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Texas history preserved through the Neill Cochran house

Posted at 10:14 PM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 23:14:58-05

Located right next to the University of Texas campus-- you might think this 1856 greek revival is a frat house— it’s not! Since 1958, the Neill Cochran house has been lovingly cared for by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Texas.

A painting by mode walker, right by the front door tells the story of the bluebonnet as the state flower.

"We have learned that she was the daughter of a judge, Moses Walker, who came to Texas as part of the reconstruction government," said retired Baylor art history professor Karen Pope.

Pope also chairs the Neill Cochran house museum.

"Moses Walker lived with his family in this house in the early 1870s," said Pope. "So, Mode Walker, who painted this picture, must have lived here as a child.”

In 1901, state lawmakers were choosing between the bluebonnet, the prickly pear, or the cotton boll as the official state flower.

"And Colonial Dames here in Austin thought the bluebonnet was the clear choice and decided to share that opinion by making a visit to the state capitol," said Pope. "They took this painting with them in the spring of 1901, and it was displayed in the capitol on the day of the deliberations, and the Dames put little vases of bluebonnets on the desks of the legislators, and the bluebonnet was chosen as the state flower of Texas.”

The Neill Cochran house was designed by master builder Abner Cook, who also built the nearby governor’s mansion. It features elegant furnishings ... no doubt the site of lavish parties with the movers and shakers of Texas politics. Executive director, Dr. Rowena Dasch says it’s a real study in antebellum or pre-civil war architecture.

"My favorite space in the house is probably our upstairs rotating exhibit gallery because we've actually been able to open it up and you can see the original stone walls,” said Rowena Dasch.

Dr. Dasch says Texas Dames believes the key to the future is understanding our past—even the dark and tragic aspects of our past. At the Neill Cochran house, you will find Austin's only remaining slave quarters.

"That structure would have housed the people who built this house while it was under construction," said Dasch. "Now we're talking about 1856 we're talking about before the civil war. So that means enslaved labor in 1860. Most people who live in Austin today don't know that we were only a town of 6000 people really small and 2000 of them were enslaved. So, one-third of our population. So, it gives you a little bit of a different understanding of how our city came to be what it is. If you can actually look at the walls and put your hands in the same places that these highly skilled artisans put their hands as they were building these structures.”

The Neill Cochran house museum—telling the whole story of the early days in the state’s capital.

“It's also a way of giving voice and giving credence to the efforts and the artistry and the really the spirit and soul of the people who are a part of this city whose stories have really not been told.”