When Mary Burkholder’s book, The King William Area – A History & Guide to the Houses, was published in 1973, Eleanor Toxey was not at all happy with how her house at 218 Washington was depicted. In a conversation with Eleanor in 2002, she told me that when she asked Burkholder why a picture of her house was not included in the book, and the house barely mentioned, Mary replied, “Your house is too new. I’m only including houses that were built before 1920.”
That really hit a nerve with Eleanor. Burkholder states in her book that the Giesecke House was built “about 1920,” but Eleanor had a photograph of the house’s construction beginning in 1915. Eleanor never forgave Mary for not giving her house the respect that she thought it deserved with a photo and a more extensive history.
The original owners of this Craftsman Style house were
Gustav Giesecke and his wife Annie. Construction of the house was completed in 1916-17, “before the United States entered into WWI,” according to Giesecke’s notes. The architect for the house was the highly acclaimed San Antonio firm, Augustus A. Herff Company.
According to research done by the current owner, Anne Toxey, Gus Giesecke participated in the design of his “dream house” which featured the most advanced technologies and comforts of the early 20th century: built-in electrical lighting and appliances; built-in central radiant heating system; built-in closets and cabinetry; flush toilets, bathtubs and a magnificent marble shower with both overhead and side water jets; sitting and sleeping porches; and strategically-placed screened windows for cross ventilation of breezes.
One hundred years later, the ornate radiators still operate from a huge 19th century cast iron furnace in the basement, now converted from coal to natural gas. One of the significant facts in the house’s history is that it has remained in its original state, unlike most mansions in the King William neighborhood, which were remodeled or divided into apartments in the early- to mid-20th century.
In 1894, Giesecke’s friend and neighbor, Arthur Guenther, who owned the Wulff house at 107 King William Street, left his family’s mill operation at the opposite end of the street to enter into a partnership with Giesecke in building and operating the Liberty Mill.
In 1912, Guenther left the Liberty Mill to become vice president of his wife’s family’s Gross National Bank, where he remained until his death in 1931 at age 72. Giesecke retired as president and general manager of the Liberty Mill in 1933, and died three years later at age 70 (see note below).
Several months after Annie Giesecke died in 1950, the Toxey family bought the property on Washington Street. In 1951, Walter and Eleanor Toxey and their son, Walter, Jr., and daughter, also named Eleanor, became the new owners.
In the mid 1950s, Walter Toxey, Jr., while still living in the home of his parents, was instrumental in having the King William park gazebo moved from the Arsenal grounds to its present location.
Walter Toxey, Sr. was a field engineer for the City of San Antonio. He died in 1957 at age 67. His wife Eleanor lived on in the house until her death in 1972, when the house passed on to her unmarried daughter Eleanor, who taught school at Herff Elementary School on S. Hackberry St. for many years. Soon after Eleanor died in 2005, the house that she so dearly loved became the home of her niece, Anne Toxey, and her husband, Patrick McMillan. Anne is the third generation of the Toxey family to own and live in the house. - Bill Cogburn
Note: Arthur Guenther and Gus Giesecke were married to sisters. Arthur’s wife was Elise Frederike “Lieschen” Groos. Gus was married to Anna “Annie” Franciska Groos. The sisters’ parents were Gustav and Anna Groos, who lived at 231 Washington Street. The Groos family was one of San Antonio’s leading German business families, owning the Groos National Bank as well as general mercantile operations. There are two Groos family homes in the neighborhood: at 231 Washington Street where the sisters grew up, and at 335 King William Street.
Sources: Mary Burkholder’s The King William Area – A History & Guide to the Houses; research of current owner, Anne Toxey; SAPL Texana Room.