BEHIND THE WHEEL | DOWNTOWN MINEOLA

MINEOLA — For more than a century, a mysterious, two-story building located near the old Beckham Hotel in downtown Mineola saw plenty of action, some quite colorful.

The old 1888 building, as it's recognized in the community, served a multitude of purposes over the years, from bordello to boarding house, to cafe and drugstore.

If walls could talk, the building, described also as the Yancy building, could likely share countless tales of intrigue and suspense from its early days as a remote, rough and tumble railroad town in East Texas.

Alas, the slow passage of time wasn't particularly kind to the structure — it started leaning and bricks that once protected it from the elements started crumbling.

But local businesswoman Tricia Carver was smitten. She liked its potential and wanted to save it from itself, warts and all.

"There's a lot of history there and I've learned so much about it ... I've got a really thick binder,"

she said by phone last week while recovering from the flu. "It's just so fascinating. I'm from New Orleans and it (surrounding architecture) reminds me of the old French Quarter."

She and husband, Eric, purchased the property months ago with the intentions of preserving what could be spared and retooling what could not.

Few realized, however, the building had another ideas.

'PANDORA'S BOX'

Mrs. Carver wants to bring New Orleans style cuisine to downtown Mineola and provide a place for social gatherings and special events.

Her family is already rooted in the community — they own Eagle's Landing Venue and operate Carver Construction Group.

The character-filled building, near Commerce and Pacific, seemed perfect for fulfilling Mrs. Carver's vision — it's close to downtown and the beloved rail line that runs through Mineola.

After purchasing it, the couple started researching its past and created plans to add forgotten details, such as a wraparound balcony that once adorned the exterior.

As with most any construction project, however, complications emerged.

"It's been what you might call, 'Pandora's Box,'" Mrs. Carver said. "We were pretty much going to build a building inside of a building ... and build a balcony."

Those plans soon changed.

"You literally could stick your finger through the brick," she said. "We got an engineer who took a look at it and said, 'This building needs to be condemned.'"

The owners sought the advice, assistance and guidance of local and state experts in historic preservation to identify possible options, but assessors agreed with the engineer: Structurally, the building was unsafe and failing fast.

"I cried," Mrs. Carver said. "It had to come down."

City officials reviewed the findings and signed off on plans to eliminate the risk, lest someone get hurt.

Demolition day unfolded a few weeks ago, attracting a small gathering of onlookers, including local historian Joyce Williams, who filmed the takedown.

The 1888 building tumbled to the ground in a cloudy swirl of dust and debris, bringing sudden change to an area that's remained largely the same for generations.

Ms. Williams, who serves as vice chair of the Historic Landmark Commission, and other locals said they are looking forward to a new landscape.

"There's a lot of excitement and optimism about what's coming," Ms. Williams said. "A lot of people drove by after it was down, asking for bricks. I guess people wanted something to remember it by. It's exciting ... we'll be going back in time."

MYSTERIES EMERGE

With the building down, attention is focused now on recovering lost artifacts.

There is no shortage of surprises, including the discovery of a below ground basement-like enclosure, filled with debris and old water from an undetermined source.

Test results are pending to identify materials and substances found in the area, the owners said, citing the need for caution until there are answers.

Amid the excitement, Mrs. Carver said she had a few unusual dreams, including one in which a woman directed her to search a particular area of the structure — a probing of the location turned up a diary, written by a woman named Elizabeth.

Efforts are under way to identify the writer.

"We've found all sorts of artifacts — bones, the diary, a woman's nylons, jewelry, a burned chair," Mrs. Carver said, noting some debris may be linked to a long-ago fire that either damaged or destroyed some downtown buildings.

They also located a bullet casing and old prescription bottles, the likely remains of an old pharmacy that operated from the locale.

The new owners plan on incorporating many of artifacts into the new construction, including fire-singled wooden beams, bricks and the original 1888 sign.

Locals seem to like the plans.

"I love the plans, they sound wonderful," said historian Lou Mallory, who chairs the Wood County Historical Commission. "Some of the bricks were probably made at the old brick plant, hauled down the street and used. It's a shame we lost it ... I'm glad they are rebuilding. I'm glad they want to do it."

Likewise, Mineola City Manager and Economic Development Director Mercy L. Rushing seems to be counting the days until she can sink into a comfortable chair on the balcony of the new 1888 building and watch the trains rolls past.

"We're proud to be a part of what they are doing," Ms. Rushing said. "We are proud they (Carvers) chose Mineola for this kind of investment. Everybody wanted to save it ... but there was not much left to save. They are going to do something really, really nice. We believe it's going to be a destination."

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