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Original McKinney mill on the way toward historic designation

Monday, July 14, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Both the Historic Landmark Commission and the Zoning and Platting Commission have recommended historic zoning for the first structure associated with Thomas F. McKinney, a Texas pioneer who helped settle Travis County.


McKinney Falls State Park is named after him and houses the ruins of his homestead and grist mill, which date back to 1852 and 1853. However, members of the Zoning and Platting Commission and the city’s Historic Preservation staff have located McKinney’s original grist mill in a remote area in southeast Travis County, which dates back to 1849.


“This is a very exciting discovery for us, and I want to acknowledge right now the chair of this commission (Betty Baker) who directed us to this mill,” Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky told the Zoning and Platting Commission earlier this month. “It was the first mill operated by Thomas F. McKinney in Travis County. This is his first presence in Travis County in 1849 and pre-dates anything at the state park by three years. So it’s a very, very exciting discovery.”


Keller Family investments now owns the land, and the family is bringing it forward for re-zoning from I-RR. The ZAP approved CS-CO for two tracts on the site and CS-H for the tract on which the mill sits.


Baker, who was instrumental in the discovery of the mill, thanked the family and its agent for agreeing to historic zoning for the property. “I had gone traipsing out about three or four years ago and knew that it was there and just sort of watched it, if you will, because it’s in an area where it could have been carried out stone by stone and no one would ever have known,” Baker said. She also initiated a recent follow-up field trip to survey the site with members of the Keller family and city staffers. “I think all of us will admit this was not an easy thing to find. Someone called me and told me that I was crazy, and that this mill was not there and it had not been there for years,” she said.


But Baker’s perseverance and determination have resulted in the discovery of one of the oldest documented structures in Travis County. “The inscription stone on the mill has his name and the date of 1849 on it,” said Sadowsky. “This is on an unnamed creek that leads into the Colorado River. It’s still in remarkably good shape considering that it has been abandoned since 1849 or so. This is really something, because we’ve always thought that McKinney Falls was the first homestead and grist mill for McKinney in Travis County, and we found out that he was actually here three years earlier than that. So, it’s a very exciting discovery.”


Thomas F. McKinney was born in 1801 and came to Texas and Mexico as a trader in the 1820’s. He was a friend of Stephen F. Austin and a supporter of the Texas battle for independence in the 1830’s. He founded a successful business in Galveston and in 1839 purchased 39,000 acres of land that includes the land now in southeast Travis County.


“I’d like to thank everybody for finding this treasure and preparing this case, so that this wonderful landmark may be preserved,” said Zoning and Platting Commission member Clarke Hammond. “It’s an incredible piece of Texas history as well as Austin history, and I’m so grateful that our Chair Betty Baker and the folks that have been involved in trying to save this and craft this plan so that this could get historic zoning.”

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