Ashton Villa is regarded as the first brick house built in Texas, 1859. The house was built by James Moreau Brown, who had been a brick mason apprentice as a young man. Brown and his wife, Rebecca Ashton Stoddart lived in the home from 1861 until their respective deaths of 1895 and 1907. While living in the Ashton Villa, they raised five children, John Stoddart (1848), Moreau Roberts (1853), Rebecca Ashton, known as Bettie (1855), Charles Rhodes (1862) and Mathilda Ella (1865).
This reportedly haunted location has several paranormal stories that require further research into whether these accounts follow the historical facts of the house and its residents or follow a path of growing and expanding each time the “fish tale” is retold. Astonishingly, there is even one story being told on a tour that is just, quite frankly, a blatant lie. The lie is also of such severity that it is affecting the reputation of Mathilda Ella Brown and her descendents who are still on Galveston Island.
Does Bettie Brown still play piano as she did in her famous recitals of the past?
According to the Galveston Historical Foundation, Miss Bettie never learned to play piano or any other musical instrument when she was alive. Now, the mistaken identity of a possible piano playing female spirit could be attributed to the fact that in life and even in death Miss Bettie has often drawn more attention than her younger sister for her somewhat rebellious ways. She was an artist, fiercely independent woman and known for never settling with just one man. Her sister, Mathilda, actually did play piano and sadly has never received the public attention that has followed her larger than life sister, Bettie. Therefore, these reputed famous recitals of Bettie are in no way documented or known by anyone that has extensively researched the home or her life and probably should be attributed to Mathilda along with many other accounts that are more closely related to Mathilda’s known past.
Did the caretaker or substitute caretaker overhear a conversation between Bettie and a male companion, within the walls of the famous Gold Room?
Throughout Galveston, there are several stories of an intense conversation overheard between spirits of the past. It’s been reported, told and retold that the conversation was between Bettie and a male companion who was belittling and verbally attacking the young woman as she played piano or sat at her piano. See the first problem with this story? Bettie didn’t play piano!
The now growing legend goes on to state that she was very upse,t yet hiding her emotions and eventually gazed into a mirror, after the man exited the room, looking longingly into the mirror stating “on to the next one” as if she was on to the next man. Some versions of the story report the woman saying more of a fairy tale mirror expression of “mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all”. The reference to many men would align with Bettie’s personality and the reference to possibly questioning if she is as fair as another, could follow legends of a young Mathilda living in her sister’s shadow.
Here lie the facts for aligning the stories to historical accounts. According to Jamie Durham of the Galveston Historical Foundation, if a caretaker was ever residing on the grounds of Ashton Villa, it would have to be while the property was owned and operated by the Shriners who used it as offices, band rehearsal space, sewing rooms and other operational spaces from 1925-1968. At this point, we were unable to get a definitive answer as to whether or not the Shriners used a caretaker.
Bettie did have many marriage proposals and turned down many men, having never married or had children of her own.
The mirror part of this story could possibly be based, at least partly, on an actual diary entry made by a young 13 year old Mathilda. She wrote of a day where she was confined to her room because her sister, Bettie, had workman adjusting the mirror on her mantle in a way that it would be tilted forward. Mathilda surmised that her sister probably wanted to be able to view herself coming and going from the room. The sisters were 10 years apart in age so by the time Mathilda was a teen; Bettie was already traveling the world. According to the accounts in the Mathilda’s diary and other research done by Jamie Durham of the Galveston Historical Foundation, Mathilda’s brother, Charles was her closest confidante and sibling. Mathilda also wrote of many dances, parties, carriage rides on the beaches and other social events that she attended before marrying very young. Perhaps there was some jealousy of sorts because her older sister was a globetrotting, independent woman but they would certainly have not been vying for the same men or even suffering from the “in your shadow” syndrome as much as the growing legends have alluded to.
Many people have had their own paranormal experiences within the home so the story of the Gold Room has probably grown and had many smaller stories combined into one but would seem to make more sense as a Mathilda story rather than Bettie.
To read further on the stories of Ashton Villa, please visit the second part of this article that also answers questions of possible hauntings tied to Ashton Villa and Mathilda’s home (Sweeney-Royston Home).
Read all of the “Galveston history and mystery series”