Austin Museum Day – Downtown: 2012

After visiting the East Austin museums during last Sunday’s Austin Museum Day, I headed downtown to check out three unusual sites…

I first stopped by the Byrne-Reed House on Rio Grande Street, headquarters for Humanities Texas. As the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, this non-profit “conducts and supports public programs in history, literature, philosophy, and the other humanities disciplines.” Humanities Texas administers a grants program, creates traveling exhibitions and conducts various educational programs.

The current exhibit is Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World. But I must confess that I spent more time admiring the house than reading the exhibit panels. I learned that the Byrne-Reed House was built as a family home in 1907 but was turned into an stucco-covered offering building in 1969. Humanities Texas purchased the building in 2006 and  recently completed an award-winning restoration project .

Next on my itinerary was the Texas Medical Association History of Medicine Gallery. I have driven past this corner of Guadalupe and 15th Street many, many times but wasn’t aware of this little museum in the first floor lobby.

The current exhibit, Don’t Spit on the Sidewalk, describes the top 10 public health achievements of the last century, including vaccination, motor vehicle safety, and fluoridation of drinking water. The exhibit’s name comes from sidewalk bricks which were laid to help control infectious diseases. This “museum” wasn’t big but the displays were informative and I was glad that I had stopped by.

Last stop on my downtown museum tour was the German Free School, tucked away on the 10th Street hillside near Red River. I’ve been to concerts next door at The Mohawk, but had absolutely no idea that this beautiful historic building was behind the trees. The folks in the School probably know about their noisy neighbors at The Mohawk though.

Friendly members of the German-Texas Heritage Society explained the property’s history. German immigrants started the school in 1858, which predated the Austin public school system by 20 years. Classes were “free” of religious instruction and taught in both English and German. After the school closed in 1881, the property changed hands several times before being purchased in 1948 by a deaf artist, Kelly H. Stevens. Stevens bequeathed the building and grounds to the German-Texas Heritage Society when he died in 1991. Some of Stevens paintings are on display inside. 
German classes are offered here for both adults and children. The Society sponsors events such as Oktoberfest, Christmas Market, and monthly German Film Nights. The German Free School is also available for small wedding receptions and parties.

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