Beneath old paintings by Alice Littlefield, staircases carved with the family’s initials and old-fashioned olive green furniture lies the story of the mysterious Littlefield House.
The Victorian red mansion on Whitis Avenue was constructed 123 years ago, when George Littlefield, a civil war veteran and cattleman, had the home built for the next generation of Littlefields. George’s great-grandnephew, David Gracy, an information professor emeritus, now serves as the family historian, authoring an upcoming biography of his great-granduncle that he hopes to release for the centennial of George’s death.
As the oldest building on campus, the Littlefield House currently hosts University events, but for the century prior, the building collected history on the street corner, serving as the home for multiple generations of Littlefields.
George Littlefield was born in Mississippi in 1842 and moved to Austin in 1883, where he established the American National Bank on Sixth Street and Congress Avenue.
“In one letter he wrote home from the Civil War, he said he would like to have a ranch in the Austin neighborhood,” Gracy said. “He decided Austin was the best place because it was the center of political life here in Texas. There was a good community of cattlemen, and it was closer to his family.”
George and his wife, Alice, had the Littlefield House built for $50,000 in 1893 with the hopes that their nieces and nephews would eventually attend the neighboring University. They would remain there for the rest of their lives.
In the early 1900s, the building housed about 30 of Littlefield’s nieces and nephews while they attended UT. Gracy said Littlefield was the patriarch of the family and considered it his responsibility to provide an education for his family’s descendants.
Meanwhile, Littlefield became involved with UT as a donor and served as a regent from 1911 to 1920. His financial contributions began in December 1897 when he opened the home’s doors to University staff and donors for a fundraising meeting. Afterward, he invited some of the attendees to a “bump” in the dining room.
“According to a report from a student, [they went] into the dining room, [which] was stocked with eggnog and all kinds of Christmas goodies and crystal bowls and dishes,” Gracy said.
UT took ownership of the house after George and Alice passed away in 1935. According to local historian Jim Nicar, the structure has served various odd purposes since.
“It was used shortly as a sorority house [and] as music practice rooms,” Nicar said. “The most bizarre thing it was used for was during World War II — the Naval ROTC building. There were two anti-aircraft guns on the front lawn. In the attic there was a firing range, and if you go up there you can see the bullet holes from the targets they had.”
Many rumors and legends surrounding the home have piled up over the last century such as the legend that Littlefield locked his wife in the attic to protect her from the Yankees, something Gracy said is absolutely false.
“There is no basis for that and it trashes the character of those people, not to mention that they did so much for the University,” Gracy said.
Gracy said he wants his ancestors’ house to be remembered for what it was and for not the untrue stories that surround it. He hopes the verse inscribed on the UT Tower will come true and the truth shall set the house free of its legends.
“I think [the legend exists] because [it’s] the only house on campus, and it is the oldest,” Nicar said. “Campus myths are contagious and prolific on any campus.”