Fort Worth Star-Telegram: July 4th, 2009

The Mystery House

For decades, the old Waples-Platter house has intrigued those passing by on Arlington’s Division Street. The 1910s home is set off from the street by tall trees – and tall tales

By JOHN AUSTIN jaustin@star-telegram.com

ARLINGTON – 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.

“We’ve had people stop by. They wanted to see it” because of the colorful stories, Adelaide Griffin said. But it was the nearby Top of the Hill Casino that had the escape tunnels, gambling and shady goings on, not her family’s home. “My grandmother would be spinning in her grave.”

The fact that Griffin is still debunking stories underscores how many myths attached themselves to what old-timers call the Waples-Platter house, built about 1914 by a business magnate whose Fort Worth food empire was a household name.

Set apart and surrounded by towering trees and tall tales, the three-story house crowns a knob south of the railroad tracks along Division Street between Rush and Village creeks. Now, after nearly nine decades, the house, garage, white 12-stall barn, sandstone caretaker’s cottage and surrounding 40 acres are destined to leave the family whose members have flourished – and perished – there for five generations.

“We’re trying to find the right kind of owner,” said Griffin, 50, who is a Texas Woman’s University management professor. “We’re really trying to find someone who wants to have a ranch in town.”

Despite being near the bridge where a Texas & Pacific steam engine went off the rails in 1885, there are no reported ghosts. But potential buyers should know that the $850,000 estate does mark the site of Col. Paul Waples’ gruesome and untimely end.

Waples built the house at 4016 W. Division St. after moving to Texas from Missouri and making his fortune with the Waples-Platter Grocer Company, a wholesale firm he founded in 1868. Waples-Platter prospered and relatives went on to create Ranch Style Beans, which are still cooked and canned in Cowtown.

The colonel also played a key role in building another pioneering business. 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. A bronze plaque on the paper’s headquarters building still marks the colonel’s contribution.

But it doesn’t tell the whole story. Waples was on his way to the office one day in 1916, when his chauffeur headed down the driveway and apparently did not see the Interurban.

The Interurban, westbound at about 60 miles per hour on the fateful morning, was an electric trolley that provided transit between Fort Worth, Arlington, Dallas and elsewhere until the 1930s. To exit or enter the Waples property, it was necessary to cross the tracks at the foot of the driveway. The wreck partially derailed the Interurban,

“The chauffeur wasn’t killed, but my uncle was,” said Griffin’s mother, who is also named Adelaide. “He had only lived in [the house] for about a year.”

The fortune that paid for the childless 66-year-old widower’s country home and its black wrought iron gates couldn’t, it seems, fence out fate.

For sale

But it’s the house that fascinates folk such as Arlington Historical Society President Geraldine Mills. Like countless others, she’s driven by for decades with no pretext for paying a visit.

“Is there a third floor?” asked Mills, who recently got a tour after a lifetime of wondering what was behind the monogrammed gates. “I love it. I love it.

“These doors are original,” Mills said, eyeing the sliding pocket doors. “Look at the hardware.”

The house retains its high ceilings and ornate brass doorknobs. It also has a big basement and fire escape, plus porches and views all around. The chandeliers are long gone, but its vintage wiring and chrome-encrusted pink appliances that probably date from the 1950s remain.

“It’ll take some money to bring the place to par,” said John Fancher, whose real estate firm has the listing. “We’ve had lots of interest, but people are a little hesitant.”

The thought that it might not find a sympathetic buyer sends Mills into a tizzy.

“My heart just sank when that sign went up,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful mystery house. I would hate to see it torn down.”

That also goes for Griffin’s mother. She retired to the house with her husband for two decades. She had spent her childhood playing on the porches, and only moved out for good two years ago. Griffin knows every inch of the spread and remembers watching her dad ride his horse across what was once a 622-acre estate.

“There was even a rumor going around for a while that there were tunnels going out from the house,” the elder Griffin said. “Nothing could be more absurd.”

She also recalled attending the local South Side school and Arlington High. Contrary to old stories Mills has heard, Griffin was not chauffeured to school.

“That chauffeur business, now, I don’t know how that got started,” said Adelaide Griffin, 80.

But it’s the good memories she treasures, not the myths and misinformation that surround the house on the hill.

“To me it was just a home,” she said. “I just thought it was a nice place to grow up.”

Star-Telegram Vice President and Editorial Director Paul Harral contributed research to this report.