The Historic Waples-Platter House in Far West Arlington
For many years, when driving on West Division on the way to and from Fort Worth many of us have glanced up the hill on the south side of the road (across the railroad tracks) and wondered about the large old red-brick home all by itself and set amid the trees at the top of that hill. It has been there since about 1913.
Its history is just as interesting as the many rumors, myths and stories that have been associated with this fine old home. John Austin, writer for the Star-Telegram, wrote a story about it in 2009, and said, “The first thing people need to know about the old red-brick place on the hill at the western edge of town is that it was not a brothel.” This rumor must have encouraged the stories of extravagant parties attended by famous company, as well as a network of underground tunnels. Very likely these stories were confused with actual happenings not far away on West Division Street at the old Top O’ Hill Terrace, an illegal casino of the 1930s and 40s (now the site of Arlington Baptist University). There were rumors of ghosts, too. Maybe this was because the home is not far away from where a Texas and Pacific steam engine went off the rails and plunged off a bridge in 1885. Adelaide Griffin, 52, grand niece of the original owner (and former professor at Texas Woman’s University) said of these rumors, “My grandmother would be spinning in her grave” hearing such tales. Adelaide’s mother, also named Adelaide, grew up in the house in the late 1930s and early 1940s. She attended Southside School and Arlington High School. She treasures the good memories, not the myths and misinformation that surrounded the house. She said that the rumors of her being chauffeured to school were not true, and “I don’t know how that got started.” The elder Griffin retired to the house with her husband around 1989, but moved out for good around the year 2000.
Well, what is the real story of the home at the top of the hill? Old-timers called it the Waples-Platter House. It was built by Colonel Paul Waples, a wealthy businessman. In 1902, Paul Waples had presided over the opening ceremonies of the new Interurban electrified rail service, connecting Fort Worth, Arlington, and Dallas (until late 1934). He was such a supporter of the Interurban that he later (1912-13) built his home (see photo to the left) on its route on a 622 acre estate.
Paul Waples was born in Chillicothe, Missouri in 1850. In 1872, a year after graduating from the University of Missouri, he married Erminia (Minnie) Hubbard (1849-1891) of Columbia, Missouri. The couple moved to Texas in 1876, first to Denison and later to Sherman, and Paul joined a business that had been started by his father, Edward B. Waples (1814-1898), who supplied groceries to railroad workers laying tracks across North Texas. The company became known as Waples-Platter Grocery Company with the addition of Andrew F. Platter (1850-1932), who had married Paul Waples’ sister, Fannie (1857-1947). Paul moved to Fort Worth in 1894 (Minnie had died on Christmas Eve, 1891), when the company opened offices there. Waples-Platter Grocery Company would become one of the largest wholesale grocery firms in the southwest, supplying goods to grocery houses in five states. The company would introduce many new products like White Swan Coffee and the internationally successful Ranch Style Beans.
The colonel (probably an honorary, and not a military, title ) was a well-known and prominent man. In the 2009 Star-Telegram story, John Austin reported, “An ambitious Fort Worth salesman named Amon G. Carter, Sr. turned to him for backing to establish a newspaper, and Waples anted $25,000 in venture capital. The newspaper, launched in 1906, became the Star-Telegram.” In 1914, Colonel Paul Waples was chairman of the executive committee of the World's Fair at St. Louis. He served as Democratic national committeeman from Texas in 1914 and was elected chairman of the Democratic State Executive Committee by the convention which met in El Paso. He was re-elected to this position again in 1916.
But 1916 was to be a fateful year for Paul Waples. He was on his way to the office on November 16, 1916, when his chauffeur headed down the driveway and did not see the Interurban, westbound at about 60 miles per hour. To exit or enter the Waples property, it was necessary to cross the tracks at the foot of the long driveway. The resulting wreck partially derailed the Interurban car; the chauffeur was spared, but Paul Waples was killed. He had lived in the house for only a few years (his wife Minnie had died in 1891, and they had no children). The concrete steps for what was reputed to be Waples’ private Interurban stop are still there. Following the tragic accident, the 66-year old Paul Waples was buried in Fairview Cemetery in Denison with his wife, Minnie.
But that was not the end of the story. In 2002, the property and 40 surrounding acres were purchased from heirs of Paul Waples by Scott Howell. Howell, a South Carolina native, was immediately drawn to the historical property, its massive oak trees and lush green pastures. His affinity for historic places was honed growing up in the South - living in places like Columbia and Charleston, SC - cities that boast a wealth of antebellum properties. “It was important to me that any changes we made here fit the period," he said. "Even though we were updating, we felt it should retain the charm and feel it had 75-100 years ago.” Howell restored the property and it is now Howell Farms at Waples- Platter, a splendid event center for weddings, parties, athletics, and company picnics and meetings. The website for Howell Farms is https://www.howellfamilyfarms.com.
The property has, besides the original 3-story house and garage, an 11-stall red and white barn, and a sandstone caretaker’s cottage (a 1930s addition) with a plantation porch. With the exception of the main house, the buildings have been meticulously restored. It also has a regulation little league ball field and plenty of room for soccer and other outdoor activities. The spacious, rustic barn is ideal for large parties and receptions and includes a large dance floor and three magnificent chandeliers. Just behind the barn sits a lawn terrace with a stone stage, creating the perfect setting for an outdoor wedding.
Howell doesn't live on the property, but he and his family clearly feel at home here. “It takes you back 100 years,” he said, adding that he’s seen fireflies, hawks, roadrunners, a fox, and even a peacock in the woods. “It's an inviting and beautiful place," said Howell, "and it continues to be a great place for my children and their friends to run, play and enjoy the outdoors the way people did a century ago."
We noticed one other unique and interesting Southern touch: a long Charleston “joggling board” set between two uprights with rockers on the bottom, allowing visitors to gently bounce and rock as they sit. “Of course, you can’t have a plantation porch without a joggling board,” Howell said. “I don’t think there’s another one in Texas.”
Thank you, Scott Howell, for preserving this important piece of Arlington history, and ensuring that it will continue as an active/living place. "We will never be finished updating and renovating," he said, "but hopefully we can make it a place people can enjoy for another two or three hundred years."