Whether you are visiting Austin for SXSW or a tourist in your own city, Austin Parks & Recreation provides several hidden historic gems that showcase a larger essence of the capital city.
Elisabet Ney Museum
Well before SXSW was a beacon for cultural discussions, Elisabet Ney once hosted influential people as a forum for art, politics, and philosophy at her home and studio, Formosa. The German artist sculpted many famous people here over the years, including iconic Texans Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston. Built in 1892, the limestone building was completed in two phases and comprises a studio space, basement, parlor, and tower. The home studio was established in 1907 in memoriam to the notable sculptor and was one of the first art museums in Texas. A member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios program, the landscape represents the native prairie that surrounded the studio in Ney’s era.
Hancock Golf Course & Recreation Center
Dating back to 1899, Hancock Golf Course–originally the Austin Country Club–is recognized as one of the oldest courses in the state. Notable architect Charles Page designed the 1934 Recreation Center still in use today. Hancock Golf Course and Recreation Center opened to the public in 1951 after it was acquired by the City of Austin. The “back nine” holes of the course, which were east of Red River Street, were sold and developed in the 1960s, but the remaining nine-hole course and Recreation Center is listed to the National Register of Historic Places. Set over Waller Creek, this short, serene course welcomes all into nature with a walking only, all-day play environment.
Hezikiah Haskell House
East of downtown, discover a landmark of historical, post-Civil War significance. The Hezikiah Haskell House serves as a powerful touchstone of the Freedmen Community of Clarksville. This Cumberland-style, single wall construction home is documented as among the oldest houses in Clarksville, a community of formerly enslaved people established in 1871 by Charles Clark. A member of the Black cavalry, Hezikiah Haskell, boarded with the home’s original owners and later married their daughter to whom the house was deeded in 1892. This Texas and Austin Landmark symbolizes the struggles and triumphs of the formerly enslaved, who for the first time, could openly live their lives after years of bondage. Open by appointment only.
Oakwood Cemetery & Oakwood Chapel
Stop by the Oakwood Cemetery and Chapel to find peace and meditation away from the bustle of SXSW and other Austin events. Now with more than 20,000 burials on 40 acres, Oakwood Cemetery was established in 1839 as “City Cemetery” with only 10 acres outside the original town plot. It wouldn’t be until 1914 that the Oakwood Chapel, designed by Austin architect Charles Page, would be constructed to serve as the cemetery’s mortuary chapel. An award-winning restoration of the chapel was completed in 2018 and now functions as a visitor center for the historic site. Annie Webb Blanton (women’s suffragist), Elisha Marshall Pease (former governor of Texas) and “Ernie” Mae Crafton Miller (baritone sax for all-girl, Prairie View Co-Ed Jazz band) are among the notable Texas figures buried at Oakwood.
If you are drawn to music and outdoors, but the SXSW badge isn’t in the budget, explore the culturally rich hub that is Parque Zaragoza. As policies, apathy, and racism pushed the Mexican American population of the 1930s into east Austin, community leaders lobbied for a full-sized park that would better serve its neglected residents. Parque Zaragoza represents the culture of Austin’s early Tejanos where the community gathered to celebrate Mexican holidays and culture. Named after General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín–hero of the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862–many of Austin’s largest Cinco de Mayo’s celebrations take place here. Tejano music, the core of its many fiestas, contributed to Austin becoming known as the live music capital of the world.
Go to www.AustinTexas.gov/Page/Historic-Austin-Parks to plan your next visit and learn more about these iconic and historic Austin sites.