Fifty-seven years of protecting his Stephenville home

Patty Barberee Hullett
Special to the Empire-Tribune

Charles Williams has lived almost his entire 98 years in Erath County – and most of his days have been spent in the city of Stephenville. 

He and his wife Sue, 96, recently celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary at the Graham Street Church of Christ, and they have been happily living off the South Loop in town, on Alexander Road, since 1964.

Charles and Sue Williams recently celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary at the Graham Street Church of Christ, and they have been happily living off the South Loop in town, on Alexander Road since 1964. Charles spent many years building a protective stone wall around the property.

In fact, their home was previously owned by Charles’ uncle and aunt. He purchased the unique home from them. It sets about 8 to 10 yards above street level, somewhat on a rocky yet flat plateau, which features historic trees, greenery, and bushes of all kinds. 

Charles bought the scenic place in 1963 and the Williams family moved into their forever home in 1964. Some 57 years later, the Williamses still live there. Charles even remembers as a young boy playing in the huge front yard when his uncle owned the house and the pretty landscaped property that went along with it. He had no idea at the time that he would someday own the property himself.

He remembers that his uncle had partially completed a large stone wall section in the front of the house some years ago, probably in the 1940s or 50s. In addition, the uncle made an interesting stone dugout, natural cellar for storage. From the front of the cellar, it often makes Christians think of a tomb, much like one might imagine where Jesus was buried on Good Friday, Charles said.

As fate would have it, Charles had no inkling what he was buying into when he made the house purchase in the 1960s. Once he, his wife, and two children got settled into their new place, he was surprised to find out that leftover rainfall didn’t seem to drain-off well, and the results were that the water backed up to the right side of their back entryway into their house. Because their corner home was so high off the surrounding streets, no one actually visited them through their front door. Instead, their inclined driveway led up to the spacious two-car garage and fully spread-out back entrance.

Charles reluctantly becomes a stone mason

When asked why he decided to built a stone wall around his property, Charles quickly replies, “I certainly never asked for this job, but the situation presented itself and I had to come up with some way to keep the water from backing up close to our main door when we entered our home. Believe me, I had no experience in masonry.”

His wife, Sue, added, “But Charles has always been handy around the house and could fix practically anything.”

A close-up look at stone-built cellar on Williams property.

So, Charles started his 40-year project for two main purposes: (1) to level off his driveway and porch area so rainwater wouldn’t back up, and to reduce the incline; and (2) he wanted to surround his home with a stone wall to keep his outside-playing children from falling off the steep hill and onto the busy streets below.

His first order of business was to get someone with a pull-along or a front-end loader to remove a couple of layers of stones and bricks in his driveway area, and the leftover materials were then moved to the back of the property, which would later become the setting for the couples’ thriving garden.

Over the years, Charles didn’t have to put out much money for the stone building materials, but he did go through a lot of heavy-duty chains, rock hammers to sometimes chip the stones, and he used several different pickup trucks to lift and move the huge stones. His first mighty helper was his 1958 pickup. At times, he also used the assistance of a telephone pole to help steady the stones as they were put into place.

His wife mentioned that some nights he would get so obsessed with his stone wall project that he couldn’t sleep because he was visualizing which stone would stack well on some of his lower completed sections of the wall.

The first section of stone wall that Charles Williams built in 1964 because of standing rain water in his driveway. His wife, Sue, added the English ivy.

“I learned that I had to put an off-set curve on the structure, so I could stack the rocks slightly off-center to make it work effectively," Charles said.

Always had his eye out for free building materials

The innovative man was constantly looking for additional stones for his ongoing wall.  That means that some of the regular building bricks on his driveway, where the land had been leveled and two layers of rock had been shaved off, needed to be replaced.

Per chance, Charles had obtained some old Philbrick bricks from the demolished courthouse in downtown Stephenville. These were some of his prized possessions as far as building materials go. He explains that most of the large rocks and slab stones came from their very own back garden area — where the original front-loader operator had placed them to clear the Williams’ driveway.

However, years later, in other places along his protective wall, he used some bricks from the city jail in Thurber, about 30 miles away. He and his wife were traveling through one day when he noticed some renovation work going on in the downtown area. He immediately stopped and asked if he could have the leftover bricks from the jail. The folks in Thurber were also doing repair work on some of their other downtown buildings, so he lucked out with more large stones that he got for “free.”

One injury in more than 40 years of building

Considering the four decades of working on the protective wall, it is quite remarkable that after all the lifting of the extremely heavy rocks, and placement maneuvers by his trucks and using the steadying telephone pole, to using a rock hammer to chip some of the massive stones to fit perfectly into a designated area, Charles only sustained one injury to himself.

One day, a large stone slipped in the heavy chain and it snipped off the end of one of his pinky fingers. Other than that, he was unscathed after all the hundreds of hours of working on the wall.

A man with many talents and passions

Williams only left Erath County for a couple of years while he was a part of the U.S. Air Force, and was based out of Carswell in Fort Worth. His title was flight engineer and he served on a B-36 Peacemaker. He flew during peace time, so his only claim to fame was when he got to enjoy dropping some heavy bombs into the North Sea on practice runs.

When his time was completed in his service to his country, he became a U.S. postal worker and that was his chief occupation for most of his life. However, he says, “Don’t forget that I was a masonry worker for over 40 years while I was messing around with this stone wall surrounding my house!”

This portion of stone wall extends down to the Williamses' garden area.

Charles also enjoyed serving his local church for many years – Graham Street Church of Christ – and he was very involved in his younger years. He also still loves to work in his garden with Sue.

In fact, daughter Susan Williams says, “I think that is what has kept my mother and father young at heart. They enjoy spending time outside together and working in the garden.”

Charles recalls one day when a man he didn’t know just happened to walk up his driveway and asked, “What are you doing?”

The weary mason replied, “I’m moving this rock, sir.” 

So, he turned away from the man and got right back to work.

Some days the Williamses get a knock on the door from random strangers. Most are Stephenville natives that know about the protective stone wall around the property. At times, someone will stop by and ask if they can use their unique and beautiful property for photo shoots for things like wedding portraits, school cheerleading pictures, engagement photos, etc. 

The Williams are always ready and willing to help out in any way they can. After all, they are very “protective” of their home that they love so much, but they also enjoy sharing it with others.