The Woodmen's Circle Home in Sherman, Texas
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, at 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.
High On a Windy Hill
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 invisioned 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.
History Comes Alive
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 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.
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. Here 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.
A Once in a Lifetime Event
On September 25, 2010, the Red River Historical Society arranged to have the property opened for public viewing. I was lucky enough to attend this event with my camera, and plenty of empty SD cards.
The buildings were roped off, so only a limited area was available for viewing. Visitors were not allowed beyond the first floor of the main house, and were blocked from going into the east and north sides of the building, for safety reasons.
Even in the areas open to the public, the floors were soft in places, and covered with several layers of carpet scraps. The roof has holes in it, which has allowed the elements to take over in the main building. It's readily apparent upon close viewing that this property is now so far decayed that it may never be saved.
Here are some of the photos of the interior of the buildings I took that day:
Where To Find It
The Woodmen's Circle Home is located at the intersection of Hwy. 56 & FM 1417 in Sherman, Texas. The property is fenced with barbed wire, and No Trespassing signs are posted. You can view the property, including most of the buildings, from outside the fence.
A Warning To Urban Explorers
If you are caught on this property, you will be detained by the police and fined. Every time I've gone to photograph it from outside the fence, a police car has rolled up, and I've been given a firm but polite warning not to venture onto the property.
The grounds are situated in plain view of residences across the narrow road, and apartment buildings behind, and local residents do call the police if they see anyone trying to cross the grassy areas beyond the fence to approach the buildings.
So, Is It Haunted?
There are many local stories about The Woodmen's Circle Home, including that it might be haunted.
One story claims that a young boy fell down a well on the property, and his spirit still walks the grounds. However, there is no record of this event.
People often say they see strange light, orbs, or faces in the photos they take of the house. I've taken thousands of photos of the property, inside and out, and have never seen anything that couldn't be explained. I've also never seen anything in anyone else's photos that seemed odd or out of place.
There are also stories of people entering the house, and seeing strange shadows, hearing noises, or having strange feelings. Having been in the house in broad daylight, with several hundred people around me, I can tell you that it's perfectly reasonable to get the creeps when visiting this house illegally. It's big, it's decaying, pieces of it are falling off, and birds and animals are now making their homes in it. The noises you may hear if you sneak into this house are of nature taking over.
Or, the house might really be haunted. Read these stories, and decide for yourself...
- The Haunting of Woodmen's Circle
A story by a local resident who snuck into the home with a friend.
- Woodmen's Circle Home
Photographer Ken Kemp gives his impressions after his 2004 tour of the property.
- Abandoned Mansion in Sherman
Lots of local folks have left their comments on this page at Trip Advisor, documenting their experiences.
© 2010 Lisa Vollrath