Sitting atop a lush green hill, the Flower Hill Urban Homestead sticks out like a sore thumb among its closely packed, more modern neighbors in Old West Austin. It’s on over an acre of land with a long, curving driveway, a tall iron fence, a dilapidated stable, and a carriage house – things you typically don’t see in the city’s center.
Flower Hill originally belonged to the Smoot family, who set up and moved to the homestead in 1877. The Smoots, one of the founding families of Austin, produced a number of figures important to the city’s history. Asher Smoot was a co-founder of the Austin American newspaper in 1914. Lawrence Smoot was one of the longest serving civil servants in Texas history. Their father, Richmond Smoot, formed the Austin School of Theology. O. Henry married in the house’s wedding parlor.
Jane Smoot, the last of the Smoots, was an English teacher for the AISD for over 40 years. She dedicated her life to preserving the home and its history in the hopes that it would one day become a home museum. The Flower Hill Foundation took over after her death in 2013, and her efforts have proven to be invaluable to their cause. They’ve been working to restore the home for the last 10 years, which is no simple feat.
The house has issues that have affected Flower Hill’s progress in becoming a fully operational museum. The floors and foundation need extensive work before the home is ready for more than a couple of visitors at a time. The bricks in some areas of the home are fragile due to their age and may need to be replaced. Just the construction documents will cost $75,000, and the work itself: $500,000. The Texas Historical Commission’s $30,000 in grant funding recently awarded from its Texas Preservation Trust Fund greatly aided the museum’s progress.
Going inside, some of the interior and furniture has been preserved since the home’s initial construction in 1877, although many of the rooms were added on later, and the appliances are from more recent decades. Many of the walls are water-stained, the stairs creak, and the house feels simultaneously delicate and robust. Knickknacks and trinkets are sprinkled throughout almost every room, and paintings line the walls. There’s a wedding parlor and a kitchen that was once detached from the home, both serving as reminders of the home’s age.
Currently, Flower Hill accepts visitors by appointment only. The museum’s staff hope to change this by 2027, which will be the homestead’s 150-year anniversary. By then, they hope to be fully functional, serving as not only a museum, but as a community gathering space. It’s a lot of work for a fairly short timeline, but Executive Director Natalie George says they’re up to the challenge.
“The Smoots, not only in the specific contributions of the newspaper and the Presbyterian church, but in the idea of community gathering and building and nurturing growth here in Austin is really what they were about,” said George. “To sort of help anchor a bit of history and culture from the past while cultivating new growth in Austin, I think is really important.”
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