A SHORT HISTORY OF BOGGY CREEK FARM
Photography by Pauline Stevens
What is now the lively, noisy, vibrant, densely populated neighborhood of East Austin was once a dark-alluvial-soil-rich stretch of the Blackland Prairie—part of the True or Tallgrass Prairie and habitat to the indigenous Comanches and prairie-dependent species such as buffalo, antelope, badgers, prairie wolves, prairie dogs and burrowing owls.
On a gray, late-winter morning, Carol Ann Sayle stands on this land—some of the last remaining farmland within Austin’s city limits—at the property that was homesteaded in 1839 by Elizabeth and James Smith and is now Boggy Creek Farm. Just off Lyons Road, surrounded by a grid of asphalt, hemmed in by houses and cars and city life, the Smiths’ Greek Revival farmhouse—built the same year as the French Legation, between 1840 and 1841—still stands, and is now home to Sayle and her husband, Larry Butler.
The house has a long history, and its walls seem alive with the memories of all the people who have lived and died within them. Sayle’s searches through historic documents have uncovered both celebration and tragedy. In 1841, Sam Houston—the first president of the Republic of Texas—wrote about a visit to the Smith farmhouse to celebrate the wedding of James’s son Alfred on Christmas Eve. Houston pronounced the bridegroom, “a genteel man and well-to-do” and the bride “lovely.” Just a few years later, though, a shadow was cast when James Smith was shot by an overseer. After 40 grueling hours, he died in the back bedroom. A deathbed will then left the property in dispute, until it was finally sold in 1902 to Herman T. Siegmund, in whose family it remained until 1979. The fifty-acre property had been steadily subdivided over the years until only five acres remained intact when Sayle and Butler purchased it.
Sayle and Butler never imagined they would find such community in East Austin, much less that they would start a movement. “We have seen a dramatic change in the neighborhood just since we’ve been here,” says Sayle. “In the late nineties, everyone started asking us if we knew of any property for sale nearby, and now it’s impossible to find anything affordable.”
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