Austin Museum Day: 2023

Over 50 local museums offered free admission for this year’s Austin Museum Day. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in September, I headed to three downtown locations that piqued my curiosity.

My first stop was Flower Hill Urban Homestead Museum. Flower Hill is situated on the northern side of West 6th Street in the Clarksville neighborhood. This property is easy to miss, partly because West 6th is a busy, one-way street leading out of downtown. I’ve even walked past this property a few times (maybe or maybe not after visiting the nearby Swedish Hill Bakery), but never noticed the mansion sitting up on the hill.

A member of the Flower Hill Foundation, explained that the last descendant, Miss Jane Smoot, was a long-time teacher in the Austin School District. In 1973, Jane gave the house and land to The Heritage Society of Austin. However, there were disagreements, so Jane took back ownership in 1999 and set up her own foundation to preserve the property. She lived in the home until her death in 2013 at the age of 93.

Visitors were allowed to wander around most of the home. Every room and closet was filled with family memorabilia, snapshots of a bygone era.

My favorite spot in the house was an entire closet full of old chests and suitcases. I was so tempted to peek inside, but obeyed the “Do Not Open” signs.

Flower Hill’s grounds are slowly being restored to their former glory. You can learn more about the Smoot family and their many contributions to Austin at Flower Hill Foundation’s impressive website.

Next, I visited the Hezikiah Haskell House, less than a mile north of Flower Hill. That section of Austin, Clarksville, was originally a community established for freed blacks after the Civil War, but in modern times has expanded beyond its original ten blocks.

This Historical Landmark sign explains more about the history of Clarksville and this specific house. The Clarksville Community Development Corporation manages the Hezikiah Haskell site and also owns affordable housing units throughout the neighborhood.

The house itself is small and decorated with old photos of Clarksville and its residents. Tours are given by volunteers twice a month. There’s a community garden behind the building.

My last stop was the old Millett Opera House on East Ninth Street. I’ve admired this building for many years and was glad to finally take a look inside.

The Millett Opera House was built in 1878. Over the years, the building has had several owners, and the theater itself was removed long ago. The Austin Club now owns the property. I missed some of the tour, but I did hear that that a ghost is rumored to haunt the building.

The first floor has a reception area, bar, and dining rooms. Two of the private dining spaces are named “The Senate Conference Room” and “The House Conference Room.” This club is mentioned in Lawrence Wright’s latest novel, Mr. Texas, as a power center for the Texas Legislature.

According to their website, “Austin Museum Day is held on the penultimate (second to last) Sunday of the month of September.” Mark your calendars now for September 22, 2024.

© Austin Downtown Diary, 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Austin Downtown Diary with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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