Austin’s only remaining intact slave dwelling is finally getting the TLC it deserves as it begins a $500,000, 12-month restoration that will take it back to the antebellum period this month.
Located at the Neill-Cochran House Museum, 2310 San Gabriel St., the Slave Quarters will be reintroduced to the public with new programming and an overnight stay from Joseph McGill, founder of The Slave Dwelling Project, on April 23. It will mostly be open to the public in the 12 months it is being restored.
Rowena Dasch, NCHM’s executive director, and Tara Dudley, historic preservation consultant and UT architecture assistant professor, said since 2016 they have been working to research the building’s history and undo changes made since it was last inhabited by enslaved people. By reverting the dwelling back to its original form, they hope it can show the full spectrum of history in Austin.
The Neill-Cochran House in the 1850s. (NCHM)
“There are many individuals who feel like they don't have agency or ownership of that history and that information and we definitely want to be able to open those doors and have those conversations and to hear those voices from the community,” Dudley said. “That history that is either less known or ignored, but definitely marginalized and continues to be in many ways.”
McGill, a former Civil War reenactor, said he founded The Slave Dwelling Project in 2010 to bring attention to the history that has been swept under the rug. McGill, who doesn’t often visit Texas and said the monument is a rarity, does this by sleeping in these structures and giving fireside chats.
“We, as Americans, are proud and we should be proud because we are members of probably the greatest nation on this planet, but in obtaining this greatness we committed some atrocities along the way,” McGill told Austonia. “Recognizing these atrocities should be what we all do. There's this effort to quash that element of our history by proclaiming it prohibitive to our youth and I think that's going in the wrong direction.”
Dudley said the building was likely built by enslaved individuals working for Abner Cook—a prominent builder behind the Texas Governor’s Mansion—with 14-inch thick walls, four inches thinner than the main house, and packed dirt floors that would be upgraded to brick pavers in the 1960s.
Since the exterior of the building most likely looked very similar to now, Dudley said restoring the Slave Quarters interior to its pre-1865 state required learning about the previous inhabitants:
- Lam, a 10-12-year-old boy leased by the School of the Blind to teach students to weave baskets in the 1850s.
- Jacob Fontaine, founder of one of the first Black newspapers west of the Mississippi who worked a block away in Wheatville.
- Maggie, a laundress whose handmade laundry soap was prized by the Cochran girls.
The lives of the enslaved individuals who inhabited the home revealed that the ground floor would have been a mixed-use laundry room workspace. After stabilizing the foundation, further restoration will include stabilizing the chimney and reintegrating the first and second floors with a trap door.
“We've been saying all along that this isn't about replacing a narrative, it's about rebalancing it so that you'll have a real understanding of the experiences of all of the people who have been associated with our site,” Dasch said.
Dasch and Dudley said having McGill visit “is like having the Rolling Stones” come to town, encouraging locals to stop by for a panel conversation from 2-4 p.m. on April 23 and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on April 24 for free programming and educational activities.
“Texas was essentially one of the last bastions for slavery in the United States and Austin was a part of that,” Dudley said. “In many ways, the Slave Quarters building and the Neill-Cochran House Museum site is a fulcrum to being able to turn toward many of these stories of Austin history, particularly as they relate to race relations.”
Hazmat suits, low-flying aircraft and more will be seen this week as Austin hosts an exercise to prepare for radiological incident.
The project, called Cobalt Magnet 22, involves more than 30 local, state and federal agencies planning for 18 months to be prepared in the event of radiological threats. It will start Monday and last through May 20.
What to expect: Field teams in protective clothing using radiological monitoring and detection equipment, low-flying aircraft conducting data-gathering overflights, and groups of first responders and others staged at various locations.
The exercise is part of a regular program of training, exercises and planning.
“Th City of Austin is pleased to welcome NNSA and the numerous local, state and federal agencies participating in Cobalt Magnet”, said Juan Ortiz, Director of Austin's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Office. “Our goal in this exercise is to test our procedures and make improvements to ensure we’re keeping the Austin/Travis County community protected.”
Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff is here to stay as the Club announced he signed a three-year contract extension.
Wolff, who was previously an assistant coach for the U.S. Men's National Team, will coach Austin FC through the end of 2025 under the new contract.
Wolff has been the Austin FC head coach since November 2019. In the team's first year, some hoped to oust Wolff as the team was at the bottom of the Western Conference. But this year, the team is at the top, ranking No. 3.
“This is still a young, growing Club but seeing our vision for Austin FC come to life on and off the field has been one of the great honors of my career. My staff and I will keep working every day to represent the city, and to develop our team both competitively and as human beings. The best is yet to come," Wolff said.