Education through preservation.
Anna Safley was born in Evening Shade, Arkansas, in 1876, and died in Chattanooga in 1951. Married – and divorced – at least nine times, Anna came to Chattanooga with her second husband, and she quickly became a fixture in town as a businesswoman. She was a shrewd bargainer, and she began her antiques business by making purchases from local farmers, often carrying furniture home on her back. She wrote and traveled to dealers in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Many of her purchases were made during the Great Depression.
Though she had a limited education, Anna Houston became a noted expert on antiques. Throughout her life, she treasured the collections more than her personal well-being, often forgoing food and the basic necessities. In the 1930s she singlehandedly built a barn-like structure where she housed her collection, her fox terrier Sonny, and herself until her death in 1951. With the help of her attorney, Blaine Buchanan, she organized the museum before her death and left her estate to what was at the time and unheard of 100 museum trustees to build a museum and provide future generations with an appreciation of art glass, furniture and antiques.
Visitors to the Houston Museum are consistently struck by the quality of Anna Houston’s collection, from water pitchers (trustees counted 15,000 in her barn after her death) to at least 50 collections within the collection. She amassed very rare examples of cut glass, satin glass, Peach Blow pitchers and cruets, Burmese glass objects, cameo glass, and cranberry glass. Manufacturers represented in the collection include Steuben, Tiffany, Durand, Loetz, and Fenton.
Though art glass was her specialty, Anna purchased Early American antique furniture too. Early American furniture and even more rare Tennessee pieces of furniture such as sugar chests, corner cupboards and tables are displayed. The collection also includes Anna’s chairs and sideboards, including a hickory “nanny cradle” dating to 1810. Music boxes, scrimshaw, coverlets and quilts, and antique German steins help round out a collection that represents many facets of Victorian life.