There’s something ethereal about driving through a neighborhood with homes built over a century ago. It’s the quality of the craftsmanship, the pride in the detailing, and the classic styling. We wonder about the who’s who that lived there. Historic homes have stories to tell; when you live in one, you become part of the story.
Fort Worth’s roots trace to the 1800s. From the historic Van Zandt cottage to the bungalow charm around Camp Bowie, the architecture in our neighborhoods captures cowtown’s origins and evolution.
Owning a historic home isn’t for everyone, but for homeowners with a passion for vintage, buying into Fort Worth’s history isn’t out of reach. Learn more about living in Fort Worth’s historic homes and some notable areas to find them.
Defining historic homes
Generally speaking, a home needs to be at least 50 years old to earn a “historic” designation. It also must meet criteria like:
- Have a connection to significant historical events
- Connect to the lives of significant individuals
- Be an exemplary model of a historical style
- Has provided or likely to provide historical information
The National Park Service (NPS) determines what properties qualify as a historic place eligible for listing on the federal National Register of Historic Places. Every state has State Historic Preservation Officers that review the applications and evaluate the nominated properties. Earning a designation means the property is worthy of preservation.
Separate from the NPS, Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks (RTHLs) are evaluated by the Texas Historical Commission as buildings worthy of preservation for their architectural and historical associations. They also must be at least 50 years old.
To earn Fort Worth’s designation as a historic home, the property must meet similar criteria. An additional consideration is if the home “has been identified as the work of an important architect or master builder whose individual work has contributed to the development of Fort Worth.” Fort Worth follows the National Register of Historic Places’ Seven Aspects of Integrity when evaluating locations.
What comes with historic designations?
Homes that qualify for placement as an RTHL or NPS might earn tax incentives or qualify for grant funding. They may receive priority access to technical assistance from the Texas Historical Commission.
Being officially recognized as a historic home also means homeowners must comply with additional legislation designed to preserve the home’s character and designation. Renovations and changes must be reviewed and approved by the relevant committees. Otherwise, the property may lose its designation.
What to know about buying historic homes
Many people think of historic homes as the run-down, fixer-upper peeling siding and with overgrown weeds in the yard. Some people have the perception that historic homes are money pits with a need for constant renovations and fixes.
The truth is some historic homes are incredibly well-built. As long as they have been properly maintained, they can be just as solid as a modern construction home. It's going to depend on that specific home and its history.
Generally, historic homes do require a little bit more work and more money to maintain. Is it worth it? That depends on the owner’s mindset. Some people see maintaining historic homes as a labor of love, and therefore worth the trade-off.
Historic homes can come with some pretty unique quirks. Some of them have unique layouts because of the way the different generations have added to or retrofitted the property. Others have features not found in today’s new construction. Some have revealed surprises behind the wall that tell the story of a different era. All these quirks enhance the character of that home.
Historic home easements
Before buying a historic home, owners need to investigate what kind of easements and designations come with it. The owners acquire a house with a story and character, but they inherit all of that history, which could restrict how the owners add personal touches to the property.
Historic preservation easements are intended to protect the home or the neighborhood's historic integrity in perpetuity. These easements are legal tools that place restrictions on what can happen to the home. Homes on the National Register of Historic Places have very particular guidelines over what owners must seek approval for before doing to the property. For properties in specific historic districts, the property itself might not have an easement, but you could still be limited in the choices of exterior paint color or window types.
Paying for an easement might qualify the owner for a tax deduction, but it means that the current owner and all future owners have to adhere to its restrictions. Not all homeowners want to be stuck following these guidelines.
Another drawback? In exchange for protecting the historical integrity, owners might need to call in a specialist to handle the repairs or order customized parts. In that regard, maintenance costs can add up quickly.
Financing historic homes
Due to their age, some lenders will hesitate to finance the purchase of a historic home if it needs extensive repairs. It’s not impossible, but it may require more shopping around. Some lending programs like the 203k loan do wrap in funds for renovations into the financing.
The same issue can crop up with home insurance lenders, which see the replacement cost for historic homes as higher. This isn't always the case, but do expect to search around for the best homeowners insurance rate and exploring some creative financing options, if needed.
Finding old problems
A home inspection is always a good idea, and it's especially recommended for a historic home. Depending on the property’s age, you may want to find a home inspector familiar with historic homes of that age and style. They will better know the particular issues that come with that property, like inspecting for lead or asbestos.
Sometimes the inspection reveals problems that absolutely have to be fixed to ensure your safety while living in the home. This can mean updating the plumbing or the electrical to contemporary standards. Most of the older homes also don't have the electrical capacity to handle our modern needs.
You also want to check the whole property for items like septic tanks and old wells. These hazards can cause a whole host of problems in regards to the property’s safety, repair, and removal.
Be ready to compromise
Owning a historic home is a juggling act between what's new and what's old. We tend to like the character and the architectural stylings and fixtures, but we don't always like the claw-footed tubs or the dual faucets in the sink.
The tricky part about updating historic homes is that some contemporary changes can actually devalue the property. For example? Replacing some of the customized glass in the windows. Owners also may be restricted on what can be done based on its historical designation. The home’s size may not be able to fully equip a modern kitchen or a master bedroom suite.
The upside to historic homeownership
Some research has shown that properties in a designated historical district might increase more in value compared to the surrounding neighborhoods. This only applies if you are in a district and not to the specific home.
Historic homes can be eligible for some tax breaks if it qualifies for a conservation easement. It can take some legwork to figure out if property ownership qualifies for other types of tax breaks, but it could be worth your time to research the specific property.
The other unintended benefit of purchasing a historic property is they tend to be located in a mature neighborhood. There's likely to be little construction, reduced traffic, and mature landscaping. Any major changes would have to be run through the neighborhood review board.
And finally, historic homes are just gorgeous. You just simply don't find the same kind of artistry in today's modern construction. With stained glass windows, the front porches, and small details in the trim, it's hard to find the same level of workmanship in modern homes.
Fort Worth historic home areas
Numerous historical residences are scattered throughout the Fort Worth area. Our neighborhoods date back to the 1890s, starting with uptown Samuels Avenue, which was just east of the original Fort Worth. There's also the historic Silk Stocking Row, which was the home to our area's affluent pioneers. Cattle and oil barons built their estates on the rolling hills across Fort Worth.
In the late 1800s into the early 1920s, the rich built grand homes in the Arlington area and residential developers followed soon after. Following the closure of Camp Bowie after World War One, more communities were developed, known today as Crestline, North and South HiMount, Monticello, and Westover Hills.
Towards the south, the earliest developments included Fairmount, Ryan Place, Elizabeth Boulevard, and Mistletoe Heights.
Today, many of Fort Worth's historic homes have been lovingly restored once more or are just waiting for the right person to refresh their character.
Van Zandt cottage
We can't profile historic Fort Worth homes without at least mentioning the Van Zandt Cottage. Major Khleber Miller Van Zandt did not actually build the cottage; it was already on the 600 acres of land he purchased between 1871 and 1873 west of the newly minted Fort Worth. Nonetheless, it still makes it the oldest residential home inside the city of Fort Worth. It has been modified over the years and was restored in 1936.
Most of the land that Van Zandt purchased today is owned by the city, including what we now know as Trinity Park.
1904 Wharton-Scott House (Thistle Hill)
This historic mansion in the Georgian Revival style is on Fort Worth’s Pennsylvania Avenue. It was built for Electra Waggoner, the heiress of Wagoner Ranch, and her husband. It was purchased by local cattle baron Winfield Scott in 1911. It was restored in 1976 and acquired by Historic Fort Worth who still occupy and rent the home for events.
1899 Ball-Eddleman-McFarland House
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and an RTHL, this home overlooks a bluff of the Trinity River. It was one of the few homes of the Quality Hill neighborhood that remain today. Historic Fort Worth operates the home as a museum and its Preservation Resource Center.
Local Historic Districts
About two miles south of the downtown area is a rectangular area known as Fairmount and Southside. This National Historic District was developed as a middle-class residential area from the 1890s through the early 1930s. The majority of the homes are single-family wood-frame bungalows built in 1905 to 1920. Form variations are found throughout the historical district. Over 1,000 contributing buildings were documented as part of its nomination for the National Register of Historic Places.
Included in the district is the RTHL M.A. Benton House on 6th Avenue. It’s still owned by Benton descendants and earned its designation based on its architectural qualities.
Approximately two miles northwest of the Tarrant County Courthouse is the subdivision along Grand Avenue. This historical district is the western edge of the original subdivision of North Fort Worth and follows where the street curves over the bluffs of Trinity River’s West Fork. Construction began here around the 1900s, with many homes serving as residences for stockyard employees. It was added to the National Register in 1990 and comprises approximately seven blocks.
This historic neighborhood is approximately four miles southwest of the central business district. It's also known as Bluebonnet Place, and it was part of the original 1864 Sutherland survey. The district surrounds Bluebonnet Circle and extends north to Berry Street. Some of the homes were built in the late 1920s, but most of the work began in the 1930s.
The overarching architectural style is prairie bungalow and Tudor colleges, mostly one-story, and constructed with brick and stone or frame with siding.
Elizabeth Boulevard & Ryan Place
Elizabeth Boulevard is a striking drive with its entrance gates, terraced lots, and impressive houses. Ryan Place wraps around Elizabeth Boulevard on the north, east, and south.
Pioneer developer John C Ryan laid out Ryan Place in 1911 with the idea that it would be an exclusive residential neighborhood for the professional elite of Fort Worth. The deed restrictions mean that most of the older homes are uniformly clad in masonry or stucco.
To see the Ryan Place historic standards and guidelines under consideration, visit here.
Hillcrest Historic District
Hillcrest was first envisioned as a neighborhood with a boulevard and linking it to the downtown area. It was originally called “Chamberlain Arlington Heights,” but no homes were built on what is known as the Tremont block. World War One added infrastructure to the area. When Camp Bowie closed, a new development boom spurred construction through the 1920s and 1930s. By the end of the 1940s, all of the lots were filled in the Hillcrest addition to the City of Fort Worth.
The homes found in Linden Avenue and its 6th and 11th blocks were part of the Queensboro addition of the Arlington Heights area of Fort Worth. The architectural styles found inside this district include Arts and Crafts, European Revival, and minimal traditional. It developed in the 1920s and 30s as a community of railroad and industrial workers. The changes in styling show how the Great Depression changed home architecture, with a departure from decorative detailing and simpler forms.
Mistletoe Heights overlooks the Clear Fork of the Trinity River. Development began in the 1910s and increased when Texas Christian University moved nearby. The neighborhood earned Fort Worth’s designation as a historic district in 2002. It captures an example of an architecture for middle to upper-class in the early twentieth century.
Researching your historic Fort Worth Home
Do you own a historic Fort Worth home and are interested in learning more about its history? The organization Historic Fort Worth is dedicated to documenting Fort Worth's rich history and providing resources to city residents. Its preservation Resource Center contains archives on thousands of properties included in the Tarrant County historic resources survey.
Historic Fort Worth has compiled everything someone would need to know about historic homes in Fort Worth, Texas from the standpoint of federal, state, and local preservation ordinances into one document. It's intended to help owners and their legal representatives understand their full range of options when protecting historic real estate.
Buy Fort Worth history
If you are interested in owning a home with Fort Worth history, talk to the experts at the Chicotsky Real Estate Group. As multi-generational Fort Worth residents, we enjoy helping others explore the roots of our community through real estate. Let us help you find a home ready to add a chapter to its history.