouse, who we met a few months ago. He was involved in the coal mining interest of Bridgeport and when oil was discovered, he was involved in that, although his son probably had more to do with that part of the business. He also seems to have had a general store and some mills and maybe a cotton gin or two. He owned real estate in town. And he owned land. He owned a lot of land.


We need to discuss this word “abandoned.”

Abandoned implies that a piece of property is being completely disregarded by the owner. That it is rotting where it stands due to sheer neglect.

El Castile might be unoccupied – you might think it’s being neglected – but it is not abandoned.

It is privately owned, and the owner has the right to keep it up to whatever degree he deems appropriate and necessary.

Because it is registered as historical through various means, this gives the owner certain rights and privileges, and it requires him to adhere to certain guidelines when making repairs or changes to the exterior of the house. And, there are ordinances we all must abide by. Just ask the vigilante city employee who stalks my neighborhood with his grass-measuring ruler issuing citations.

As long as El Castile’s owner meets the requirements set by the authorities, he can keep his house in whatever condition he likes.

I made a discreet effort to see if I could gain entrance into El Castile. I was met with a thoroughly locked (methaphorical) door. No interest. I respect that.

I did go take a look at the place – from the street, of course. As you can imagine, “no trespassing” signs are everywhere, and everything is locked down. I had to chuckle when I saw the “Beware of Dog” sign, though. I don’t think there’s a dog at El Castile. Nice try.


The nature of history is communal. But there are times when history bumps up against personal information and private property. When this happens we are forced to respect the privacy of the individual and allow history to take a back seat.

Abraham Lincoln’s son burned many of his papers. Was he wrong to do so? That depends on your perspective. You might not think so if it was your family’s reputation you were protecting.

Until those that own El Castile decide they don’t want to own it and offer it up to a public entity such as the Wise County Historical Society or the City of Decatur and assuming the entity decides to take it on (they passed in 1940, remember?), we cannot demand it of them. It may be historical, but it does not yet belong to history.

Joy Burgess-Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist. Email her your questions at jcarrico@wcmessenger.com.

One Response to “All the Wiser: Mystery mansion”

  1. says:

    Another great story from Joy. When my grandson was playing football for Decatur a few years ago I would take my binoculars to the game and between plays on the field I would focus on the mansion. You could see it from the home stands. I have driven out of town visitors right up to it but never had the real story. Thanks Joy, now I can fill in the story of the mansion as I take visitors to search for Decatur Glass….

    Walt Partin


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