In selecting subjects for inclusion in the initial Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), the Texas State Advisory Committee prepared a priority list of significant structures. For the Dallas-based architects working in East Texas, the Cartwright House in San Augustine was the last building on the priority list, submitted on February 1, 1934.
Under the original agreement for federal funding for this New Deal initiative, work on HABS was to have ended on February 15, 1934, but officials in Washington, D.C., obtained an extension to May 1. So on February 26, Charles Burley Witchell, Clarence Castleman Bulger, and Eugene Osborn Taylor began their onsite work documenting the Cartwright House at 505 East Main Street.
The team recorded the property as the A.H. Cartwright House for its owner at the time of the survey, but the home is more commonly known as the Matthew Cartwright House. Recognizing the potential confusion that might result from the building-naming process, officials with HABS and its parent organization, the National Park Service (NPS), directed that each project "be given an identifying number." The number would begin with the assigned district number and be followed by "a hyphen and a serial number assigned by the District Officer." These serial numbers were to be displayed when photographs were taken and also included on the measured drawing.
Authorities extended the work deadline for HABS, but the NPS directed District Officers to begin the "tapering off process" and it is likely that work for the Cartwright House was incomplete when the project ended. When HABS later received new funding and the next phase of work began in 1936, a new team completed the measured drawings for the Cartwright House and assigned a new serial number which differed from the original format.
But the first team did complete its fieldwork and Bulger also photographed the home, which was noted as an excellent example of Greek Revival architecture. Erected around 1839 by local architect and builder Sidney A. Sweet, the two-story frame structure was the home of merchant Matthew Cartwright and his family. The survey team recorded a one-level addition to the rear and also noted the home's "fine interiors" as well as several outbuildings.
The home descended through the Cartwright family and was later restored by preservation architect Raiford L. Stripling who had once worked with Charles O. Peterson, the NPS architect responsible for the original HABS concept. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, the Matthew Cartwright House remains a private residence owned by a Cartwright descendant.