City buys founder’s home

Posted Monday, Sep. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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One of Mansfield’s most important historical landmarks isn’t visible to the untrained eye.

Hidden within the walls of the mostly brick, two-story house at 604 W. Broad St. is a tiny log cabin built in the 1860s by Mansfield co-founder Ralph Man for his family. Aside from the 1977 Texas Historical Marker in the front yard, the only evidence of the hard, hewn log planks can be glimpsed through a missing clapboard or two in the front wall of the home that Man later built around the cabin, expanding as needed over the years.

“It’s amazing how few people know that it’s there,” said Scott Ringnald, a Fort Worth resident who bought the Man homestead two years ago.

That could change soon, thanks to Ringnald, local history enthusiasts and the city of Mansfield, which paid Ringnald $400,000 -- he called it a discounted price -- for the house, barn and the 16 acres of mostly natural land that backs up to Walnut Creek.

“I think it’s perfect, exactly what should have been done,” said Vern Raven, coordinator of the Mansfield Historical Museum and Heritage Center. “Now the city owns the founder’s home, and they can take care of it and do what’s right.”

Until now, history boosters relied mostly on obscurity, a chain of benevolent private ownership and the modest protections afforded a state and federally recognized historical landmark.

Under city ownership, the tentative plan is to tie the back of the property to the ongoing development of the Walnut Creek Linear Park. The property could serve as a trail head to the park with a trail directing patrons through the property and to the creek, once the main trails and other amenities are extended west from the Main Street overpass. So far, most of the funding and work has been focused on the eastern section of the 10-mile park, which eventually will extend from the city’s west boundary to Joe Pool Lake on the east.

Assistant City Manager Chris Burkett said it’s too soon to say how the house will be presented to the public, whether it will be staffed and open for visitors or made available only for walk-by viewing of the house and pole-mounted Texas Historical Marker.

“We don’t know quite yet,” Burkett said. “We just know we had an opportunity to preserve some of the history of one of the founders. We want to protect it and preserve it.”

He said the Mansfield Parks Facilities Development Corporation Board, which administers a half-cent sales tax for park projects, could end up buying some of the property from the city to develop its link to the future linear park.

Ann Smith, a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustments who has worked on numerous historical preservation projects, said she was a little surprised the city bought the property, even though it was partly her idea.

“When I heard it was for sale, I wrote to a couple council members because I thought that historic house as a jumping off point to the linear trail would be a perfect fit,” Smith said. Even though that could be years away, she said, “You’ve got to pick up these pieces when they become available, which is not that frequently.”

Ralph Man was a South Carolinian who came to Texas in about 1850. He met Julian Feild, who would help him found the township and become the other half of Mansfield’s namesake, according to the Mansfield Historical Society’s tome, “The History of Mansfield, Texas Mid-1800 to 1965.” (The “s” was added and the “ei” inverted to make the spelling less confusing, local historians have said. Their names are misspelled as Mann and Field even on the historical marker at the Man homestead.)

The two men built the state’s first steam-powered mill on land currently at the southeast corner of Main Street and Broad Street, according to the history book, which also cites the Man house as the first Mansfield building to earn a Texas Historical Marker. It was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in May 2003, now among six Mansfield sites so honored.

The history book gives two accounts of the origins of Man’s log cabin. One said he started it in 1855 “and added the brick rooms and porch later.” The other said work began in 1866 and was completed in 1870. The book said the log cabin “contains examples of his excellent woodworking ability, with a black walnut mantelpiece and spiral stairway made from trees cut on Walnut Creek.”

Ringnald said his research of the founders’ exploits and whereabouts indicates construction likely began in the latter period.

Ringnald, who was in the insurance trade for 30 years until he sold his business in 2008, said he bought the property two years ago from Henry Chism, who he said had owned it since 1968.

Ringnald decided to sell now, he said, because he wants to devote more time to his other historic property, the J.H. Wright House a few blocks over at 302 W. Broad St.

“I’m going to put a little more attention into it and probably take it up to a commercial level,” he said, probably as a “first-class restaurant.”

Although he never lived at the house -- he spends most of his time on his 15,000-acre Hamilton ranch -- he has tried to be a student of its history and the works of the city’s co-founders.

“I think it’s absolutely significant to both Mansfield and Tarrant County,” Ringnald said, adding he was glad he could work out a deal with the city. “I came off my price, and they gave a fair price for it.”

Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641 Twitter: @Kaddmann

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