Watson cut Mercer stone for homes
Few know about stonecutter Edward Watson, who honed his craft by building six intricately designed stone houses between 1850 and 1880. His handiwork lives on in the four homes still standing in Mercer County.
``We're talking about houses 130, 140, 150 years old,'' said John Malone, Aledo High School English teacher and local historian.
Of the stone houses still left, one stands in Duncan Township, one in Preemption Township, another in Perryton Township and one in Mercer Township. Their beauty and the builder's hard work haven't been widely recognized, mostly because the houses are off the beaten path.
Mr. Watson died in 1904 with little fame and a lot of bad luck, according to some who have researched his life. He is buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery north of Millersburg.
He was born in 1832 and came to the United States from England in the 1840s, according to historical records. Little is known about his early history, but it's believed he came to America with his father, who received a land grant of 169.25 acres in Duncan Township.
In an age when it was important to have sons to carry on the family name, Mr. Watson had only two daughters. His grandson and namesake, Watson Farmer, was killed in 1909 after a freak accident, when a car frightened his team of horses, Mr. Malone said.
In the 1850s, Mr. Watson began building the first of six houses, one for himself on the Duncan Township land grant. The house sat north of Millersburg, the former county seat.
Mr. Watson and his wife, Nancy, lived in the house for more than 50 years. It was built with handcut stone carried from nearby Camp Creek and featuring intricately carved designs above its front door and windows.
Constructing such a house was no easy task. The limestone or sandstone was carried by horse and wagon to the site. The crews then hand-chiseled the stones, smoothed them and carved designs. Each stone's six sides would have to be surface-planed at right angles and cut.
The original Watson house stood vacant for several years before it was bulldozed last summer, Mr. Malone said.
``It's a shame,'' he said.
The former McAfee house, about three miles northeast of Millersburg, is now owned by Larry Castor. The place is believed to have been built in 1855 or 1856 and has been extensively remodeled. An upstairs door originally opened onto an old-fashioned portico over the front door, which since has been replaced with an enclosed porch.
Renters now live in the home purchased by the Castors for farmland around it, Mrs. Castor said.
The third house is the Wood Stone House, east of where Perryton Presbyterian Church sat before its demolition, believed to have been built around 1867.
The two-story house features a large wooden covered portico on the front, and was occupied by descendants of Philander Wood until it was bought by the Scott Williams family in the early 1980s. The stone for the house came from a quarry about two miles southeast of the site.
The former Burgess House, on the north end of Aledo's College Avenue, also was built by Mr. Watson. Now housing a craft shop called The House of Burgess, the 1867 two-story building formerly was owned by Gene Burgess. Stone for the house is believed to have been hauled to Aledo from a quarry near Gilchrist, about five miles away.
The Doud House in southeastern Preemption Township is believed to have been built in 1877 out of stones from a quarry across the road. It was vacant when a new owner bought the property, building a new house behind and burning it down, Mr. Malone said.
Construction on the McCaw House south of Preemption on U.S. 67 began in 1861, but was interrupted when Mr. Watson was called for military duty in the Civil War. The house was finished in 1865 and includes a stone kitchen and pantry on its west side.
``It's a well-kept, attractive, neat little home,'' Mr. Malone said.
While the interiors of the houses often were plainly finished, they do include some surprising architectural details, including chimneys built directly onto the walls.
Mr. Watson is believed to have worked in building a since-destroyed stone county jail, near the former Mercer County Hospital in Aledo. He most likely farmed the land where he lived near Millersburg, and supplemented his income with stonecutting work, Mr. Malone said.
-- By Kay Yadon (February 9, 1998)
Copyright © 1998 Moline Dispatch Publishing Company, L.L.C.