As the oldest remaining downtown structure, the two-story brick building on the eastern corner Erwin Street and Broadway Avenue survived political turmoil and progress for almost a century and a half.
Silas D. Wood, a Reconstruction carpetbagger attorney/taxman/publisher, built it in 1868 to house his law office and a newspaper, the National Index, which he began publishing in 1867. The building is the oldest structure remaining downtown and is mostly intact.
Wood was a Virginia Republican who came to East Texas before the Civil War and came to Smith County as part of an occupying army which supported Republican, pro-federal Reconstruction efforts after the war.
Amateur historian Randy Gilbert called the building “the bonafide carpetbagger building” in Tyler but said Wood's reception in East Texas wasn't as chilly as one would expect for an outsider sent by the federal government to oversee the taxation of residents and preach federalist agendas.
“The image that we have is 'kill, kill, kill the scalawags,' and an unruly response to Northern intrusion and the Klan riding down on them, but it appears Wood was accepted in Tyler,” Gilbert said. “Was it just politics and then you could be friends with people you were diametrically opposed to? That seems to be the case with Wood.”
He was elected as a city alderman in 1870. Aside from his publisher and attorney duties, Wood also was commissioned as deputy tax collector for the Fourth District of Texas' Internal Revenue.
Gilbert said Texas there was a large anti-succession contingent in Texas, including Sam Houston, the Republic of Texas' first president, who unsuccessfully lobbied to remain with the Union as the state's governor.
Gangs of Ku Klux Klan members, also referred to as “night riders,” raided the region in an attempt to disrupt federal operations and the black suffrage movement, leading H.C. Hunt, the internal revenue tax assessor who came to Tyler from New York, to request federal troops to stop mob harassments in 1868.
Despite threats and bloodshed, Wood printed the pro-federal paper and a weekly law newspaper, the Texas Law Journal. The National Index drew critical responses from other papers in Marshall, and Dallas.
“From Wood's tone we suppose it will be a black republican paper, and support the radical party of this state,” wrote the Marshall Texas Republican in Aug. 1867.
The paper was 26 inches by 39 inches and its annual subscription was $3.
Wood defended his paper in the Weekly Austin Republican following criticisms as a publication that would “fearlessly advocate republican principles” in the region, lay aside dead issues and work to restore the country on its foundation of justice, liberty and equality.
Wood exited publishing in 1873. Hunt took over.
Hunt's family later turned the building into a grocery store.
Owner John O'Sullivan, who renovated the building around 1994 and purchased the building around 2008, said all material for the building was made locally and that it housed numerous businesses and residents during its 144-year life.
O'Sullivan came across boxes of documents, including print copies of the National Index, Texas Law Journal, and dozens of print copies of possibly the last portrait of Sam Houston, during the renovation. The portraits of Houston were given to annual subscribers.
He said the building has always fascinated him but that learning about its roots adds to the fascination.
“It has a lot of history to it,” O'Sullivan said. “It's a unique building and has some unique stories from its past.”
Research documents were provided by the Smith County Historical Society and archived newspaper articles from the University of Texas at Tyler.