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Landmark Commission backs historic zoning for Clarksville house

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Historic Landmark Commission took a stand against a proposed Clarksville demolition last week, deciding the history of the house deserved formal recognition.


The structure, located at 1622 West 10th Street, was home to John and Mary Freeman. During the time that she lived there, Mary Freeman was a midwife for the African-American women of Clarksville, who were denied access to hospitals because of their race.


“Women in Clarksville had no access to community health services. There was only one hospital in Austin that would even admit African-American patients. That was Holy Cross and it was way over on the East Side,” said Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky. “Mary Freeman occupied a very important position in the community.”


Mary Freeman was also the mother of Mary Freeman Baylor, who was instrumental in bringing city services to the neighborhood and is credited with saving it from plans to construct MoPac Boulevard through the neighborhood. 


The City Council is set to consider Mary Freeman Baylor’s house, located at 1607 West 10th Street, for historic zoning. Though that zoning would also be imposed against the owner’s wishes, unlike the Baylor House, staff has thrown its support behind historic zoning at 1622 West 10th Street.


The Historic Landmark Commission agreed with staff’s assessment, voting 5-0 to initiate historic zoning, with Commissioners Andrea Roberts and Leslie Wolfenden-Guidry absent. The case will return to the commission a second time when the commission can choose to make a formal recommendation for historic zoning to Council.


“I think it’s a very significant structure to generations of importance to Clarksville. I think it would really be a shame to see it go,” said Commissioner Dan Leary.


The house was built in 1900 by John Freeman, who was an African-American laborer. It was moved to its current location, just down the street, in 1961. Sadowsky said that, despite some changes to the outside of the house, it was still very important.


“The house has a history integral to the Clarksville community,” said Sadowsky. His report notes that a previous historic survey of the area had mistakenly identified the date of construction as 1950.


Mary Freeman’s grandson, Ronnie Baylor, is the current owner of the home. While he was not present at the Historic Landmark Commission meeting, his real estate agent George Vance McGee, explained that Baylor planned to move to a new house, and wanted to demolish the house. He did not know whether there were plans to build on the site.


“The home itself is not in good shape. It doesn’t look good,” said McGee, who called the house “a scraper.”


McGee offered to visit with Ronnie Baylor, saying, he wanted to be a “progressive and positive influence for our city, and our society.”

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