705 N. Benge Street, Abernathy-Bowen-Couch House
By Brenda S. Waggoner
Early Settlement in McKinney
The stately old Abernathy home, as it came to be known locally, set in the midst of towering trees, is a landmark in the early community of McKinney. Built at a time when North Benge Street was one of the most sought after locations in town, it took its place among the other homes being built by the prosperous merchants of town. Benge Street boasted at that time fine old homes like that of Dr. M.S. Metz, W.H. Matthews, W.E. Ditto, J.K.P. Shrader, and the elegant home of F. Marion Warden.(1)
The land on which the old Abernathy house stands was a part of the Land Patent issued to William Davis, consisting of 3,129 acres located on the waters of East Fork of the Trinity River. The patent was signed by Governor E.M. Pease. When old Buckner was settled by Jack McGarrah the real frontier of 1844, it was assumed that this would be the county seat of the county formed in 1846 and the business of the county was conducted in the little log store by the first elected officials.
When it was determined by the state that Buckner was not within the three mile limit of the center of the county, an election was held at Buckner to give the people an opportunity to select one of two proposed sites. One was the land on which McKinney now stands and the other was the land to the east of the old underpass on Highway Five, a place on Sloan’s Creek.
William Davis and his wife, Margaret had offered to give 120 acres of their land for a new town that would become the new county seat. On May 3, 1848 the first little store at Old Buckner arrived on the new site, having been pulled across the prairie by sixteen oxen. Soon lots were being sold and McKinney was on its way. The Davis land became McKinney when both parties signed the document with an X. The old deed states that this 120 acres was “for the use, benefit, and the behalf of the people of Collin County forever.”
As is true of all new towns, there was a good bit of land speculation in early McKinney. The lot now known as 705 Benge Street changed hands a number of times before the Abernathy Family bought it. Among the names of the speculators were J.B. Stiff, Ben F. Oates, and Jonathan Rogers.(2)
The Abernathy Family in Texas
On December 2, 1891 A.A. Wolcott sold the lot to Gideon Edward Abernathy (b.ll May 1849).(3) The house was built shortly thereafter, and Gideon E. Abernathy and his wife, Emma Means Abernathy lived in it until at least 1910.(4) The Abernathy Family established one of the most prominent and highly respected law firms in North Texas and is still in existence today.
In 1876, William Meshack Abernathy (b. 27 Nov. 1843) and Mercer Green Abernathy (b. 20 April 1853), came to McKinney from northern Mississippi and formed the law firm of The Abernathy Brothers. As a seventeen year old, William M. joined the Confederate Army at Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1861. His company was part of the Seventeenth Regiment, Barksdale Brigade, Longstreet’s Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. William was wounded at Gettysburg, and during the last part of the Civil War he served as courier for General Robert E. Lee. He carried what might have been the last dispatch that passed between General Lee and General U.S. Grant concerning details of the surrender of the confederate Army.(5) He later published a paper about the Civil War entitled, “Our Mess.”(6)
The partnership between William and Mercer Abernathy continued until Mercer was elected County judge in 1888. In 1909 Judge Abernathy did the legal work for a new town which was built along the Santa Fe Railroad between Plainview and Lubbock and subsequently the town was given the name “Abernathy” in his honor.(7)
William M. and Mercer G. Abernathy’s parents were David and Frances Abernathy, who reared eight children altogether, six boys and two girls, in Early, Mississippi. They followed their two sons to Texas, arriving in 1884. A third son, Gideon E. Abernathy who had been born in Mississippi, came to Texas with his parents and worked first in the implement and insurance business,before establishing an abstract company, which was located on West Louisiana Street adjacent to Governor James Throckmorton ‘s law office.(8)
During Gideon Abernathy’s early years in Texas he maintained extensive ranch lands near Nevada, Texas. He and his wife, Emma had three children: Janie (who married General John A. Warden); Eula, who was active in community affairs and a member of The Delphian Study Club organized in the 1920s by Miss Bessie Heard; and Harvey A Abernathy, who carried on the abstract firm, followed by Harvey’s son, Scott Abernathy.(9)
Gideon Abernathy’s father was David Addison Abernathy, who was born in Lincoln County, North Carolina in 1811, and died in McKinney in 1887. His mother, Frances Jane Franklin Abernathy, who was born in Surrey County North Carolina in 1820, was the daughter of the Governor of North Carolina, and one of her uncles commanded the American Forces at King’s Mountain. She died in 1897 in McKinney. Both Gideon Abernathy’s paternal and maternal great-grandparents were prominent North Carolina residents and fought in the Revolutionary Army.(10)
Gideon Abernathy built another house in 1911 at 609 West Lamar Street, known as the Abernathy-Warden House. He died October 5, 1930. He was regarded as one of McKinney’s honored, substantial businessmen, and one ofits most worthy, older citizens. He was a staunch member anf official of the Episcopal Church and a high Mason. He is buried at Pecan Grove Cemetery, McKinney.(11)
The Bowen Family in Texas
On August 6, 1937 the house was deeded to Lindsay Lee Bowen, Ota Myrtle Jeffus Bowen and Candis Farley.(12) Lindsay L. Bowen (b. 28 March, 1890 at Elmont Texas, Grayson County), was the son of John and Betty Alexander Bowen of North Carolina. Lindsay married Ota Myrtle Jeffus on July 14, 1912 at Deport, Texas.(13) The couple moved to McKinney in 1927 and began farming on approximately 100 acres located near Highway Five. They prospered in this occupation until the depression. After loss of their land, Lindsay L. Bowen managed a Duke and Ayres Five and Dime store in McKinney. He later purchased and operated two service stations in McKinney. Eventually he sold shoes as a self-employed salesman. Lindsay L. Bowen was a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church, an avid Mason, member of the Scottish Rite and Hella Temple. He was also a member of the Home Guard , which was organized to protect the U.S. should an actual invasion of the U.S. continent occur during World War II.
Ota Bowen was very active in the Red Cross Women’s Auxiliary during World War II and continued her involvement with the group well into the 1960s. She was a local artist and seamstress, and also a member of the Trinity Presbyterian Church and the local garden c1ub.(14)
The Bowens raised four children. Lindsay Lee Jr., Turner Leslie, Magee and Candis Bowen. Lindsay Bowen Jr. was an all-star football player at McKinney High School, going on to become an outstanding athlete at Rice University. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in February 1943 and served overseas. During his training at Marfa Army Air Field, Lieutenant Bowen held the honorary title of cadet colonel of his squadron. He was killed in action when shot down on 15 November, 1944. (15) A reburial service was held shortly thereafter in McKinney.
Turner Leslie Bowen also entered the country’s service in 1942. He received his wings at Corpus Christi, Texas and went overseas in July 1943 with the V.P. 34 “Black Cats.” This squadron served eighteen months in the South Pacific and received the President’s Citation. Turner Bowen was awarded Distinguished Flying Medal.(16) He returned home after serving his term.
Candis Bowen married Leon Farley, and the couple lived in the house with Lindsay L. and Ota Bowen. Their marriage lasted only a little more than a year before Farley moved out and the couple divorced. Candis Bowen Farley worked at Central National Bank in McKinney and became a vice president. She later married Glen Couch and they moved to
Garland, where they raised two children: David Glen and Candis Ann.(17)
Probably Mrs. Ota Bowen’s greatest contribution to McKinney was as a campaign worker for U.S. Congressman, Sam Rayburn. She was one of his strongest supporters, and his appreciation for her was exemplified by his visit to the home to offer his condolences after the death of her son, Lindsay Lee Bowen, Jr. during the war. At that time Sam Rayburn was Speaker of the House of Representatives and this visit to the home is historically significant.(18)
What Some of McKinney’s Elders Say Some interesting stories are told today among some of McKinney ‘s elder citizens regarding the Bowens’ years in the home. Over a dinner conversation, Bill Dowdy of Tucker Street, McKinney, vividly recalled the home being commonly referred to as Bowen ‘s Beanery. According to Dowdy , some burly country boys in latter years of high school were brought in to McKinney to “beef up” the high school football team. Some of these boys, Dowdy said, bunked at the Bowen house where Mrs. Bowen cooked beans for the boarders. Dr. Jim T. Wilson Sr. of Hill Street, McKinney, (who played on the McKinney High Lions football team in the nineteen forties),jokingly protested, saying he “didn’t remember that at all.” Dowdy good naturedly pressed his point, saying the “imports” were the reason the Lions did so well! At that, Dr. Wilson Sr. guffawed. Dinner ended with the debate unsettled.(19)
Another McKinney elder citizen, Naoma Moore, who still lives at 609 Benge Street recalled visiting the Bowen’s house often to see her good friend who boarded with the Bowens during the lean years of the depression and following.(20)
The earliest photos of the house that can be found today were taken sometime during the Bowen years, 1937-82. 21 Although this cannot be proven, perhaps it can be surmised that during the depression, war , and years following, most families of average means would not have made major architectural or decorative changes, but rather focused on keeping the home operating and functioning as well as possible, and repairing damage however they could.
The Couch Family in Texas
In 1982, David Glen Couch and his wife Julie were asked to live in and take care of the house for David’s grandmother, Ota Bowen, who was ill and had been moved into University Nursing Home in McKinney. The house had been standing vacant about two years. Driven more by family love than a desire or intention to restore an old house, the Couches accepted the challenge. After spending a year and a half in the house, the Couches decided to move out temporarily to have it structurally restored. David and Julie made every effort to keep the house as historical as possible, while completely redoing the major systems to accommodate their young family , including four children. The house ‘s four original fireplaces (two were brick fireplaces and two were pipe vented pot
belly stoves) were replaced by central heating and air throughout. Plumbing and electrical systems were also completely redone.There had been a fire on the back of the house in 1942 and the Bowens had erected an inexpensive “lean-to” of tongue and groove novelty pine because materials were scarce and expensive.(22)
James West of McKinney recalls that his grandparents Mattie Higgins West and T.W. West lived in the house at one time, and believes his great-grandfather, William Higgins (1850-1929 ca.), was the architect who built this house in the early 1890s. West volunteered his architectural expertise and services toward saving the house, as the cost ofthe Couch ‘s restoration was mounting, and the banks were not lending money at that time on historical home restoration.(23) The lean-to structure was found to be at variance with traces of the original foundation. An upper elevation was constructed, which would blend well with the overall style of the Victorian farmhouse. The front of the house (facing east) remained the same, as well as the south side, and the north side, other than the back north comer. The fire occurred in what was then (1942) the kitchen. The fire destroyed part of the kitchen, a bathroom and porch, all on the back of the house. The gable lost to the fire was reconstructed and had a substantial impact on how the west elevation was designed.
The mantle in the parlor is original, and was restored by David Couch, who also saved exterior bricks from the dilapidated brick chimney on the north side of the house, to be used as a hearth and fireplace surround with the mantle in the parlor. The window on the front of the parlor is original. The front entry door, including the old sculptured brass hardware, and frosted glass etched with a bowl of flowers, is original to the house. All other windows were unsalvageable due to dry rot of sashes and sills. They were replaced during the restoration with wood-framed reproductions. The exterior siding that was unsalvageable was replaced by the Couches with six inch Masonite, due to high cost and unavailability of the original long-leaf pine.(24)
The home has an asymmetrical plan, and IS a two story frame dwelling with weatherboard siding, gable roof with composition shingles and box eaves; wood sash double-hung windows with one-over-one lights; single door to primary entrance; five-bay porch with hip roof that extends the full length of the east elevation, with turned wood posts, and squared wood balusters. This Victorian farmhouse was said to be a two-story version of one of the most common regional plans of its era.(25)
The Couches were fortunate during the restoration to have access to materials from the old Cameron House, built in McKinney by Isaac Graves, before the house was razed. The heart pine tongue-and-groove flooring in the downstairs foyer came from the Graves-Cameron House foyers. Stair treads, ballisters and railing, as well as door frames in the upstairs and downstairs foyers, and the unusual 18-inch wide solid wood bar in the kitchen were also from the Cameron home. 26 The Couches restoration work was completed and the family moved back in March 1985. In April 1985 the Couches received an Award of Excellence for their restoration efforts from the City of McKinney at the Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet. In December 1985 the home was included in the Annual Christmas Tour of Homes of Early McKinney sponsored by The Heritage Guild.(27)
The Couches lived in the house until 1993.0ta Bowen died July 30, 1985 at University Nursing Home in McKinney. Candis Bowen Farley Couch is now 96 years old and lives in a nursing home in Rockwall, Texas. David Couch is a practicing attorney in Rockwall, where he and Julie also now live.
Subsequent Family Improvements
The Couches sold the house to Eric and Lisa Friedrichs in August of 1993. The Friedrichs , along with their two young daughters, lived in the house for six years. The Friedrichs hired an architect to build a two-story carriage barn in back of the house. The Friedrichs sold the house to Patrick and Amy Oden in November of 1999 who lived in the house, along with their young son Austin, almost two years before moving to a different location in McKinney. The Odens sold the house to current owners, Frank and Brenda Waggoner in April of 2002.
Since the Waggoners have lived in the house, they have replaced old cabinets (perhaps from the sixties) with cabinetry which Eric Friedrich had previously hired a cabinet maker to construct for the house. Friedrichs had never had the cabinets installed and they’d been stored in the garage, unfinished. The cabinet style is quite simple and compatible with the overall tone of the home. Also, the Waggoners replaced dilapidated Formica countertops in the kitchen and butler’s pantry with simple pattern granite countertops in 2004. In 2006 the worn and leaky wood shake roof was replaced with composition shingles. In 2008 the Waggoners added a kick-out window to the north side of the parlor, using the window the Couches had installed in 1984 as the middle unit, and adding two smaller one-over-one wood-framed reproductions on either side of the middle window. This lends a lighter and more open feel to the room, which is quite small by today’s standards. In May-August of 2009 the exterior of the house was painted (hand brushed and rolled), and some unsalvageable wood was replaced with 6″ Masonite to match the Couches earlier restoration work. Approximately 30 percent of the original long-leaf pine siding remains on the exterior of the house today and is mostly on the east side (front).
Frank and Brenda are active in the McKinney community. They are members of the McKinney Historic Neighborhood Association and they attend Trinity Presbyterian Church. Frank restores classic cars, and his place of business is at AeroCountry, near Custer Road and Virginia Street in McKinney. Brenda is a licensed professional counselor practicing in Richardson and McKinney. She is also an author, with four books published, two by Cook Communications, and two by Tyndale House Publishers. Brenda is also a member of the Historic Neighborhood Book Club established by Ruth Bison.
In the future, the Waggoners plan to add some gingerbread trim to the two-story carriage barn, using the good part of an old partially rotted long-leaf pine board that had to be replaced when the house was painted. This will create a greater feel of compatibility between the house and the carriage bam. The old air conditioning units in the house need to be replaced in spring of 2012 . Other than that, the house is currently in excellent structural and operating condition. The Waggoners’ main goal is to continue to maintain the house in the manner it deserves.
Frank and Brenda Waggoner seek a Historic Building Marker (if granted we will place this on front wall of house near front door), as well as a tax exemption from the City of McKinney. This well preserved and well documented historical house, which received the Award of Excellence from the City in 1985 after the Couches restoration work, deserves to be continually well-maintained for years to come, and is a vital part of the history of the City of McKinney.
1. Hall, Helen Gibbard. The Abernathy-Bowen House. Historical Report accompanying Couch’s application to Texas Historical Commission, 2 Feb.1985. 1,2.
2. Hall, Helen. 3.
3. Collin County, Texas. County Clerk. Deed Records. Vol. 52,133-134.
4. City o fMcKinney. City Directory of 1909-10.
5. Stambaugh, J.Lee, and Lillian J. Stambaugh. A History of Collin County, Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1958, 143. ,
6. Abernathy, William M. Our Mess: Southern Gallantry and Privations. McKinney, Texas. Roy F. and Helen Hall Memorial Public Library. McKintex Press. 1977,53.
7. Stambaugh, 143.
8. McKinney, Texas. The Architectural Heritage ofMcKinney, 13.
9. Stambaugh, 143.
10. Abernathy, William M., preface.
11. McKinney Weekly Democrat, 9 October, 1930, 1.
12. Collin County, Texas. County Clerk. Deed Records. Vol. 312,409.
13. McKinney Courier Gazette, Obituaries, Dec. 26, 1972.
14. Couch, David G., Rockwall, Texas, interview with Brenda Waggoner, McKinney, Texas, 23 December 2011.
15. Freedomfighters.com/hall ofheroes, 2. Also The Men and Women ofWorld War lIjn Hall, Helen. 6.
16. The Men and Women o/World War II in Hall, Helen. 6.
17. Couch, David G., 23 December, 2011.
18. Hall, Helen. 6
19. Dowdy, Ann and Bill, McKinney, Texas, and Wilson, Dr. Jim T. Sr. and Mrs. Marion Wilson, McKinney, Texas, at a dinner interview with Brenda and Frank Waggoner, 705 N. Benge Street, McKinney, Texas, 12 November, 2010.
20. Moore, Naoma. McKinney, Texas, interview with Brenda Waggoner, McKinney, Texas, 11 July, 2010.
21. McKinney, Texas, 705 N. Benge Street, earliest photos found. Courtesy David Couch.
22. McKinney, Texas. Roy F. and Helen Hall Memorial Public Library. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of McKinney, Texas.
23. West, James. McKinney, Texas, interview with Brenda and Frank Waggoner, 705 N. Benge Street, McKinney. 11 Jan. 2012
24. Couch, David G., 23 Dec., 2011.
25. Historic Description. David Couch’s application to Texas Historical Commission, 2 Feb. 1985, 1.
26. McKinney Courier Gazette, McKinney, Texas. 22 November, 1985.
27. McKinney, Texas. “Fourteenth Annual Christmas Tour ofEarly McKinney Homes,” in The Traveler, 15 November, 1985.