BEWARE THE OLD SAWYER HOUSE: A history of the Williamson County Manor September 11 2014 | POSTED BY Ted Geoghegan
One of the most striking, iconic images in Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE is the lonely white farmhouse that Leatherface and his deranged family call home. And although it was thrust into the public eye upon the release of the film, the stately manor has a stunning history all its own – and continues to thrive forty years after its brush with fame.
No one knows exactly when the home was built, but local records claim it was constructed sometime around 1909. Raised on the top of Kit Hill, north of Austin and just inside the Williamson County border, the house was an immediate attention-grabber. With twelve-foot ceilings, a complex rooftop featuring a private balcony, and a stunning front entryway and staircase, the lavish cottage manor quickly became a jewel of the area even though its architect, George Franklin Barber, was known for creating “kit homes”, which regularly featured the same layout. Numerous manors across Texas - also designed by Barber - are practically mirror images of it, and are regularly mistaken for the CHAIN SAW home.
The house had numerous owners over the years, all of which tended to the ample Texas farmland surrounding it. For decades, it was owned by Robert and Nina Sellstrom, who ultimately retired from the farm life and sold the home and property in 1971. New homeowners promptly rented the estate to a series of families, but unwittingly thrust the abode into cinematic history when they allowed filmmaker Hooper and his motley crew of filmmaking rebels to shoot in it during the sweltering Summer of ’73.
The CHAIN SAW crew had been looking for a desolate home to shoot in for quite some time, and heard about the Williamson County Manor through mutual friends on a local softball team. Several grueling weeks in the dilapidated, scorching house hardened the film team, but the results – as film history has proven – were well worth the agony. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE was released in 1974 to massive success, and turned the home into an instant tourist attraction.
From the moment the film debuted, horror fans flocked to the manor. It remained a rental property throughout the 1970s and 80s, and welcomed hundreds of fans every year, wanting a glimpse of Leatherface’s stomping grounds. Unfortunately, by the mid-90s, unscrupulous types began vandalizing the home, and it wasn’t long before the once-grand manor had fallen into disrepair.
Ironically, the house’s salvation would come at the hands of numerous chainsaws, which were used to dice the estate home into seven pieces and move it off its original foundation in 1997. Finding a new home on the Texas landscape, the manor was reassembled in nearby Kingsland, at the Antlers Hotel compound, owned by Austinites Barbara and Dennis Thomas. Once situated there, Anthony Mayfield restored the home as an eatery, opening it initially as the Four Bears Restaurant and, since 2012, operating it as the Grand Central Café.
Visitors to Leatherface’s home are always welcome, and additional information on stopping by manor can be found at www.kingslandgrandcentral.com
And for those looking to experience the horror of Tobe Hooper’s horror masterpiece at home, the incredible 4K restoration of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE – celebrating the film’s 40th anniversary – is now available on DVD and BluRay.