The 1906 Raphael House in Ennis
Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series. Below follows the history of the property at 500 West Ennis Avenue and the notorious family that built it. Part II will be published in next weekend’s print edition, as the new plans for The Raphael House will be unveiled soon.
The southern-most “heart” of Ellis County finds the friendly rivals all lined up within a few miles of each other – Midlothian, Waxahachie (the county seat), and then there is the interesting town of Ennis.
This unique and close-knit little “village” has many claims to fame – like the annual Bluebonnet Festival, the Memorial Day National Polka Festival, the Ennis Railroad and Cultural Heritage Museum, the Sugar Ridge Winery, Bluebonnet Park, the Texas Motorplex race track, the nearby Lake Bardwell for fishing, swimming, etc., and the present-day iconic Galaxy Drive-in Movie Theater, which reflects back to outdoor days gone by.
But to top it all off, there’s the Ennis Lions football program, whose teams have won state championships five different times. If someone would like to experience a real, live football town, then you’ve hit the mother load this time of year. These pigskin-loving, football-crazed local fans wear maroon football shirts and jerseys all year long.
However, there is one thing you might - or might not have - noticed when passing through the main street of this city: a historic home located at 500 West Ennis Ave., near the Ennis Public Library. This “storied” 1906 home has some tall tales that have been passed on down from family to family throughout the past century and beyond.
The History of The Raphael House
Mr. Edmond Raphael (pronounced “Ray-fill” according to local Ennisites) was a French Jew who was originally from French Alsace-Lorraine. His presence was first noted in the United States in the area of Corsicana in 1882. His beginning intention was to stay “temporarily” in this part of Texas, but true love changed his mind, when he met, fell in love with, and married Fannie Jolesch in 1894.
Fannie was the daughter of William Jolesch and Julia Chaska Jolesch. Interestingly, William Jolesch assisted in laying the cornerstone of one of the largest and most influential businesses that Ennis ever had, Jolesch Dry Goods. As a result, the name of Jolesch is indelibly associated with the pioneer days of Ennis. Other locations of the Jolesch Dry Goods stores were found in Corsicana and Palestine. This upscale department store later evolved into what is now known as one of Dallas’ most elite stores, called Neiman Marcus.
Edmond Raphael was a Jewish banker, and as such, he became a well-known Ennis community leader. From 1894 until 1902, Edmond and his wife Fannie had four children: Raymond, Wilhelmina, Ernest, and Alleyne. In 1903, Mr. Raphael purchased the three lots on Ennis Avenue for $2,500 (quite a considerable sum in 1903). In 1905, he enlisted the financial help of his widowed mother-in-law, Julia Chaska Jolesch, so he could start the construction on the 5,200 square foot home. The project was completed in 1906 for less than $4,000. In 1908, a fifth Raphael child surprised both Edmond and Fannie. As a special tribute, the new baby was given the name of Julia Chaska Raphael, after her material grandmother who had lived in the house with the family until her recent death.
The death and debts of Edmond Raphael
Mr. Raphael was an involved businessman in Ennis – in every sense of the word. He served as city alderman and was president of the First National Bank of Ennis (the largest in Ellis County, boasting assets of more than $100,000). That is, until 1927, when he was committed to a sanitarium -- he died of tuberculosis at the age of 62. He was survived by his wife and all five of his children.
Even though Mr. Raphael had enjoyed living a lifestyle of plenty and had a considerable amount of real estate holdings at the time of his death, he had also accumulated a sizable amount of debts. Several lawsuits were brought against the estate by creditors, and 1,400 acres of land (in the vicinity of Lake Bardwell) had to be sold at the cost of $16.43 per acre, just to pay off $23,000 in debts.
Money problems became even more severe. Fannie’s two brothers, Joe and Ike Jolesch, brought a lawsuit against her and requested that she vacate the home (then valued at a “whopping” $6,250) to cover the debt owed them because they argued their mother had given the Raphaels financial assistance during the construction of the home. However, Fannie successfully pleaded with the county judge to exempt her homestead from being seized by her own brothers.
Thankfully, son Ernest Raphael returned home to Ennis from Washington, D.C., where he was employed by the Department of Agriculture, to work out the family’s financial crisis. He then took charge of the money affairs and lived in the house with his mother and youngest sister, Julia.
The death of Fannie and her husband’s final wishes
The matriarch of the family died of a heart attack in 1947. Following the instructions of her late husband’s will, Fannie allowed Julia to inherit the house, its contents, all stocks, real estate and cash – as long as she never married. If she were to marry, she would have to sell everything off and share her inheritance with her four siblings.
Supposedly, Mr. Raphael had disapproved of Julia’s first love, Sybil Fowler, who, as rumor has it, left town to end the romance. Some believe that Mr. Raphael, in poor health, was fearful that Fowler would return after his death and convince Julia to marry him. The two had become friends while acting together in Ennis’ local theater.
So, because of her father’s will, Julia never married. She took care of her mother until her death, and then only her brother Ernest lived in the house with her. In 1954, at the age of 53, Ernest surprised Julia by marrying her bridge partner and best friend Polly. Julia was very upset about what had transpired because she had lost both her bridge partner in Polly and her social escort in Ernest.
Youngest child Julia gets it all
In 1957, Ernest died suddenly of a heart attack in the west bathtub, and two weeks later, Julia moved Polly out of the house and moved in a boyfriend by the name of Jamie Haynes, 10 years younger than Julia. That was quite a scandal for a small southern town in 1957. However, the citizens of Ennis were aware of the Raphael will’s stipulations, so they empathized with Julia’s situation and accepted the couple socially. Julia and Jamie lived in the home for 16 years until his death in 1973.
Local people say that Julia was so broken-hearted, that she drove to visit his grave in Kaufman every day for over a year. Extremely depressed and dangerously obese, in 1975, Julia checked into a hospital and never returned to the house she had loved so much as a child. She then spent the next 13 years in the Ennis Nursing Home, where she died of a heart attack in July of 1988, at the age of 80.
The decline of an infamous family and the haunting
Except for Julia’s father Edmond, all of her immediate family had died of heart attacks. Alleyne, the family beauty who was the Cotton Bowl’s Princess in 1927, married and moved to California, where she lived until her death. Wilhelmina died of a heart attack in Connecticut while driving a car. And although Raymond moved away early in his adult life, it is believed by some that after his death, his spirit returned to his childhood home and still toils in the garden – just as he loved to do in the early part of the 20th century.
Many in Ennis seem convinced that Julia’s spirit remains here in The Raphael House. In 1988, the home was purchased by Danna Cody, an Ennis native and recent graduate of the University of Texas. She became convinced that Ernest was also present in her new home. Its “haunting” has been chronicled in several books on ghosts over the years.
New owner Cody saves the historic landmark
On a trip home to visit her parents, Danna learned that the only surviving mansion on a street (Ennis Avenue) that once boasted a dozen such grand homes was destined to be razed. It had been neglected the entire time Julia was in the nursing home. Forced to condemn the property, the city of Ennis had cut all trees to the ground level and was preparing to demolish the house. The Cody family saved the historic landmark home, just as they had done for many buildings in the downtown area. Thus, Danna began restoration in September of 1988 and did extensive research on The Raphael House and the Raphael family. In April 1989, The Raphael House Bed & Breakfast opened. Each of the bedrooms was named for the Raphael family member who had occupied it in the glory days of their residency there.
During the eight years that Danna owned the Bed & Breakfast, it was recognized many times as one of the top “B&Bs” in the U.S., and was awarded the “INNovations Four-Star Rating”. For six straight years, The Raphael House B&B was nominated as one of the “Ten Most Romantic Bed and Breakfasts” in the United States. It has also been the subject of numerous articles, both locally and nationally, including stories in magazines like “Texas Highways” and “Forbes”, and was also featured on the local WFAA, Channel 8’s television show “Good Morning Texas”.
While owning the Bed & Breakfast, Danna met and married Brian Wolfe. When she was expecting their second child, she decided to sell the house and concentrate on her family.
New owner rings in era of entertaining, joy of “party ghosts”
Harriett Adams, a Dallas interior designer, acquired the property at “500 West Ennis Ave.” in the summer of 1996. This business woman was searching for a historic home large enough to serve as both an office and private residence. Now, some 24 years later, Harriett has based her design business in Ennis, while working on design projects all over Texas and in other states. Her native Texas projects usually center around the Dallas, Houston, and Austin areas.
Harriett says, “I have so enjoyed becoming an active member of the Ennis community. I love to entertain, so I delight in opening up my home for annual parties and large events.”
She and her house dogs, Bella, Boomer and Lady, are her constant and loving companions. She insists that the three of them have made good friends with the ghosts who live among them. In fact, she is convinced that the three spirits that live within the confines of The Raphael House are “friendly” ghosts that love to party.