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.

 

The Statesman has had more than a dozen homes

Ben Sargent, political cartoonist, printer and history advocate, asks: “Has anyone ever listed all the various places from which the Statesman has been published in its nearly 150 years?”a

“My curiosity was prompted while looking at a 1900 Sanborn (fire insurance) map of downtown Austin, and I noticed that in that year, apparently the paper was occupying the Millett Opera House,” writes Sargent, who is retired from the American-Statesman. “There is even a little structure out back that appeared to be a boiler house and labeled ‘type foundry.'”

 

This detail from the 1900 Sanborn fire insurance map shows the Austin Statesman’s printing facility inside the old Millett Opera House on East Ninth Street.

The Millett Opera House, built in 1878 at 110 E. Ninth St., has played many roles, including as the city’s leading theater. It now serves as home for the Austin Club.

“Anyway, I know of the famous upstairs-from-the-saloon location at 10th and Congress, the wonderful ‘old building’ at Seventh and Colorado (shamefully razed by the University of Texas), and of course the Guadalupe Street and the Riverside buildings where we worked,” Sargent writes, “but there appear to have been some unknown number of other venues.”

I did a spot check among the Austin City Directories at the Austin History Center and found a lot of locations. Apparently printing presses were much lighter and equipped with wheels by the time the tri-weekly Democratic Statesman was founded in 1871. It was listed at Congress Avenue between Hickory (Eighth) and Ash (Ninth) streets in the 1872-73 directory. (Numeral addresses were not uniformly used well into the 20th century.)

It had moved to the northeast corner of Congress and Ash by 1877-1878. The directory lists three other papers including the Texas Stern (German). In 1887-1888, the Statesman (no longer Democratic), was at 126 W. Pecan (Sixth) St. and trundled over to 122 W. Sixth by 1891-92. It was listed at 713 Congress in 1907.

Now here’s where it gets complicated: In 1914, it merged with the Austin Tribune (which had been 400-2 Congress), the same year it earned competition from the morning Austin American (813 Congress).

The Austin Statesman and Tribune didn’t last long as a name and by 1916, the evening Austin Statesman was found on the southwest corner of Brazos and East Seventh and remained there after it merged with the American. The same company put out both papers and the combined Sunday American-Statesman for decades there, and its next home at West Seventh and Colorado streets, until they were combined into one paper with four daily editions in 1973.

Exterior view of The American Statesman building which was located at West Seventh and Colorado Streets in 1947 as photographed by Neal Douglass. Contributed by Austin History Center ND-47-171-05
By this time, it had moved to the location at West Fourth and Guadalupe Streets. It is finally listed at its current location in 1981. At first the address “166 Riverside Dr.” was used for our campus, but we later turned our faces westward for today’s address: 305 South Congress Ave.
UPDATE: The Riverside Drive address was rendered incorrectly in an earlier version of this post.