HISTORIC HOMEOWNER SPOTLIGHT: PART I
Every Monday leading up to our 2017 Historic Homes Tour we’ll feature a Q/A with one of our wonderful featured homeowners about why they love their neighborhood, and how they’ve kept their historic home authentic. Enjoy!
Dawson-Robbins House: Bob Biard and Rick Chafey
When did you move into your home?
What do you love most about your home? About your neighborhood?
Prior owners did not substantially alter the house’s appearance with historically inaccurate details, which we also try not to do. The neighborhood is a living textbook of residential architectural styles, with noteworthy examples dating from the 1890s to the present day.
What are some of your home’s notable historic features?
The City of Austin designated the Dawson-Robbins House a historic landmark in 2002. The circa 1899 house is one of only five similar houses surviving from the Dawson family's earliest development of the Bouldin neighborhood, and thus is a rare survivor of the area's first residential development period. The house is in the James E. Bouldin Addition, which was platted by Powhattan Bouldin in January 1894.
The Dawson-Robbins House is an intact and excellent example of an L-plan turn-of-the century residence with Victorian detailing, including linear 2/2 wood-sash windows with stone lintels and sills, a projecting front bay, 11’ ceilings, and fishscale shingles in the front gable. The original limestone house had four rooms and 18-inch thick walls. Later additions were built on the west and south side. The earliest addition appears to be the kitchen, which was made by enclosing a porch. The house sits on three narrow lots, and the property originally included six more lots to the west, reflecting the rural character of the area at the turn of the century.
Do you have any interesting stories about the families that previously lived there?
The property is associated with the Dawson family, which settled in South Austin in 1851. Three Dawson siblings (Nicholas, Mary or Mollie, and Nannie) were pioneer real estate developers who operated as the Home Builder’s Association. Outside the Bouldin neighborhood, similar Dawson houses can be found near the former Texas Military Institute (The Castle) on the West 10th and West 11th Street cul-de-sacs.
Nicholas is known for serving a term in the Texas Legislature and his development of South Austin, including building and operating South Austin’s first streetcar line. Dawson’s streetcar line ran on South Congress Avenue in the early 1900s, and became involved in a legal battle with the established Austin Street Railway Company for control of service over the Congress Avenue Bridge. When Dawson died in 1939, one of his contemporaries recalled that, to avoid an injunction (and beat his competition), Dawson had a crew lay tracks over the bridge in the middle of the night to extend his line into downtown.
Mollie was a prominent local educator. She was the first principal of the first public school in South Austin (which today is Fulmore Middle School on South Congress), and the first female principal in the Austin public school system. Mollie Dawson Elementary School on South First Street is named after her. This school is where First Lady Laura Bush was librarian in the 1970s.
Does your home have any sustainable features?
The property features a sustainable landscape design that incorporates drought-tolerant native plants, a rainwater collecting wildlife pool, and layered vegetation to mitigate the urban heat island effect.
People talk a lot about preserving Austin’s character, but so often our historic neighborhoods are demolished piece by piece without comment. Why did you choose to invest in your historic home instead of demolishing it for a larger house, or moving into a new neighborhood elsewhere?
It helps to love old houses; but we also appreciate that a community’s identity is reflected in its historic structures and the people and events associated with them. The decisions of those who came before us shaped our options today, as individuals and as a community, just as our decisions will shape the options and lives of those who come after. Preserving this house is one small way to help preserve Austin’s history, and in the process reminds us that our experience is just one point in the greater sweep of history. We view ourselves as temporary stewards, and hope the house will be passed on intact, and remain part of the Austin community.