Tragedy, Flowers, and Everything You Didn’t Know About the Bayless-Selby House

The Bayless-Selby House has witnessed over a century of growth and change in Denton, Texas. These days it resides at the Denton County Historical Park, adorning Carroll Blvd. However, the home is more than just a beautiful backdrop to the Denton Community Market – it’s a trove of local history. If the walls could talk, they would tell tales of local farmers, florists, antique shop-owners, the good times and the bad times- including one tragedy.

For quite some time, the full history of the Bayless-Selby House was a bit of a mystery, only reaching as far back as 1894, when the Bayless Family moved into the house. However, staff members of the Office of History and Culture were recently able to trace ownership back a few more years. The Bayless-Selby House originally sat at 1301 Myrtle Street in Denton before it was moved to the Denton County Historical Park. By using Denton County’s online Property Records Search, we tracked down the various owners of the Myrtle Street property.  This revealed that J.M. Blount first owned the property, although it is unclear what year he acquired it. J.M. Blount was a prominent Dentonite who owned a successful general store and served as County Judge from 1865-1866. He was loved by the public and affectionately called “The First Dentonite.” In 1885, the Sherman family purchased the home from J.M. Blount. It is believed the Sherman family built the original two-room farmhouse during this time. In 1893, the Hoffman family bought the home in foreclosure. The Hoffman’s owned an adjacent property, but it is unclear if they ever intended to use the newly acquired property. A year later in 1894, they sold the property to the Bayless family.

The house was originally located on the cusp of Denton’s elite portion of town. This area took up four to five blocks on South Elm, then called Sand Street. Mr. Bayless purchased the 10-acre property with the farmhouse for $800. In 1898, Mr. Bayless contracted JM Barrett to build the two-story Queen Anne Victorian style addition. The project cost $1500. The additions to the house also included electricity (only to light the house) and indoor plumbing.

The land was great for Samuel Bayless who was a truck farmer and head of the family. He grew vegetables on the acreage and large plants in his nursery. The family made their living by selling crops at local Trade Days.

Samuel, his wife Mary, and their children lived happily in the home from 1894 – 1919, when tragedy struck.

A sharecropper named Mr. Joe Spears lived on the Bayless property at this time. Mr. Bayless provided the housing and tools, and allowed Mr. Spears to grow whatever he pleased on the land. In return, Spears was required to give Mr. Bayless half of his market earnings. Mr. Bayless was adamant about not being cheated out of money by Spears.

On November 22, 1919, Spears sold the last bale of cotton and brought half of his earnings to Bayless. Not having cleared the sale with Bayless, Bayless became so angry he picked up a board and hit Spears in the side of the head. In his defense, Spears pulled a cotton knife and delivered a fatal stab wound to Bayless. He passed away in his home that night and they held his funeral in the parlor. After a long trial covered by the Denton-Record Chronicle, Mr. Spears was acquitted on account that the stabbing was an act of self-defense.

Heartbroken by the loss of Samuel, Mary and the Bayless children decided they no longer wanted to live in the home. Mary went to the Selbys, who were fellow truck farmers and florists, and asked if they could trade houses. Though the deal was considered a trade, the Selby family still had to borrow $10,000 from the bank because the Bayless’s 10 acres were worth more than the their 20 acres. The new family moved in Thanksgiving Day 1920.

The Selby family, especially the children, loved the spacious new home. They were delighted with the amenities of plumbing and basic electricity. Most evenings, the family could be found spending time together in the parent’s bedroom (the warmest in the house, due to the fireplace). They made the house a home and spent their free time singing hymnals, playing music, and enjoying each other’s company.

Though Mr. Selby was originally a farmer, raising cows and pigs and growing crops for market, he was able to step away from this line of work after the family’s move. He transitioned to being a full-time florist (his nursery is now the popular Denton eatery, The Greenhouse). It was a lucrative business for him, and in 1948 he passed it along to his sons. George Selby ran the greenhouse and nursery, while R.L. Selby managed retail. Eventually, another generation joined the business, when George’s son, Richard, became a co-owner.

Just like the family business, the Bayless-Selby House stayed within the Selby family for many years. It was occupied by George Selby, who grew up in the house, and his wife, Velma, until 1970. It was at this time that Richard Baria and his wife bought the home.

The Baria’s owned the house until the 1997. During this time they made various renovations, such as covering windows, adding doors, building stairs to the attic, and installing paneling on the ceilings. In 1997, they sold the house to the City of Denton for the expansion of an electrical substation. The home went up for auction in 1998. It was purchased for $10,000 by Denton County Historical Commission member, Mildred Hawk, who donated it to the county.

Between 1998 and 2001, the house was renovated. Years of weathering led to damage that needed repair and previous alterations were reversed to make it as similar to its original state as possible. For the past 16 years, it has been open to the public and free to visit, serving as a museum and education center.

FUN FACTS:

There are some very interesting artifacts that visitors to the Bayless-Selby House can see when they visit. Time to highlight a few of them!

Hair Wreath:

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Hair wreaths were extremely popular art pieces during the Victorian era. People would use hair to create ornate designs used as decoration and a symbol to honor lost loved ones. The fad eventually died after photography became widely available and corporate greed led to selling them commercially.

The wreath in the Bayless-Selby House has hair from 17 different members of the same family.

Doctor’s Office

Doctor Stills3

On the second floor of the Bayless-Selby House, you can step into an old-fashioned doctor’s office. All the equiptment inside belonged to an antique collector, Dr. William McCormick. After Dr. McCormick’s death, his wife Glenda McCormick loaned the medical collection to the Office of History and Culture.

There are many unusual items in the collection, such as pacemakers and rib cutters. One difference between our doctor’s office display and the in-home medical offices of the past, is that our display is located on the second floor. In the past, they would have only been on the first floor in order to tend to patients who couldn’t use the stairs.

Tiger Oak

2008 BSH Mantel.jpg

The wood surrounding the fireplace is a rare type called “Tiger Oak.” Tiger is not a species of oak, but is formed when the wood is cut in a specific way that makes the grain show in a unique and unusual manner. This style of wood cutting is rarely used today and has become a lost art.

Gardens

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It’s only fitting for the home to have a beautiful garden, as it housed multiple florists throughout the years. The current garden is landscaped by the Denton County Master Gardener Association. It boasts a beautiful display of local flowers and plants. We suggest checking out the landscaping after visiting the museum!

Ghosts?!

From left to right, Jim McClaren plays J.O. Speers, Kathy Fielder as a narrartor, Marilyn Stevens plays a widow, Maria Hendrix plays Emma Freeman, Ray Jakeway plays Mr. Green, are the cast that helps re-enact the events of the Sam Bayless death at the Bayl

Though we can’t confirm or deny this, there’s one thing we know for sure: Samuel Bayless died in this home. If you want to learn more, you’ll have to attend our Halloween event, PARK AFTER DARK. Last year our docents dressed up and played the part for this fun and spooky get-together! Come to PARK AFTER DARK scheduled for the third Friday and Saturday in October, and be sure to ask our volunteers if they’ve ever seen or heard Mr. Bayless lurking around the house.

4 thoughts on “Tragedy, Flowers, and Everything You Didn’t Know About the Bayless-Selby House

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