The Family House


Ahhh, the ol' homestead for our favorite family...

The family house was purchased and moved from Quick Hill in Austin, TX. by Dennis and Barbara Thomas of Kingsland, TX in 1998.  It is now located just across the road from the Antlers Inn as a restaurant.

A CD-Rom is available with over 220 color and black and white pictures of the house, inside and out, of how it looked sitting on Quick Hill in 1998.  For more information on this CD and how to order it, click HERE.

On August 13, 1999, the River City Tribune did an article on the family house, then called the Kingsland Old Town Grill.  Click here and here for the scanned pages from the newspaper.

Many fans have, and continue to make the pilgrimage to Kingsland and to The Antlers to visit the house.
Click HERE to shoot to the bottom of the page and see all the fan submitted photographs of their visits.

The following pictures were taken on April 25th, 1999 just after a full morning of rain.

Click on the image for a full-size picture.   Click on the image for a full-size picture.   Click on the image for a full-size picture.   Click on the image for a full-size picture.   Click on the image for a full-size picture.

Me at the front door.   The balcony.    The front porch.   Front left corner of the house.  The chicken room is in front (on the right).   The left side of the house.  The dining room window.

The dining room without a flash bulb.   The dining room with the flash bulb.   The chicken room.  


The Architect of the House

George Franklin Barber (1854-1915) was an American architect of the late Victorian period in Knoxville, Tennessee.  He published a monthly magazine called “American Homes” in the late 1800’s, which also promoted his original house plans that he sold through his publication.  Orders came in from around the world for his house plans.  To this day, many Barber homes still exist, and most of them are treasured and restored, much like the Chainsaw house is today as a restaurant.  Many are used as bed and breakfast’s.

Barber had hundreds of house plans varying from small one bedroom homes to elaborate three story houses.  He had hundreds of standard house plans.  But he made it a common practice to customize a standard template plan for a buyer, making almost every Barber home a unique home, unlike any other in existence.  Unfortunately, it is also said that no other copies of these plans were ever kept for posterity’s sake.  Once Mr. Barber created the plan, all copies, if any copies at all besides the original plans, were sent to the buyer.

There were three identical houses built in southern Round Rock at the beginning of the 20th century.  All three of them were within walking distance of each other on or near Quick Hill.  The TCM house is, of course, now a restaurant in Kingsland, Texas.  Another house was down from the hill and is referred to as the “Burkland-Frisk” house, also called the sister house on my web site.  It is not known what happened to the third house.

From the evidence we have gathered to date, the first families to live in these houses probably shared the same floor plans and house designs ordered from George Barber, possibly through one of his magazines.  The price for one of his plans ranged from $8.50 to $47.00.  It was a common practice, back in those days, to purchase kit house plans and hire a local lumber company to fill the order of pre-cut lumber to construct the house.  This included all the decorative gingerbread and bracket work.  The lumber was cut and hauled to the site where the house was to be built.  It is believed that a local craftsman, Carl Carlson, built all three houses using lumber from Nalle and the house plans from George Barber.

For more information on George Franklin Barber, Google is your friend.  Or, for $20, I’ll be glad to send you a CD-Rom with several Adobe PDF files, which includes two books by George Barber—”New Model Dwellings” and “The Cottage Souvenir #2”.  Both publications contains hundreds of house designs by Barber.  The design that most closely resembles the TCM house is plan 17b of New Model Dwellings.  Also included is a brochure of Barber homes, and a file with many color pictures of restored Barber homes.

The following article was originally run in the Austin Chronicle, written by M.M. Pack.

Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, a neat farmhouse stood on the windswept crest of Quick Hill, southeast of the sleepy little Texas town of Round Rock. Although details of its origin are somewhat obscure, this was a kit house (plans and materials purchased together) probably built in 1909 by local craftsman Carl Carlson for the Thompson family, who owned the large stone house just across County Road 172.

The house was the heart of a working family farm until 1971, when Robert and Nina Sellstrom retired and sold it and the surrounding 100-plus acres to Celia Neuman of Austin, who promptly rented the property to a series of enthusiastic young people eager to get back to the land.

In 1973, cinematic history was made in that house: It served as the primary location for Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a shoestring production of such creative vision that it forever changed the modern landscape of horror films. The movie also definitively changed the destiny of the farmhouse itself, which, like a reticent lady of a certain age, found herself thrust upon a path of notoriety never imagined in her genteel youth. From the onset, fans regularly materialized to gaze upon the Chain Saw house with the same deliciously frightened frisson that the film inspired.

However, the Chain Saw house no longer graces the top of Quick Hill. These days, construction for State Highway 45 slashes through what was once a sloping hay field on the hill's east side, a stone's throw from the old foundation. Crisp new roads surround the hill and serve the formidable La Frontera development project; only the crest remains, forlorn and untouched. I don't even want to know what La Frontera's plans are for that hilltop.  [Tim Harden: It is slated to be bulldozed over and office space will be built upon it, probably in 2007].

No, after years of neglect and vandalism, the old house on the hill was sold, cut into seven pieces (how ironic is that?), and carted away to Kingsland in 1998, where it now nestles companionably among the other Victorian structures of the venerable Antlers Hotel compound, owned by Austinites Barbara and Dennis Thomas. Anthony Mayfield painstakingly restored the house to its former unpretentious elegance, and it has been granted a new life as the Four Bears Restaurant.

As one of those enthusiastic young people who once called it home, I am delighted that the house is again loved and cared for and that it has morphed into a restaurant. Based on its past -- family farmhouse, Chain Saw movie set, and home to a continuum of idealistic urban farmers -- this new food-related incarnation seems entirely fitting.

OK, I admit that the first thing that comes to mind about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre probably is not food. But if you think twice, you might recall the barbecue and headcheese, the culminating family dinner scene, and the hitchhiker's epithet, "You're nothing but a cook!" Co-writer Kim Henkel has said that one of the film's references was the story of Hansel and Gretel, which, like the film, concerns some very dark aspects of food and eating.

My own recollections of living in the house are primarily about gardening, cooking, and hospitality, and I can trace roots of my current culinary career to my time on the farm. And when I talked with other inhabitants, I found lots of fascinating food connections and stories. Clearly, this house has always had a strong food vibration and an illustrious culinary history.

The Early Years

Betty Sellstrom Hester, lifelong resident of Round Rock, grew up in the farmhouse on Quick Hill. Her parents, Robert and Nina Sellstrom, purchased it from Tom Nelson in the early 1940s. Hester remembers that the farm had been rented out for some time before her family acquired it. "The house was in bad shape -- at some point, people even kept chickens upstairs! My father had to do a lot of work, including refinishing all the woodwork and floors."

The farm prospered under the Sellstroms' stewardship; they raised cotton, corn, maize, vegetables, Black Angus cattle, milk cows, pigs, turkeys, and chickens. "We sold eggs both to hatcheries and to grocery stores in Austin. We usually kept the eggs on the back screened-in porch, but when it got really cold, we had to bring them inside by the woodstove.

"Both my parents were Swedish, and my mother was a very good cook. She made lutefisk and ostkaka (clabbered milk cheesecake) and Swedish brown bread with molasses. My husband and I still make my mother's brown bread every Christmas.

"When we married in 1949, the church hall at Palm Valley Lutheran was under construction, so we had the reception at the house. Cake, coffee, and punch for 400 people. In those days, it wasn't the custom to serve meals at wedding receptions.

"In 1971, my parents sold the place, but the new owner told my father he could go back anytime. Once he went to fetch something he'd left in the hayloft; he looked down and saw the barnyard filled with cars and covered with camouflage. He was sure something shady was going on, but the sheriff told us they were making a movie out there."

Stuart and Rebecca Isgur, now of Fort Worth, rented the farm in 1971 in response to a newspaper ad. Urban gardeners from Austin (where Stuart was director of the University YMCA and the People's Clinic), the young family (including toddler Benjamin) raised chickens, tended the garden, and nurtured the peach trees. Rebecca was a passionate cook, and, aided by her big Chambers stove, she cooked, canned, and pickled her way through the farm's bounty. That stove, along with the Isgurs' deep freeze, can be seen in the movie.

"It was a time of great experimentation with food, an opening up of world cuisines," Rebecca remembers. "We were learning how to use a wok, how to make Middle Eastern food. Because of Stuart's work, we had friends from all walks of life in Austin who came out to the farm for lots of dinner parties and barbecues."

Nick Wallingford, now of Tauranga, New Zealand, lived one summer on the farm with the Isgurs. "My food memories of the old house relate mostly, I guess, to bread. I'd learned to bake from The Tassajara Bread Book and had gotten pretty good by then. Good flour back in those days, fresh and readily available. And honey I would get from the old guy who first got me started in bee-keeping: Papa Max Bachofen. Max used to live in the old garage of a service station on 24th at Rio Grande. The Posse -- a drive-through beer-selling place!

"So, in the old house, I remember baking a fair bit. Becky had gotten her dream stove ... heavy as hell, gas. Two ovens, I think? By that time, I was getting more adventurous, but still trying to do things with all natural foods. I even remember making [baked] doughnuts with a variety of toppings -- all with no white flour or sugar."

Wallingford went on to become a professional baker, both at the early Whole Foods bakery and later in New Zealand, where he immigrated in 1974. He kept bees and eventually became president of the National Beekeepers Association of New Zealand.

And the food-producing lifestyle suited the Isgur family -- they left Quick Hill for a large organic farm in Parker County, where for the next 13 years, Rebecca says, "We raised 80 percent of what we ate; we had beef cattle and milk cows, and we made cheese and butter. We grew berries and made jelly from wild mustang grapes, and we sold produce from our garden."

The 'Chain Saw Massacre' Days

Stuart's brother, Ron "Smokey" Isgur, assumed the farmhouse lease and was the only actual resident during the 1973 filming. Isgur recalls that the filmmakers found the house through the softball team he played on with Charlie Loving, Big Boy Medlin, and Doug Sahm. Robert Burns' commercial art company sponsored the team that year, and Burns -- the Chain Saw's art director and props magician -- was looking for a location. Loving pointed Burns to Isgur's house, and the rest is history.

Ron says his main food memory was "the time I got the munchies and mistakenly ate the keepsake piece of wedding cake that Charlie and Jeannie Loving had stored in the freezer. I'll never hear the end of that. And, of course, I couldn't cook anything while they were filming in the kitchen."

The grueling conditions under which the cast and crew worked that summer are now the stuff of legend. Robert Burns asserts that Sally Nicolaou's superior cooking was the only thing that held the project together. "When Sally arrived with our meal, it was the high point of the day. Her food was just wonderful."

I asked Nicolaou how she got involved in the film. She laughed and said, "I got rooked into it because Tobe Hooper knew I was a good cook. I was married to Ted Nicolaou, the soundman for the movie. I was just starting out, and this was my first real catering job.

"I was feeding probably 40 people on the set every day. I cooked in my kitchen at home with my 3-year-old daughter on my hip, listening to the Watergate hearings on TV -- this was 1973, remember. Then I'd load up the car and take it out to the farmhouse.

"I mostly made big casserole things -- green-chile chicken, lasagne, chicken pot pie with giant, fat biscuits on top. I made bread, cheesecakes, and lots of pies with lattice crusts. I probably fixed them homemade ice cream, too. I also did the cleanup. How did I do all that? Now, it exhausts me to think about it."

After the movie, Nicolaou continued catering and opened the Waller Creek Cafe in 1975. Today, she is a set decorator for films, commercials, and videos in Austin and California. In 1999, her daughter Corinna Nicolaou, wrote a child's-eye memoir about the film titled "Scream, Memory" for the Texas Observer.

The Post-'Chain Saw' Era

Five years after the movie came out, two friends -- John Thomas and Bill King -- and I moved into the Chain Saw house. Although we were UT graduate students (business, law, and library science, respectively), our heads were full of back-to-the-land dreams, and the farmhouse exceeded every expectation. In beautiful condition and surrounded by 100 acres of cow pasture and hay fields, the place came with a big garden plot, an ancient peach orchard, a chicken coop, a barn, a pond, hilltop breezes, and brilliant stars (not to mention legions of scorpions and rattlesnakes, and such bone-chilling winter cold that the water in the toilet regularly froze solid).

We arrived knowing nothing about country life, and we made every possible mistake, but we happily grew vegetables and herbs and raised the chickens, geese, and rabbits that we learned to care for, process, and consume (almost) unsqueamishly. All of us made great strides in our cooking skills -- friends from Austin and Houston loved visiting the country, and large, convivial meals and parties were the norm. We were so proud of our burgeoning abilities to raise and prepare good food.

Thomas, now a computer resource analyst for Harris County, particularly recalls the eggs. "Immense quantities of fresh eggs, due to over-purchase of chickens. I kept records. We got over 1,050 eggs in one year from six hens." (This was the M.B.A. guy, obviously.) "Mayonnaise. Omelets. Hollandaise. Eggs Benedict. Eggs Sardou. Learning, and mastering, the art of making soufflés, just to use up the damn eggs, eight, 10 at a time. Cheese soufflés. Broccoli soufflé. Chocolate soufflés! Oh my stars, those chocolate soufflés ..."

King, now a Travis County juvenile court judge, reminds me that each of us had a separate coffee apparatus for our morning libations. "We were three hippies who were coffee snobs -- years ahead of the rest." I suppose he's right: We're still all coffee snobs.

At the time we embarked on our farm sojourn, we knew little of the house's history, only that it had been the set of the movie. We weren't tremendously interested; we were just thrilled by our place in the country. We quickly learned, however, that the steady stream of tourists coming to see the Chain Saw house was inescapable. Nobody ever got too obnoxious, but it did get tiresome; it helped when we started keeping the gate closed.

Thomas -- and, later, some of his relatives -- continued to occupy the house until 1997. County Road 172 was rerouted around the hill in 1985, and access to the gate became problematic. Sometime thereafter, the empty house was sold and moved to Kingsland. One era ended and another began.

It warms my heart to see the old house basking quietly in its current glory. And inside those walls, as has been so for almost a century, people are cooking with love and eating with pleasure. That's a fine legacy, indeed.

Here's a couple of videos posted on YouTube of some fans taking a trip to the family house soon before it was moved to Kingsland.

#1 & #2.

Fan Fotos of the House

Chris Allen
Chris shares a couple of pictures of the original Leatherface house as it was circa 1995 on Quick Hill.  He also possesses large patches of the wallpaper, some pink wood trim, the glass door knob where Leatherface's door was and an old license plate possibly used in the film.  #1 & #2.

Bogues and his friends Billy and Shane took the grand tour of all the film locations.  Here's shots of the house.
#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, & #24.
Bogues bought the original screen door from the house, which did appear in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre film.  Check that out HERE.
Bogues sent in some comparison pics of the screen door as it looked in the movie and how it looks today.  It's very interesting!  #1, #2, #3 & #4.

Brian and Kent
#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6 & #7.

Shane Brown
#1, #2 & #3.

Byron Knisley
Here on Quick Hill and at the house.

Greg Cornell
Greg and his family traveled from Canada to visit the original film locations.  Check out his pics!  #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 & #6.

David Hurray
3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Todd Hopkins
Todd made a recent pilgrimage to the film locations.  Check out his pictures.  #1 & #2.

Keith Lewis
Original piece of a front porch spindle #1, #2  Four Bears Restaurant #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11.

Brett McBean
Brett traveled all the way from Australia to see the TCM sites for himself.  #1 & #2.

Peter Paulsen
#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6 & #7.

Bryan Pears
Four Bears Restaurant #1, #2, #3, #4 & #5, and some authentic parts of the original house he found on Quick Hill.

#1, #2, #3 & #4.

Kevin Scott
Kevin made a pilgrimage to the film locations and sent in this pic of him in the Four Bears Restaurant.

David Spencer
David went to several film locations, including the BBQ shack.  Check out his online album HERE.


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© 2013 Tim Harden