Pinpointing a 1940s Bluff Springs baptism

Reader Craig Scott contacted our Austin Answered project:  “I recently saw a photo of people getting baptized in the springs at Bluff Springs dated back in the 1940s,” he writes. “It had a concrete enclosure. Can you run a story on where the actual springs were or are?”

“Preparing for their baptism by Brother Cole, members of the Manchaca Baptist Church joined hands at Bluff Springs and had this great picture taken.” Contributed by Joy Simmons/Manchaca-Onion Creek Historical Association.

The compelling image, shared on the Facebook page of the Manchaca-Onion Creek Historical Association by Joy Simmons, shows congregants from the Manchaca Baptist Church dressed nicely but up to their waists in water.

For his part, Scott’s family history stretches across South Austin from Creedmoor to Pleasant Hill to the area now most associated with the name that history advocates would like spelled “Menchaca” after its real namesake.

We turned to our regular, selfless group of Austin history advocates for answers. One of them, Bobby Cervantes, grew up on Bluff Springs Road in Southeast Austin and has been active in preserving cemeteries and old structures in that area.

“There is also a property just over Onion Creek headed towards Slaughter on the right hand side,” he guessed about the possible site. “There are old cabins and wagons on the property. It is a big property.”

That area on Onion Creek was once home to a freedman’s community and at least one country school by that name.

Lanny Ottosen, who is writing a book about southeastern Travis County, was much more specific. He attached contemporary digital maps that show a very likely location just west of Bluff Springs Road and just south of Onion Creek; a 1937 excerpt from a Travis County listing of springs with a map that reads: “Bank of creek. Flow 5 gallons a minute from sandy gravel. Supplies water for swimming pool. Known as Bluff Springs. Temperature 74 degrees F”; as well as a 1954 aerial shot of the property that shows a similar concrete structure.

Then he hit pay dirt: A text exchange with the current owner not only confirms three springs on the property, but also included a picture of the owner’s husband swimming in a concrete enclosure that looks almost exactly like the one in the baptismal photo.