Where to get your antebellum history in Austin

12:29 p.m Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017 Local
The Neil-Cochran House was built in 1855. Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman

“They are erasing our history!”

Not quite. When Confederate statues are removed from places of honor, or prominent street names are changed, the history remains. And it’s more accessible than you might think.

A good place to start is the Briscoe Center for American History on the University of Texas campus. It’s free. The Briscoe is the new home for several of UT’s Confederate-linked statues. Right now, you can see a small exhibit about CSA President Jeff Davis there and, through Sept. 17, one can spend more time with an extensive show, “American South: The Briscoe Center’s Southern History Collections.”

The Bullock Texas State History Museum regularly covers antebellum Texas and recently closed an fine exhibit, “Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865.” Another state property, the 1854 Governor’s Mansion, built by Abner Cook, allows a glimpse into pre-Civil War Texas, but one must plan ahead to secure a tour.

Much easier to access is another of Cook’s Greek Revival masterpieces, the Neill-Cochran House, built in 1856. It welcomes the public at 2310 San Gabriel Street in West Campus with onsite parking.

“In 1860, four years after the main house was completed, almost 40 percent of Travis County residents were enslaved,” says Rowena Dasch, museum’s director. “(It) is home to the only work and living space built for the use of enslaved people still standing in Central Austin. The layout of the home and the original site cannot be understood absent a slave economy, and the footprint of the site remains an element of the layout of modern Austin.”

The museum focuses on how our current physical culture evolved.

“We connect the past to the present to give our visitors a sense of what it would have been like to live within completely different circumstances,” Dasch says. “We are who we are because of the people who came before us — both our ancestors and everyone who made up the communities where we live today — and the physical experience of a historic site opens the door to understanding a different time in visceral way.

MORE HISTORY: From the horrors of slavery come clues about ancestors.

MORE HISTORY: Briscoe Center now a place of history for everyone.

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