In 1847, Sam Houston bought a 200-acre property on the outskirts of Huntsville, Texas, to be the site of his family’s home. Houston designed a house that would resemble that of his boyhood in Virginia. While away to serve as one of Texas’s first Senators, Houston kept regular correspondence with his wife concerning his design wishes. The house was finished in February 1848. Houston referred to it as “our dear woodland home” in a letter to his wife. The name stuck, even though he allowed that she could “choose a better name if she saw fit."
The Woodland Home is a standard dog-run log cabin consisting of two separate sections. The first floor has two rooms, a parlor and master bedroom, connected by a breezeway. The second floor, accessible by a single narrow staircase, has two bedrooms, one for the girls and one for the boys, separated by a loft area. There are also two smaller rooms on the back side of the house, extending from the wide rear porch. These are referred to as “stranger’s rooms” and were occupied by Margaret’s mother and used for storage.
Detached from the house was an outdoor kitchen. A large outdoor kitchen was preferred in the South due to the humidity and summer heat. The building design would have been simple, yet functional with an area great enough to accommodate all the necessary kitchen chores as well as stored items. The kitchen that rests on the property today is a latter-day model. Further structures on the property included a hog pen, chicken house, smokehouse, corncrib, carriage house, cotton house, stables, slave quarters, an outhouse, and a law office.
During the family’s time at the Woodland Home, Sam Houston served as the first senator of Texas for the United States and travelled several times away from home, often spending half a year in Washington D.C. While away, his family slave, Joshua, maintained the house and farm. Joshua was held in high regard by the Houston family and the community. The family lived on the property for eight years. It would be the only property Margaret would refer to as her own. The house was unoccupied starting in 1853, on account of Houston’s political career. In 1858 the beloved house was sold for $4,000 to J. Carroll Smith, a local businessman, in order to pay off the debts incurred by Houston’s campaign for governor. For twenty years the house went through various owners. In 1878, it was sold to S. Smedes. In 1899, the home premiered as “Smedes’ Boarding House for Girls,” with additions added to the east, west, and south ends, tripling the size. The law office was moved away from the property. At some point before 1910, the house was sold and experienced further modifications to its appearance.
In 1905, a group of students from Sam Houston Normal Institute, led by the history department’s Bertha Kirkley, formed a group to rescue and restore the old home site. By 1908 the group had raised enough to purchase 2.5 acres of the original property. They continued to acquire more property and with the help of community support eventually purchased the Woodland Home and Law Office, relocating them to their original locations. Before the house could be moved it caught fire, but was saved before it could do extensive damage. In 1925, a fire did further damage. In 1927, another movement was led to restore the house, and it was opened to the public on May 3, 1929.
In 1974, the home was deemed a National Historic Landmark and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Restoration projects throughout the 20th and 21st centuries have striven to restore the building to its original condition.