The HomePlace was painted from memory by my mother, Mildred Orsak Hahn, sometime before 1975, because she understood my nostalgia for my Grandma Hahn's old home. Mama didn't exactly remember all the details—the front porch was more prominent than shown, and the front windows were single, not double—and she took liberties with the layout of the land and water. The creek is quite a bit wider than shown, and quite a bit farther from, and lower than, the house; it is more properly named a river, since it empties into Tres Palacios Bay. The bank in reality is strewn with huge old spreading live oaks and elms. There also is a horse apple tree on the slope, and a big mesquite. But, Mama couldn't put those in the picture because they would obscure the sightlines to the house, smokehouse, and barn. In my memory there were other outbuildings, too—a chicken house and shed, and on the bank an outdoor toilet and a pigpen (which were located rather badly, since the prevailing breeze was southeasterly). Also, the pigpen was vulnerable to alligator attack.
The house lies on the north bank of a curve in the Tres Palacios River, near the site of the former "Port of Tidehaven," a ranching and agricultural shipping town that flourished for a time in the mid-1800s. In 1927, when Louis and Augusta Hahn contracted to purchase their 245-acre property, there was a stagecoach inn, in an advanced state of decay, situated just about where the old barn now stands. The river had been navigable in prior years, and the inn had served as a hub between boat and stagecoach traffic. (A little of the area's history can be found here, and here, and especially here.)
The family dismantled the crumbling building, and recycled some of its materials into the construction of a house (not the one in the painting), the barn and smokehouse (shown in the painting), and sundry other outbuildings and fences.
Times were hard. Sometimes their main meal consisted of nothing but sweet potatoes and gravy. The older children had to quit school to work the farm. By 1930, Louis Hahn had grown despondent, and the story is told that one day. after sitting awhile on the front porch, he simply got up and walked away, and jumped into the river and drowned. This left Augusta with a mortgage to pay off, and several children to raise. But, the Hahn children were industrious and smart, and Augusta's son-in-law, Steve Zielonka—Sophie's husband—was affluent enough to assist her in making her mortgage payments on time.
Around 1931, the present house was constructed, and the former house—which had been nearer the river, and probably flood prone—was demolished. Bricks from the old inn's fireplace were used to make a chimney for venting the kitchen and dining-room stoves. Some of these bricks also were used to pave the front walk, where they remain to this day. Augusta's son Albert dug up three small cedar trees from nearby woods and planted them in front of the house; they have survived these many years, though one was severely topped by Hurricane Carla in 1961.
After Augusta's death in 1945, the property was held jointly for thirty years by her eleven surviving children. When finally the land was subdivided in 1975, the Hahn siblings drew lots to determine who would take possession of each 20.8-acre tract. My father, Albert Frank Hahn, received the tract with the house and barns, and had to reimburse the estate $3,500 for the value of the buildings, which by this time were in a state of such disrepair that moss and other plants were growing out of the rotted roof shingles. Albert also bought Aunt Sophie Zielonka's abutting 20.8 acres, and put many hundreds of hours into making the place liveable again. A local farming family, Lawrence and Edith Hickl, and their son Larry, competently farmed about 26 acres of these two tracts for many years. At this writing, that acreage is being farmed by Greg and Rebecca Saha of Bay City.
Albert died in 1983, and his wife Mildred Orsak Hahn died in 1990. When their assets were divided between their two daughters—my sister and me—I chose this property, which I had long held in fond memory, and Marilyn chose a smaller property farther downriver, near Tintop.
In about 2007, my son Matthew Wiles was hosting a party of friends at the HomePlace, and one of the guests parked Matt's old Jeep Renegade on the steep river bank without setting the handbrake properly. When they dove into the water to attach cables to the submerged vehicle, they discovered a load of bricks on the river bottom. These probably came from the old stagecoach inn, and at this writing they are still there...
~Laverne Hahn Wiles, 2015/02/19