When Joann and Mike Cone’s three sons were younger, the couple were looking for a weekend retreat not far from their Houston home that would feel like a real getaway, with lots of things to keep the boys busy.

Joann wanted something with hills, bluebonnet fields and farmland where the family could grow while her sons became husbands, fathers and grandfathers. The couple had a farm in East Texas, where they both come from, but it wasn’t what Joann wanted for her family in the long term.

Some days she would drive down the back roads of Washington County looking for “For Sale” signs without completing her checklist until she found a 450-acre piece of land with a late 19th-century house.

That was in 1988, and the property they now call Heritage Hill Farm has grown to include three small artificial lakes and fishing piers, a former donkey stable that has been converted into a guest house, and a newer seven-suite guest house that also has one Sleeping room for seven more people. Just in time for the first wedding that could be celebrated there, an old tractor barn was converted into a party barn.

“We wanted to know what the boys are doing and who they are with, and the farm offered everything they wanted to do,” Joann said. “We had a farm in East Texas when they were little, and their friends wanted to come with us every weekend. It gave them a place to get out of town. They all played sports, so the Hill Country was too far away and Colorado wasn’t a place to go every weekend.”

When the Cones, now in their 80s, bought the Brenham estate, their sons – Scott, now 62; Marks, 60; and Chris, 55 – were in college and often brought friends with them. The Cone boys are now married and have eight children together, ranging in age from 22 to 32. The next generation has begun, with a great-grandchild and a second on the way.

That spring, the fields around the Cones’ estate were bursting with brightly colored bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes over Easter weekend, when 24 members of the family gathered for dinner, a raucous egg hunt and a day of family celebrations.

Between the four generations of the Cone family, someone is on the property almost every weekend. Joann and Mike go there a few weekends a month when in Houston, but they also like to escape the Texas summer heat by going to Vermont, where they’ve also had a vacation home for about 25 years.

Of the three Cone sons, Mark is the planner involved in the property. He is a physician and CEO of Privia Health, the management company of Privia Medical Group, the medical practice where he still treats patients as a gynecologist. He has always been interested in architecture and Joann remembers that when he was still living at home, whenever he wanted to rearrange the furniture in his room, he first drew a schematic floor plan.

Mike, Scott and Mark all went to Texas A&M, and Chris went to the University of Texas, so football weekends were also a time to meet up at the farm. Scott and Chris both work in the oil and gas industry.

Joann walks out the front door of her historic 19th Century home and shakes her head once more as she looks at the empty catch and release trap Mike set for the armadillos digging up their begonias and other newly planted flowers in the garden .

“You know, we haven’t caught an armadillo in 10 years. They dig up all my flowers and then just laugh at us,” she said.

When the Cones bought the property some 35 years ago, she promised the previous owner she wouldn’t tear down the original home, so they added a larger kitchen and a larger master bedroom suite at the back.

The land was part of Stephen F. Austin’s original land grant that he used to bring the first European settlers — a group historically known as the “Ancient Three Hundreds” — to Texas, Joann said. The historic home on the site was likely built by a family of German immigrants who lived there for many years.

Later on there was more work on the donkey stable converted into a guest house and as the family grew it became difficult for everyone to stay there at the same time. Mark and his brothers toyed with a variety of ideas, including buying other homes nearby.

“I thought, ‘What if we built something… that would fit everyone?'” said Mark, and from that came the newest guest house, with seven boutique-hotel-like guest suites, a bunk room that sleeps an additional seven and a large shared living space so they can all hang out and eat together.

Completed in 2017, the three brothers shared the cost and set up a family trust so everyone in the family always has the right to use it. They even have an online calendar where they can book weeks or weekends that they want to use. They worked with architect Bat Oggero of Sullivan, Henry, Oggero and Associates, builder Arlen Thielemann of Thielemann Construction in Brenham, and Houston interior designer Tami Owen of design firm Owen Group, a former cardiac nurse who began a design career 20 years ago.

“When we come, there is almost always someone there. People can come and go as they please. They can come over the weekend or for dinner or lunch or just sit around the fire pit,” Mark said. “During COVID it was a magnet for the whole family. When the whole country went into lockdown it was a great place for us.”

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