Lisa is an artist who has been trapped in Texas for over a decade. She enjoys photographing weird and wonderful Texas landmarks.
A Haunting Piece of Local History
The Woodmen's Circle Home is a group of large, seemingly abandoned red brick buildings that sit on a 15-acre piece of land in Sherman, Texas. Since the 1990s, the buildings have fallen into serious disrepair, passing through the hands of one investment group after another, without care or improvements.
Local residents often shake their heads as they drive by, lamenting the waste of letting a once beautiful property decay into its current ruined state. There are also local legends about this property being haunted, and it is often included on lists of haunted houses in Texas.
The property is sometimes erroneously referred to as the Woodman's Home, Woodman's Circle, the Sherman orphanage, or the haunted orphanage.
Background on the Home
The Supreme Forest of the Woodmen Circle was founded in the late 1800s on a radical idea: to allow women to purchase insurance. One of its founding members, Dora Alexander Talley, was the driving force behind the building of the Woodmen's Circle Home. She envisioned a home for widowed or retired insured members and for the orphaned children of members.
Dora Alexander Talley helped choose the 240-acre site, previously known as LeBaron Farm, on a hill three miles west of Downtown Sherman. Ground was broken on the home in November 1928, and the main building was opened in 1930. The Pennsylvania building was added in 1933, and the west wing was added in 1941.
By 1938, the home that Dora envisioned was considered so successful that the main building was named the Dora Alexander Talley Building. Between 1930 and its closure in 1971, Woodmen's Circle was home to over 100 children and 165 elderly women, who otherwise might have had nowhere else to go.
Former Residents of the Home
This 2010 video from the Herald Democrat, the local Grayson County newspaper, includes interviews with former residents of the Woodmen's Circle Home, who speak about what it was like to live there.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
In 1971, the home was closed, in part for failing to meet local building codes. It was purchased shortly afterward by the first of a series of investment groups.
From 1977 through 1981, the main building was leased to Dr. Ariel Sherman and the Good Shepherd Tabernacle church. The local rumor was that this was a Satanist cult, but this was just idle gossip. However, in the late '80s, members of the same church had legal difficulties in Oregon regarding the treatment of children. (For more on this, see the State of Oregon vs. Dale & Stephanie Tucker.) This served to increase the local legend that a child had died in the house and that it was haunted.
Vandalism and Damage
Throughout the 1980s, the home stood empty, passing through the hands of several investment groups. Eventually landing with Sunbelt Savings and going into receivership, the home became an attractive target for vandals. A series of fires on the property in the 1990s severely damaged the buildings, and further fueled the stories that there was something going on with this property that wasn't quite right.
The Woodmen's Circle Home and its surrounding acreage are now owned by David and Debbie McNees of the Resolution Trust Corporation. Since they acquired the property in the 1990s, no attempt has been made to restore the buildings, or protect them from further damage.
A Lovely Subject to Photograph
I've photographed the property many times over the last 20 years, usually outside the barbed wire fence, to comply with the posted No Trespassing signs. Above are some of my favorite photos of the exterior of the home, from 2004.
A Brief Timeline
- 1927: The Supreme Woodmen's Circle acquired land in Sherman, guided by early president Dora Alexander Talley.
- 1928: Ground was broken on November 14th, and construction began.
- 1930: The administration building was dedicated, and the home was opened with a handful of young residents, including Lee & Edith Carmichael and Edwin, Sadie, Robert & Lillian Puliam.
- 1931–1935: More orphans moved into the home. By 1935, there were 50 children living there.
- 1948: The number of children living in the home fell to 4. Only 8 more children were taken in from 1948 onward.
- 1965: Only two children, Brandon and Sharon Moe, remained at the home. The founding organization merged into the Woodmen of the World insurance company.
- 1966: The last new resident was accepted in July 1966.
- 1971: The Woodmen's Circle Home closed, having sheltered more than 100 children, and 165 elderly. The home was purchased by a group of five attorneys.
- 1977–1980: The property was leased by Dr. Ariel Sherman and New Life Tabernacle.
- 1990: The remaining property was purchased by the current owners, David and Debbie McNees of the Resolution Trust Corporation.
- 1990s: A series of fires on the property cause many of the wood supports for roofs and upper floors to deteriorate.