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Historic Hyde Park home features beloved mini farm, 'a place of community'

Clementine is one of three goats who lives in the side yard of the historic Zimmerli-Rosenquist home in Hyde Park. (Emma Freer)

Retirees. Dog walkers. Preschoolers. Joggers. They all stop at the corner of 41st Street and Avenue G in Hyde Park to marvel at the side-yard mini farm, home to 12 nameless chickens and three goats: Clementine, Rosebud and Billy Budd.

The neighborhood attraction has only grown more popular since the start of the pandemic when daily walks became one of the few acceptable social activities—and a cherished part of many people's routines.

"I do think it has been significant to people's lives," said Don York, 63, owner of the historic home with his wife Diane. "They weren't going to church anymore. They weren't going out to eat with their friends... So it really did become a place of community."

Don York and his wife, Diane, used to walk by their current home and hope to live there one day. (Emma Freer)

Dream home

The Yorks landed in Hyde Park after considering other options, including Tarrytown, Travis Heights and Dripping Springs. "Before Diane and I married, I was just driving around through neighborhoods trying to decide where we wanted to spend the rest of our lives," Don said. "Hyde Park just had the best feel."

While renting a honeymoon cottage at the corner of 40th Street and Avenue H, the couple would scope out the property. "We would walk by this house in the evening and say, 'Man, we would love to live there,'" Don said. "When they put up the for sale sign, we had a contract on it in 24 hours."

Jack the brown lab stands at the gate of the corner property. (Emma Freer)

They purchased the purple house for $150,000 in 1991 and soon welcomed their older son, whose middle name—Gray—pays homage to the former owner.

There's something of a naming tradition. The Zimmerli-Rosenquist house was built in 1903 and has changed owners approximately 17 times, according to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. The first owner, Ida Zimmerli, was a Swiss immigrant and dressmaker who sold it to Helena Rosenquist, a Swedish immigrant who lived there with her husband and their five children.

The home's history is part of its appeal. "One of the things I really like about the house is the tall ceilings, with the ceiling fans and the transoms," Don said. "Because, you know, back in 1903 people didn't have air conditioning."

In addition to good airflow, the house is surrounded by yard space on all sides and features an octagonal porch, which is currently home to at least three nests: robins, sparrows and wasps.

Robin chicks await their next meal. Their nest is hidden in one of the many corners of the Yorks' octagonal porch. (Emma Freer)

'A labor of love'

The mini-farm, which Don calls "a labor of love," began around 13 years ago, when the Yorks' older son was a student at McCallum High School. Don can't quite remember whether it was an environmental science or urban farming class that did it, but he knows his son came home one day wanting to get some chickens. With Diane's approval, Don transformed the kids' abandoned A-frame swing set into a coop and brought home the first eight birds.

Students from the nearby Hyde Park Montessori and Children's Discovery Center schools started visiting each day, around mid-morning. "After we had the chickens for a few years, I was sitting there thinking, 'Aren't you little kids tired of counting chickens?'" Don said. "So I just thought, 'Let's throw some miniature goats in the mix.' And that changed the course of history."

Rosebud moved to the mini farm around Christmastime and is named for the movie Citizen Kane. (Emma Freer)

The chicken coop was repurposed from an old A-frame swing set. (Emma Freer)

The Yorks brought home Clementine and her twin sister, who died shortly after. Because goats are social animals, they soon welcomed Rosebud, who, unbeknownst to them, was pregnant. She gave birth to Billy Budd, named for a Herman Melville novella, in front of an audience of Montessori students.

Although Hyde Park has changed since the Yorks moved in—there are more BMWs than beat-up old Volvos, Don said—their routine has remained largely the same. Diane feeds the animals and mucks their enclosure. Don handles media inquiries and maintenance, such as adding a higher fence when the goats started escaping. He also collects eggs each day. There's a small basket hanging on the fence, where passersby can swap $5 for a carton.

Lucky passersby will find fresh eggs, which Don typically sets out in the early evenings. There is a small coin purse for payment. (Emma Freer)

During the pandemic, the mini-farm was a natural gathering place, where neighbors could chat at a safe distance, with an obvious icebreaker. Don, an attorney, would sometimes have to change rooms while attending virtual hearings to get some quiet. But he welcomes the visitors, who continue to flock to the yard. "COVID really did ratchet it up," he said. "Hordes of people, every day."


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