As New Dealers looked for work opportunities for the unemployed, officials at the National Park Service (NPS) identified a critical need for architects and architectural draftsmen to document historic buildings, like the William Garrett Plantation House. "Our architectural heritage of buildings from the last four centuries diminishes at an alarming rate," explained NPS in its initial publication for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Recognizing how the Great Depression threatened such structures, NPS further noted that it "is the responsibility of the American people that if the great number of our antique buildings must disappear through economic causes, they should not pass into unrecorded oblivion."
The responsibility of determining which historic buildings would be documented through HABS fell to the State Advisory Committee made up of members of the architectural profession within the state as well as non-professional members representing local civic, patriotic or historic groups. The commission developed a list of priority projects in Texas and the Garrett home was one of the first two in East Texas to be documented.
Dallas architect Frank Olonzo Witchell selected six architects to work in East Texas and the team dispatched to San Augustine to survey the Garrett home included Witchell's own son Charles Burley Witchell as well as Robert Hudson Linskie and Hunter McKay, Jr. NPS provided them with paper, pencils, ink, erasers and field notebooks but required that the survey teams furnish or borrow the necessary tools of measurement, specifically rules, squares, triangles, tapes, scales, pocket compasses, drawing boards and drawing instruments.
The team surveyed the Garrett home over four days in January 1934, taking measurements and drawing sketches of the one-and-a-half story wooden structure located just west of San Augustine on Highway 21. Linskie and McKay later prepared the measured drawings which Charles Witchell then reviewed, and Eugene Osborn Taylor, who worked nearby with another team, visited on March 1 to take photographs.
Built around 1857 by an unknown architect for planter William Garrett, the home is considered to be an enhanced configuration of an early Texas cabin. The gable roof extends over a recessed front porch that runs the length of the five-bay house. The gabled dormers on the second floor reflect a variation from the traditional cabin form. In his written report, Witchell noted the relatively recent alterations then-owner Sam Parker had made to the original home, such as partitions that narrowed the central hallway.
The William Garrett Plantation House was featured on historic homes tours in the 1960s and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Today it remains a private residence owned by a descendant of the Parker family.