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Books, catalogs, and magazines influenced the design of many distinctive Texas houses built in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Architects had published books for centuries in order to build their reputations and entice clients. Early in the nineteenth century, skilled workmen brought carpenters’ manuals such as Asher Benjamin’s The Country Builder’s Assistant (1797) and Owen Biddle’s Young Carpenter’s Assistant (1805), spreading current styles into the new state. The use of catalogs and periodicals to sell plans by mail proliferated from the mid-nineteenth century, with hundreds of issues marketing house plans to potential homeowners, contractors, and carpenters. Many Texans ordered detailed plans by mail while others simply took the publication to a local builder for the design to be copied or adapted. Materials were often found at the local lumber yard, all made available by the rapidly expanding railway network.

General interest magazines including Godey’s Lady’s Book and the Dallas publication Holland’s Magazine inspired Texans with their regular features on house designs, as did magazines devoted entirely to the subject, such as Shoppell’s Modern Houses and the Bungalow Magazine, and those published for contractors and builders, including American Builder and Carpentry and Building.

Mail-order catalogs offered a wide range of designs in a single publication, from large ornate mansions to tiny cottages. George F. Barber, of Knoxville, Tennessee, became one of the most popular mail-order architects in Texas with at least nine catalogs and his magazine American Homes. Barber houses can be found across the state, in towns large and small.

Other catalogs offered building materials for houses in precut form along with the plans needed to assemble the pieces. Sears, Roebuck and Company became the most well known of such ready-cut house purveyors, but Montgomery Ward, the Aladdin Company, and Houston’s Crain Ready-Cut House Company competed with their catalogs. Texas retail lumber yards, alarmed by the popular interest in ordering building materials from Sears or ready-cut house catalogs, began to commission their own catalogs of house designs, often called plan books, published by R. W. Williamson and Ye Planry, both of Dallas, as well as the Southern Pine Association, headquartered in New Orleans.

All these publications contributed to the variety of domestic architecture in Texas. Many neighborhoods were enriched by houses based on published pattern book designs. 

Writing Credits

Margaret Culbertson



Margaret Culbertson, "MAIL-ORDER PLANS AND HOUSES IN TEXAS", [, Texas], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Texas

Buildings of Texas: East, North Central, Panhandle and South Plains, and West, Gerald Moorhead and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019, 138-138.

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