Wooldridge Square once the ‘Soul of the City’

12:00 a.m. Saturday, July 29, 2017 Local

Today, there are no churches in the immediate vicinity of Wooldridge Square Park.

Yet, as Ted Eubanks writes for the “Our Austin Story” series published on the Engage Downtown Austin website, at one point, it could have claimed the title “Soul of the City.”

The 1839 city plan designated Block 101, just to the south of Wooldridge Square and now home to the Austin History Center and the John Henry Faulk Central Library, for churches. Three were built here: First (Colored) Baptist Church (1869), Metropolitan AME (1873) and Gethsemane Lutheran Church (1874).

Several of the city’s key early leaders were associated with these congregations, none more interesting than the Rev. Jacob Fontaine.

“Fontaine would eventually help establish four churches in the region in addition to First (Colored) Baptist,” Eubanks writes. “Fontaine also helped convince black voters to support the establishment of the University of Texas in Austin, even though African-Americans would not be allowed to attend the university until 1956.”

Swante Palm, namesake for Palm School and Palm Park and early patron of UT’s library, served as first secretary of the nearby Gethsemane Lutheran Church. Palm was the Swedish government’s agent for that country’s many immigrants to the area in the late 19th century.

“By the 1920s, the three Wooldridge churches had moved to other locations and were replaced by a new public library, now occupied by the Austin History Center,” Eubanks writes. “However, these churches are still thriving.”

Downtown Austin Alliance and the Austin Parks and Recreation Department ask that you share stories about these congregations on the Engage Downtown Austin site.

MORE ON WOOLDRIDGE PARK: Once neglected, Wooldridge Square once again a gem.

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