The Perils of 401 King William: Part Two

In our last “episode,” we left 401 King William in the hands of Edwin Polk who purchased the property in 1882 from the financially burdened Russell and Ellen Norton, only six years after the home’s construction.  Edwin Polk was a ranchman who was said to be a distant relation of James K. Polk, 11th President of the United States.  For the first few years, things for the Polks and their new property seemed to be going fine.  In fact, Polk is credited with adding the home’s second floor, rear wing, and tower.  However, a sign of things to come is recorded as early as 1882 on Polk’s original deed to the property where his first name his incorrectly identified as “Edward.”

San Antonio directory listing for Edwin Polk, 1885 - 86.  Note Sheridan Street was then called Lee.

San Antonio directory listing for Edwin Polk, 1885 - 86.

This error wasn’t addressed until April 1889 when Polk legally corrected the mistake in court for the purposes of entering into a trust agreement against growing debts.   A “trust agreement” is a formal agreement in which a person (or trustor, in this case Polk) vests ownership rights of one or more assets to a trustee for conservation and protection.  In this particualr case, it was to protect Polk’s home from a debt of $3,855 owed to a man named John M. Judah.  In January 1893, Polk entered the property into yet another trust agreement, this time to protect it from $7,250 owed to Francis Smith. 

However, Francis Smith wasn’t the only one knocking on the Polk’s door for money owed.  In February 1893, Polk settled a case in court for debts of $1,786 owed to Cassius K. Breneman, plus another $670.80 owed to the American National Bank of Austin.  And this was only the beginning.  In October of that same year Edwin and his brother Baylor were sued by The Scottish American Mortgage Company Limited for $12,493.05, $8,000 of this amount was collected after Polk-owned property in Bandera County was seized in foreclosure and sold to the highest bidder.  The remaining amount of $4,493.50 remained outstanding with a 12% interest rate.

Trying to calm the waters, Edwin Polk again entrusted 401 King William – then 407 King William – to The Scottish American Mortgage Company for security on the remaining amount.  As if that weren’t enough, Polk became delinquent on $5,000 in back taxes owed for real estate improvements made to the property between 1893 and 1895 – this was most likely for construction of the home’s signature tower.  It appears that the situation with The Scottish American Mortagage Company was settled but the full amount owed to Francis Smith in January 1893 was not: two notes of $450 each remained unpaid so in 1895 Smith foreclosed on the property. 

On December 3, 1895, “407 King William” – the home’s new address for a number of years – and its three lots were sold to E. B. Chandler and Thomas H. Franklin for $8,000, the highest bid at a public sale.  That same day, Edwin, his wife, three daughters and a son-in-law signed off their rights to the property to new owners, Chandler and Franklin.  At this point, one would imagine the Polk family quietly moving their posessions out of the house – Chandler and Franklin were to take posession of the property on January 1, 1896, but when that day came the Polks had no intention of leaving quietly – or leaving at all!

The Polks refused to leave the house.  It isn’t clear how long the family held themselves hostage within the walls of Villa Finale – our research on the events remains “ongoing” – although we do know that Chandler and Franklin filed a legal suit on May 21, 1896 alleging the family caused $500 in property damages during their personal “revolt.”  ($500 in 1896 would be roughly $9,500 today.)  The Polks were due in court June 2nd but failed to appear thereby conceding the case by default to Chandler and Franklin.

On October 15, 1896, ten months after taking posession of the property, Chandler and Franklin sold it for $10,000 making a profit of $2,000 on their investment – not too bad considering all the headaches they inherited.  The new owners were cattleman Isaac T. Pryor and his wife, Myra – although legally, only Myra Pryor owned the property … but that is another chapter in the 401 King William story.

— Sylvia Hohenshelt


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