Galveston Monthly – A Walk Through Time
1875 Julius and Elizabeth Ruhl House
Old meets new in a historic home renovated for modern living.
By Donna Gable Hatch
The rich legacy of Galveston Island is preserved in numerous, privately owned, historic island homes – and one of its most lovely has recently been restored to its original state. The 1875 Julius and Elizabeth Ruhl House, located at 1426 Sealy, is owned by Debbie and Chuck Morris, owners of Chuck Morris Coastal Homes. A premier builder for custom beach homes, remodeling and historic restoration, the company received the 2009 Historic Preservation Awards-Restoration and the 2009 Galveston Landmark Commission Residential Rehabilitation Award. The Morrises purchased the property in 2007, and together they lovingly and painstakingly turned back the hands of time to create a livable 21st century home that maintains its historic and intrinsic value. The couple will debut the restoration of the home – one of the most notable properties in the East End Historic District – as part of the 40th annual Galveston Historic Homes Tour. The tour is May 2-4 and May 10-11 and features nine homes, six of which have never been on tour, also hosts numerous special events and spotlights new island construction with specially selected additional homes both weekends.
The history of the home
The property was designed by Thomas J. Overmire, a Chicago-based architect, on four lots at the behest of Julius Ruhl, bookkeeper for the Kaufmann & Runge Company, wholesale grocers and cotton exporters. “The house was begun in 1874,” said Debbie Morris, president this year of the Galveston Historical Foundation. “After the marriage of Julius and Elizabeth on July 5, 1875, they moved to the new home.” The house was constructed on two lots, originally with a detached kitchen and servants’ quarters. “A carriage house and rent house stood on lots 3 and 4. Unfortunately, Julius died just seven years later in 1882,” Debbie said. “Elizabeth and her surviving children continued to live in the house, including daughter Sophia and her husband, Renee Mueller. Renee was the last family member to reside here. His only son moved Renee to the mainland following Hurricane Carla in 1962.” The restoration included 20 new pilings and leveling, demolition of three kitchens, four baths and three furnace closets. “During the leveling, we found an 11-foot-by-17-foot cistern under what is now the library,” she said. “Eventually, we will add a stair and build it out as a wine cellar.” In addition, it required new wiring and lighting, new plumbing and fixtures, new HVAC and ducting, re-plastering of the walls and a new roof, as well as refurbishing existing original hardware and the design and construction of new kitchens and bathrooms, cabinets and appliances. According to Chuck, the biggest challenge to the restoration was finding the appropriate parts to the puzzle. “Basically, we added the same conveniences
that our clients ask for in the new custom homes we build: multi-stage high efficiency AC systems, built in refrigerators, ice makers, wine chiller and other appliances, large baths, master walk-in closet and coffee bar and a media area.” After restoration, the 5,600-square-feet home has four bedrooms, five-and-a-half baths, a library, a music room and an upstairs family parlor. A widow’s walk is reached by a stairway rising from the third floor landing. “Not long after we had purchased Ruhl House and restoration had begun, an old photo album was found in the Bishop Palace’s attic,” Debbie said. “The photo was taken in the late1890s. This allowed us to build the widow’s walk back to its original design.” But the kitchen is their favorite room in the house. “It is a fun place where family and friends like to gather,” she said. “It has a warm, eclectic feel, probably due to the antique lighting and architectural artifacts collected from the Pacific coast, Texas, New Orleans and Charleston (South Carolina).”
On May 10, the couple will host a History on Tap dinner, as part of the historic homes tour. The menu will be planned and created by Mary Eisenhour Bass, executive chef at Haak Winery. Reservations are $150 per person and seating is limited. We are delighted to share our historic home with others,” Chuck said. It should be a fun evening of history and food.” The home’s decor also preserves the gentile beauty of a bygone era, with a collection of antiques and antique lighting sourced from around the world. Debbie said she and her husband – who have lived in the home during the past two years of the restoration – feel privileged to have been able to spearhead the mission to preserve the historic home. “It is extremely rewarding, but as those of us know that take on these beautiful old homes, we are only preserving it for the next generation,” she said, adding it also warms their hearts to know they are helping complete the mission of the Galveston Historical Foundation. “We are grateful that we can contribute in a small way to such a wonderful organization.”
The 40th annual Galveston Historic Homes Tour is set for May 2-4 and May 10-11. The tour features nine homes, six of which have never been on tour, and also hosts numerous special events and spotlights new island construction with specially selected additional homes both weekends. Tickets are $25. For tickets, visit galvestonhistory.org, call 409.762.2475 or stop by any area Randalls Food Store.