Story and Photography by Sarah Naron
For the past several years, I’ve harbored a pretty strong interest in ghosts and locations in which paranormal activity is alleged to take place – which is shocking, considering that as a kid and even a teenager, I was a little wimp who couldn’t even make it through a fake haunted house without hyperventilating and making a mad dash for the emergency exit. In my early 20s, though, it was like someone flipped a switch, and I began to embrace all things creepy. My ghost hunting adventures have taken me to various locations in Jacksonville, Jefferson, Galveston, Mineola, Shreveport, and Yorktown.
While the places I visited in the aforementioned cities definitely had their fair share of creepiness, the Howard-Dickinson House in Henderson – one of my most recent stops – takes the cake. At every other supposedly haunted location I’ve visited, being there just felt normal. I did feel a sense of appreciation for the history that each of the landmarks held, but didn’t really experience any type of sensation that made me really believe the place was haunted.
The Howard-Dickinson House was a completely different story.
Walking through much of the house produced no unusual feelings. It simply felt like a lovely, old home with high ceilings, charming fireplaces, and elegant furnishings reflective of the period of time in which the house was in its heyday.
Stepping into one of the basement rooms, however…I immediately felt a change. The air felt heavier. My own body felt heavier. There was no sadness or anger or anything of that sort, I just felt…eerie. And as soon as I left the room and began the trek upstairs to the main floor of the house, that strange feeling faded just as quickly as it had come on.
According to Rusk County Historical Commission Chairwoman Joan Smith – who served as my tour guide during my visit to the Howard-Dickinson House – that very basement harbors a tragic history.
“The story goes that the brothers, Pat and George Howard, were cleaning their guns in the basement, and one of the boys shot the other,” Smith explained. “The one that was shot managed to get up the stairs to his mother’s bedroom, where he collapsed and died.”
On the floor between the bed and the fireplace in the room – which the boys’ mother, Martha, shared with their father, Dave – a dark stain alleged to be the blood of the slain George remains to this day.
Late last year, the house was featured on the Travel channel show ‘The Holzer Files,’ and it was revealed that the younger Howard son, Joseph, committed suicide in the home in September of 1883. His body was interred in the New City Cemetery, which is now known as the Graham Hall Cemetery.
Many strange occurrences have been reported in the house, suggesting that its former inhabitants may still be hanging around in some form. Some of the alleged paranormal activity is attributed to Martha Howard and is said to have taken place in the dining room.
“When the ladies that restored the house were serving dinners in the ’70s and ’80s – when it was really popular for people to come here to do weddings and showers and teas and things like that – they would set the table with the whole course of silver,” Smith explained. “Then, they would serve the dessert with the fork on the plate – which is not how Emily Post said to do it. You’re supposed to have the fork already in the service.”
As those serving the food passed through the doorway leading into the dining room, Smith said, the forks would inexplicably tumble from the plates and onto the floor.
“It happened numerous times,” she said. “So, they decided that that was Martha Howard’s ghost telling them that they weren’t doing it correctly.”
In addition to its purportedly haunted status, the house holds a great deal of historic significance. It was the first brick house to be built in Henderson and was also frequently visited by the Republic of Texas’s first president, Sam Houston, who was a cousin of Martha Howard.
According to Smith, the home was built in 1958 by brothers Logan and Dave Howard.
“The Howards were a family of brick masons and carpenters from Richmond VA,” Smith said. “They came into Texas through the Port of Galveston and came up here; there were two brothers and a sister. The brothers had this brick making business, so they built the house out of sun-dried bricks that they fired on the place.”
In addition to being the first brick house in town, the home was also among the first to be constructed with plaster walls.
“It was built in the Italianite style,” Smith said. “All the wood was brought in or milled around here. The beams that crossed through the roof are still there. The supporters for the balcony are cypress, and the original gutters in the house are still there and still working.”
At the time in which the house was built, Smith said, the yard would have consisted of no grass, and there were four large cedar trees which are no longer present. The remainder of the vegetation surrounding the home, however, would have been very similar to what it is in the present day.
“Crepe myrtle bushes were popular, and hydrangeas were popular,” Smith said. “We don’t have very many hydrangeas left, but some of the old flowers are still coming back, like those crepe myrtles.”
In 1905, the home was purchased by Katie Dickinson.
“It was a little bit of a scandal, because none of the Howard kids wanted it sold,” Smith said. “Ms. Dickinson made the deal kind of under the radar and bought it from the mother, who was older and by herself at that time.”
Following the Dickinson family’s acquisition of the house, Catherine Dickinson had the home expanded to be used as a boarding house during the Texas Oil Boom.
The house boasts original flooring and a few pieces of original furniture, including an organ which once belonged to Julia Howard.
“When she started taking music lessons, they acquired this organ,” Smith said. “It was one that the First United Methodist Church of Henderson had been using.”
Many of the furnishings in the dining room, Smith said, were donated to the house by Irene Blank, Julia’s daughter.
“She would try to find pieces that she remembered that were like her grandmother’s,” Smith said.
The Howard-Dickinson House is open to the public for tours and also hosts special events such as wedding and baby showers. Monetary donations are welcome, and all proceeds benefit the preservation of the house.
For more information or to schedule a tour, please call Judy Sewell at 903-657-4985 or 903-235-2781. Sewell may also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.