She felt the cool breeze from Copano Bay on her face as she grasped a railing and steadied herself. Then, she gazed in awe at the beautiful blue body of water on one side and the sprawling ranch on the other side of her perch, more than 50 feet high.
“It’s a bonnie view,” said Nancy Clarke Wood, the wife of John Howland Wood, who had the widow’s walk built on his mansion to remind him of New York, his home state where such architectural features are common.
And Bonnie View became the name of John Howland Wood and Nancy Clarke Wood’s ranch in Refugio County.
John, who was born in New York on Sept. 6, 1816, reached Texas in time to fight at San Jacinto, the battle that won Texas Independence in 1836.
Not long afterward, in 1849, Wood built a house at Black Point, about a mile or two south of St. Mary’s. But the house was destroyed after lightning struck it.
The Wood mansion, the Woods’ second home, was probably started at the same site as the first home in 1870 and finished in 1875, according to Lynnette Hudson Selzer, the current owner and widow of the late Michael Selzer.
The mansion is one of the oldest houses in Refugio County.
The mansion’s builder—Viggo Kohler, a resident of St. Mary’s—also built other houses in Refugio County.
The Florida long-leaf pine and cypress for the mansion was shipped in at St. Mary’s, then a major port. The mansion sits on a shellcrete foundation.
The mansion is the only house in Refugio County to be in both the National Register of Historic Places and the Texas Register of Historical Places.
The house, built in a Greek Revival style, sits on a bluff, so John and Nancy Wood could have a commanding view of Copano Bay on one side and a place to survey their ranch on the other from the widow’s walk.
Lynnette said she was lucky to hear a few stories about Nancy Clarke Wood and the mansion from Mary Elizabeth Welder Knight.
“She said all the beds were feather beds, and a daily chore was to fluff them. Once you got in one, you were toasty.”
Lynnette said Mary Elizabeth was the granddaughter of a granddaughter of the Woods.
“And the stories came from her grandmother who lived in the mansion as a child.”
Also, Nancy Clarke Wood always wore black silk, “her undergarments as well.”
“When she went to church and made her way through the pews, they made a woosh-woosh sound. Other ladies liked that and crumpled newspapers and attached it to their undergarments so they would make a woosh-woosh sound like Nancy’s,” Lynnette said.
Another story involved John Howland Wood having his coffin made. He was worried that someone would botch his coffin otherwise because of the difficulty of getting them on the undependable roads.
Wood stored his coffin in the attic of the mansion, where the grandchildren would play in it.
The Wood ranch was sold in 1906, two years after John Howland Wood died, to Burton and Danforth, the developers of Bayside. Nancy Clarke Wood died in 1891.
Wood is buried in his family plot at the Catholic Cemetery No. 1 in Victoria.
Burton and Danforth raffled the mansion in 1907 as a promotional event and it was won by Phillip Cook.
Cook owned and operated the mansion as a resort hotel for about 50 years under a variety of names: Cook Hotel, Bonnie View Resort, Copano Inn and Bayside Hotel.
One Copano Inn ad called the mansion the “most distinctive resort hotel on the Texas coast.”
The brochure explained a lack of linens: “Please note, due to war conditions, we have found it very hard to find a sufficient supply of linens and towels. For this reason, we have two rates and make a special reduction if you bring your own linens and towels.”
The rate for a week if you brought your own linens and towels was $28. Otherwise the room for one to four adults was $35.
The 5,160 square-foot mansion with 19 rooms was famous in this period as a social center, a resort and a promotional draw for Bayside. Many visitors had very fond memories of their stay at the hotel and bathing in Copano Bay from a large bath house at the end of the hotel’s pier, according to an account on the Bayside Historical Society’s website.
After the late 1950s, Ruby Brisco of Bayside acquired the mansion.
Brisco was born in 1896 and died in January 1976 at age 79.
Enamored with astrology, Brisco grew to like Nell Bradshaw of Corpus Christi, who was a professional astrologer.
Brisco had advertised the mansion for sale in the newspaper, and Brashaw traveled to Bayside to see it. The year was 1974.
“I couldn’t believe how fabulous it was. Ruby said a lot of people wanted to buy it, but she was selling it to me because I was an astrologer,” Bradshaw said.
“Her dad was a phrenologist, he read people’s skulls, and that gave her a connection to me, I guess. I think the price was $35,000. It was financed through a bank on Shoreline Drive,” Bradshaw said.
“My great uncle said he would give me the down payment and I could pay him back when I sold my house in Corpus Christi,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw started a boarding house, sort of. Residents called it a commune. Tenants at the “commune” included John and Jeff Carpenter, Richard Vrooman, Michael Martinez and her children.
In 1975, the Carpenters moved out. And others moved in, including the international blues artist John Campbell and his first wife, Jerry.
Nell said she left some of the tenants in charge during a time she went to San Francisco to visit her friends there.
Those left in charge did not make the monthly payments, and when Bradshaw returned, she was behind $2,000 in payments. Once again, her uncle bailed her out on the condition she put the mansion in her mother’s name: Leata Lumsden.
In 1976, Michael Selzer convinced Lumsden to put the deed back in Bradshaw’s name, paid Bradshaw’s original note off and gave her $3,000 for a quick deed.
At this point, Selzer, also a New York native like John Howland Wood, was the owner.
He recruited some friends to help him fix up the mansion. They removed paint, sandblasted the tough Florida long-leaf pine to reveal its natural grain. And he gave the exterior a fresh coat of white paint with blue trim.
Through the years, Michael and Lynnette allowed the Bayside Historical Society to meet quarterly in the old mansion.
In 1983, the mansion was entered into the National Register of Historic Places. The dedication was in 2001.
Michael and Lynnette Selzer continued to work on the mansion for years before Michael died in November 2013 at the age of 67.
Lynnette said she always wondered if Nancy Clarke Wood approved of the care she and Michael gave the mansion.
But now Lynnette wants to sell the mansion for $1.395 million. The mansion is being sold through realtor David Paulson in the Woodlands.
She said a tour through the mansion would start with entry through the front door (side facing bay). Two parlors, one on each side of the hallway begin the tour.
“The parlor doorways are unlike any others in the house because on one side they have arches and on the other side, the usual rectangle structure.” she said.
“All of it was done without the use of electric power tools. The rooms have the most elaborate trim on baseboards, door jams and crown molding,” Selzer said.
“We have windows that open out on porch. We think all the rooms upstairs were bedrooms,” Selzer said.
The Woods had 12 children.
“Potentially, there are eight bedrooms.”
If you saw a blueprint, the second floor is a duplicate of the first floor except for one wall that was taken out on the first floor to create a large living space.
“Double-sided fire places are on each side of hallway. Every fireplace has a unique mantel.
There are no two alike,” she said.
There is one downstairs bathroom. Two others are on the second floor.
“All walls were papered with multiple horrid colors ... ’50’s colors,” Selzer said.
“Wall covering would have been best. It covered spaces between boards and also for insulation purposes besides being decorative,” she added.
The house has weathered numerous hurricanes since 1875. And it remains structurally sound today.
“The chimneys are shorter than they were in the old photographs,” Selzer said.
“I will miss the house very much. It has been a very real part of my life for 30 year,” she said.
“And with that, of course, comes the history of the house, and Nancy is an important part of that history,” she added.
“Michael and I had always planned to sell the house at this time in our lives. It’s time for the next owners to take over its care and feeding.”