Photo by city of Austin
Friday, September 11, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Mary Baylor House receives recommendation for historic zoning

The house of civil rights activist Mary Freeman Baylor had been run-down for years until new owners bought the Clarksville property in 2014 and began fixing it up, on the heels of a thwarted attempt to demolish the house. The property owners then petitioned the city for a historic zoning designation for the home at 1607 W. 10th St.

On Aug. 24, the homeowners took one step further down that path when the Historic Landmark Commission gave its unanimous recommendation for the property’s historic designation.

“It is well documented that this was an important house, not only for the person Mary Freeman Baylor, but for the house itself,” said Commissioner Terri Myers, who explained that the home served as a gathering place for residents who were working to bring change to the historically Black neighborhood.

Baylor was the founder of the Clarksville Community Development Corporation, which she established in 1978. She was instrumental in advocating for improvements to the Clarksville neighborhood, leading protests against the construction of the MoPac Expressway and pushing for streetlights and paved streets in the area. Many of these meetings were held in the home on 10th Street.

“Her fights for Clarksville resulted for improvements in the neighborhood that otherwise would not have come,” said Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky, who extended staff support for the historic designation of the home.

The Old West Austin Neighborhood Association and the Clarksville Neighborhood Development Corporation were also in support of the designation. The Old West Austin group specifically called out the architectural integrity of the home as a justification for its preservation. The residence maintains the same footprint it did 70 years ago.

According to city backup, the home was constructed in 1950, the year Mary Baylor and her husband purchased it. Baylor lived in the home until the early 1960s, when the couple moved next door and rented out the property.

Since 2000, the home has been listed as Priority 1 in the comprehensive Clarksville Survey, meaning it earned the highest degree of preservation priority in the district. However, Thomas Schiefer told the commissioners that when he and his wife purchased the house there were squatters on the premises. Over the last six years, he said, they “lovingly brought this house back to life with our own two hands.”

During the process, Schiefer explained that “dozens and dozens” of people came to visit them at the house, telling his family about the Baylors and sharing what Mary Baylor’s activism had meant for them and for the neighborhood. He said these stories served to reinforce their resolve to earn a historic designation for the home.

Commissioner Ben Heimsath said the application was a perfect example of a modest home that was in disrepair but was able to match with a new owner who was willing to restore it. “I think the neighborhood is stronger for it,” he said.

Commissioners Kelly Little and Blake Tollett were absent.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Clarksville: Founded by freedman Charles Clark in 1871, Clarkville is the oldest freedomtown west of the Mississippi. It was inducted into the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and is part of the Old West Austin Historic District. Clarksville is located just west of downtown Austin, and just east of MoPac.

Historic Landmark Commission: The city’s Historic Landmark Commission promotes historic preservation of buildings and structures. The commission also reviews applications and permits for historic zoning and historic grants.

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