Updated: Apr 27
View of the staircase from the entryway Photo by Oaklea Mansion
In 1903 Marcus DeWitt Carlock made his residency in Winnsboro, Texas, permanent when he built his beautiful mansion just outside of town. The mansion was a sight to see, with its four stately porches and six neoclassical columns. Surrounded by 53 windows, they could see out of the estate in all directions. Today you can sit near any of those 53 windows and daydream about what it might have looked like in 1903 as you look over the gardens and ponds. The entire home was built from longleaf heart pine. The best Pine that could be used at the time. Some of the Pine that was cut ended up being curly Pine. These were rare hard to find, and very expensive, even more so today than it was then. Mr. Carlock was part owner of some of the sawmills in the area, and he personally picked each and every board that went into his beloved home. He picked out only the best, and when some of the boards had the distinct 3D pattern of curly Pine, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with them.
Today, when you walk into the mansion and its large front room, the first thing that will catch your eye is the exquisite staircase made entirely of curly Pine—the crown jewel of the Oaklea mansion.
The History of Curly Pine
What makes Curly Pine so special? Curly Pine is a burled tree, and unlike oaks and other hardwoods, the burls are not caused by stress. Instead, Curly Pine is a genetic anomaly of the longleaf Pine. A pine tree with the unusual curling pattern can pass the pattern on to future generations. Thus, although rare, curly Pine is often grouped in one area.
In 1903 when Mr. Carlock was building Oaklea, Curly pine was found in only about one in 200 trees. Today, in East Texas, you can find a longleaf curly Pine in about 1 in 400 trees. East Texas was once covered in Pine Treesbut they were nearly decimated by the late 1920s from the sawmill boom and demand for lumber. The forestry service has done a great job protecting and replacing the pines in the area, but because of the sawmill boom, Curly pine has become even more of a rarity than it was in Mr. Carlock's day.
The Staircase of Oaklea
Detail of the Curly Pine Staircase at Oaklea Mansion Photo by 4T Studios
As we walk into Oaklea Mansion today, this magnificent staircase is the first thing to catch our eye. Marcus DeWitt Carlock only wanted the best for his home. After all, he had high-profile friends to entertain, such as Governor James Hogg and his daughter Ima who were frequent guests in the house.
Although we do not know who the architect of the home was, and thus the artist that carved the staircase has been lost to time, the stairs are a work of art and truly an amazing feat. Each part of the structure was hand carved to bring out the 3D effect of the curls, waves, and swirls. The stairs were built with an artist's eye, from the panels and balusters to the intricate ropelike decorations that adorn this work of art. At one time, it was believed to be the only curly pine stairs in the area and definitely the only one in town. We now know of a couple of them in East Texas, but none are as detailed as Oaklea Mansion. In recent years we have learned of another Curly pine staircase in Winnsboro with its own charm and beauty; this one can be found at the Cain house on Broadway.
Marcus DeWitt Carlock truly cared for his home, and the preservation of the staircase is proof that the caretakers since then also appreciate its beauty and history.
When you visit Oaklea Mansion, stop and admire this piece of Texas History. Examine the details, and feel the burls that make up its uniqueness. Appreciate the work that went into its creation, and fall in love with its classic beauty.
Oaklea Mansion staircase Photo by 4T Studios