4/18

Saving the History of Clarksville: The Mary Baylor House at 1607 W. 10th St.

The Clarksville National Register Historic District in Austin, Texas, is an area located west of downtown Austin near Lady Bird Lake and just northeast of the intersection of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and West Tenth Street. Founded by freedman Charles Clark in 1871, Clarksville is the oldest surviving freedomtown ‒ the original post-Civil War settlements founded by former African-American slaves ‒ west of the Mississippi River. The historic district was inducted into the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 in recognition of its unique and valuable history.   Intense development pressure is threatening the historic integrity of this district.  Preservation Austin believes if the homes that contribute to this historic district are allowed to be destroyed,  Austin's memory of this piece of our history will also be lost.  Therefore, we sent the following letter on April 18, 2014 in support of the historic zoning of the Mary Baylor House at 1607 W. 10th. St.

Dear Mayor Leffingwell, Mayor Pro Tem Cole and Council Members,

Preservation Austin (PA) supports City Historic Landmark designation for the Baylor house at 1607 W. 10th Street, a category 1 contributing structure to the Clarksville National Register Historic District (NRHD).

The Baylor house, constructed ca. 1950, has the distinction of being the home of Mary Frances Freeman Baylor, an important African American civic leader in Clarksville who founded the Clarksville Community Development Corporation, advocated for the neighborhood’s infrastructure improvements, organized to preserve Clarksville in the face of highway development, and helped obtain federal funds to begin their affordable housing program.  Mary Baylor’s ancestors were some of the original families in Clarksville, which was founded in 1871 as a Freedman’s community.  The Clarksville neighborhood has lost many historically significant contributing structures from the NRHD in recent years. Such loss threatens the existence of the Historic District and this is one of several reasons we are concerned that this site be protected. 

Preservation Austin supports Landmark designation of the Baylor House, worthy of designation not only because of its exceptionally high degree of architectural integrity which makes it a category 1 contributing structure to the NRHD, but also because it is this house that holds the memories of Mary’s family life and, in the memory of the community, Mary’s role as a neighborhood advocate.  The loss of this home would constitute an architectural gap in the Historic District of Clarksville; and, even more significantly, it would be the loss of a manifestation of long-held community identity in the narrative of Mary Baylor as the woman who advocated for Clarksville when it was almost exclusively an African American neighborhood and was marginalized from basic City services.  Protecting this property as a historic Landmark would speak to strong community concerns that the Landmarks Program should reflect Austin’s diverse cultural heritage.

We understand that neighborhood residents have met with the owner to discuss how desired square footage can be added to the house while maintaining its historic integrity. We regret to learn that despite those efforts the owner has proceeded to seek demolition. We join neighborhood residents and the Historic Landmark Commission with our request that the Baylor House be protected as a City of Austin Historic Landmark so it continues to represent this important Austin community.

Sincerely,

Tom Stacy
President