Much of the content of this section was contributed by Carol Journeay, Scott Morris, and Scott Barnes, residents of the North University Neighborhood. It is also available in pdf format on the City of Austin web site.
The permanent settlement of the area north of the University of Texas dates to a land grant that Thomas Grey received from Mirabeau B. Lamar, President of the Republic of Texas, in 1840 (Bergen 1840). During that same year, Lamar purchased sixty-eight acres immediately north of the forty-acre site designated in 1839 as the location for the proposed University of Texas. Lamar built the first house north of town in 1842 near the present-day intersection of 26th Street and University Avenue. Brewster and Juliet Jaynes also built a house nearby in 1842. However, on July 10,1842, most of the Jayne family were killed on their front porch by raiding Comanches. Only Juliet and one son survived to bury their dead (Brown 1875; Ford 1887; Hart 1959; Strong 1965).
In 1846, Colonial Horatio Grooms brought his family to Austin and resided for a time in Lamar’s house. The Grooms family survived raids by the Comanches, and their son, Judge Alfred Grooms, would soon establish a homestead on 100 acres to the north of Lamar’s property within Grey’s land grant. (Brown 1875). In 1848, Erhardt and Teresa Fruth emigrated from Hamburg, Germany to Austin.
The Fruth family built a log cabin on a forty-five acre tract to the west of Lamar’s property. After clearing the land, they began a dairy farm and a family of six children. Their daughter Louisa married David Cypher and had a son, John, who became mayor of Austin. The last of the direct heirs to live in the original house was Mrs. Charles Ing, who sold the remaining property to the Methodist Church for the construction of a girl’s dormitory, later to become the present Kirby Hall School. Other members of the Fruth family remain in the neighborhood to the present (Eilers 1923; Plat of Fruth Subdivision; Travis County Deed Record; Louisa A. Fruth; Brown 1875; Polk 1887; Ford 1887; “Rites Are Set…” 1941”).
Around 1850, President Lamar, frustrated by “an exposed and dangerous area,” moved his residence to Richmond and sold his property to General William Selbey Harney. General Harney established a military fort here. In 1870, after the last of the Indian Wars was over, General Harney sold the property. Lamar’s house was torn down and the materials used to build a barn (Brown 1875).
The earliest known remaining structure in the neighborhood is the Albert Buddington house, which dates back to the1860s. The original Buddington homestead included one of the two residential structures found north of the capitol on then North Congress Avenue - now Guadalupe Street. Albert Buddington was Austin’s first butcher. His son, Ralph, would later maintain a general store and residence at 3501 Guadalupe. The present Buddington compound contains the original Buddington house, as well as a 1930’s cottage with carvings by Swiss craftsman Peter Mansbendel, and a 1950’s cottage where Austin major Lowell Lieberman once lived. The land at the east end of the original homestead was never cleared and was overgrown with “cedar” trees. This is how Cedar Street got its name (Hart 1959; Polk 1918; Ford 1887; Iverson 2003).
As people moved into the area that would become the North University neighborhood, the natural character of the area began to change. Erosion from cleared and plowed fields clogged creeks and streams so that they no longer flowed continuously. The remaining woodlands were cleared for agricultural and later for residential purposes to meet the increased demand for housing in the capital city (Brown 1875).
In 1871, the Whitis Addition (Lamar’s original sixty-eight acres), became the first subdivision north of the proposed University of Texas and was described as “one of the most desirable portions of the city for residential purposes.” Charles Whitis first lived near 38th Street. In 1877, he built a large and imposing stone house on 27th Street (then called Laurel). At the end of the nineteenth century, the Whitis house became the Whitis School. His daughters, Molly and Gertrude, founded it. Gertrude was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Texas. The college preparatory school, affiliated with the University from 1899-1900, was sold in the 1920s to the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Today, the Scottish Rite Dormitory, a Landmark building, sits on the original site of the school (Brown 1875).
In 1890, the Grooms homestead was platted as the Grooms Addition, North University’s largest original subdivision. The present street names Helms, Grooms and previous street names Helen (the present Helms Street) and Bettie (the present Tom Green Street) are all associated with the Grooms family. A metal plaque bearing the designation “Bettie Street” can still be found on a curb near 38th Street (Brown 1875). Today, the Grooms Addition contains an excellent collection of houses that reflect the architectural traditions of the early twentieth century, particularly the Arts and Crafts movement. The Steck Subdivision was carved out of the Grooms Addition. In the early 1920s, E. L. Steck, founder of the Steck Company, built his family house at 305 East 34th Street. It was an impressive two-story house along a street dominated by modest Arts and Crafts-styled bungalows. At the time, present day Speedway was one of the only paved streets in the area. In 1929, that segment of 34th Street was paved with concrete (“Paving Lien” 1929; Cooper [c. 1970s-1980s]).
The Buddington subdivision, located in the northwest section of the neighborhood and named after the Alfred Buddington, was platted in 1896.
Perhaps the best known of the buildings in this subdivision is the former Confederate Women’s Home on Cedar Street. It was built in 1908 and originally housed Confederate veterans, then their widows, and continues today to serve Austin’s elderly (Hart 1970; “Haven of Rest…” 1919; Stocklin-Seely 2002). The building is currently owned and maintained by Austin Groups for the Elderly.
Additional structures of significance include the building at the southwest corner of Speedway and 38th Street where the Speedway Service Station opened in the 1920s (Polk 1927).
Photo (1909) courtesy of Elaine Martin and Sharon Pierce, www.txgenes.com.
Adjacent to the Buddington area is the Lakeview subdivision, platted in 1910. The First Assembly of God, located at 501 West 37th Street, purchased a lot and built a temporary tabernacle in the early 1920s. This structure was replaced by a permanent church building in 1926. In 1947, adjacent property was obtained for a parsonage. Soon after that, a radio ministry was broadcast from the site. The history of the church goes back to 1919 when ministers from across the state congregated for retreats near the intersection of 34th and Guadalupe (“Dedication of Church…”1960; “Started in Tent…” 1977”). The church was eventually converted to apartments and shares the block with a number of Arts and Crafts-styled houses.
The houses along this block have become familiar to Austinites as the location of the annual 37th Street Christmas light spectacular. Many of the lights in the 37th Street annual holiday light display decorate the street throughout the year.
On May 15, 1912, Lewis Hancock, developer of the Austin Country Club, placed the “restricted residence addition”, Aldridge Place, on the market. Deed restrictions set a minimum sale price, prohibited apartments, and forbid the sale or rental of property to African-Americans, though live-in servants were explicitly allowed (Pruitt 1974). An advertisement by real estate agent K.C. Miller in the May 12, 1912 edition of the Austin Daily Statesman reads, “The restrictions as to the character of building, the cost, etc., insures [sic]…the attractive and high class homes and the companionship of refined neighbors…” Hancock also deeded Hemphill Park to the City as a public park. Though Hancock never lived in Aldridge Place, many of Austin’s well-heeled citizens built handsome and stately houses in this new exclusive development. J. Frank Dobie, a renter in 1922, purchased a house at 3109 Wheeler in 1926. There are also a number of Landmark houses in Aldridge Place (Brown 1875; City of Austin Historic Landmarks 2001).
Over the years, as demand for housing in the central city grew, numerous resubdivisions and developments occurred that changed the character of the neighborhood. Garage apartments began appearing in the mid-1920s. Numerous two-story apartments were constructed during the last half of the twentieth century, eliminating the last of the undeveloped lots as well as some the older houses. While North University has had an amiable mix of people and residential structures over the years, recent trends have threatened the character of the area. It is hoped that in the near future the historical significance of the area will be recognized and a historic district will be put in place in order to preserve this historic, diverse, and interesting Austin neighborhood.
The Iverson House
The oldest house in our neighborhood is owned by Rick and Nancy Iverson at 506 West 34th Street. The house is barely visible from 34th street where all you see is the covered parking. But just on the other side of the parking hidden from public view and all the noise of urban traffic is a beautiful courtyard, densely green, with magnificent magnolia trees, huge old live oaks and stately cypress trees. The main house, a large two-story limestone structure sits on the westside of the courtyard with three smaller cottages on the south and east. A very tall stone wall encloses the garden on the north side. On the southeastern edge there is a windmill presently covered with Christmas lights, which is the last vestige of the original 40 acres of the Buddington Farm.Albert G. Buddington came to Texas in the 1850’s from New York with his wife, his wife’s sister and her husband in an ox-drawn covered wagon. After a short stay in Gonzales, they came to Austin and found a place at a popular camping site on the west Waller Creek tributary, a cold springs with a running creek. Buddington bought 10 acres of the property from Martin Moore’s widow, the holder of the land grant, then 10 more in 1865 and twenty in 1868, 40 acres in all for a total of $1700. The house, consisting of two large rooms, one up and one down, was built in 1860.
The Buddington’s had seven children and on two occasions Buddington leased the property and “moved into town” so his children could attend school because the wagons would become mired to the hubs in yellow clay in rainy weather. Buddington was able to add rooms to the original house and built a circle drive and porte-cochere on the old Waco highway with the main entrance facing west. A large fruit orchard was planted and the creek was damned up to form a pond. Travelers were taken in early on and the homestead became a stagecoach inn. Gypsies were allowed to camp on land west of the homestead in an area which became know as Gypsy Grove. Although Buddington remained neutral during the Civil War, Robert E. Lee was a guest in the house on several occasions. Buddington, a man of many trades, was the first butcher in Austin, had fruit orchards and grew strawberries and in 1893, had a “gents furnishing goods, hats” store at 723 Congress Avenue. A good portion of the forty acres was sold by Mr. Buddington who subdivided the property and sold lots. By the time of his death in 1895, the homestead had shrunk to its present size, which his widow sold in 1900.
In 1921 Dr. Harry Yandell Benedict bought the property. He was the first University of Texas graduate to become President of the University, an office he held from 1927 to his death in 1937. His graduate degree from Harvard was in Mathematical Astronomy and he was instrumental in the creation of the McDonald Observatory.
Dr. Benedict loved the house and the gardens, writing about them affectionately in the Alcade. There is an inscription on the landing of the west entrance which was put there by Dr. Benedict, Parva sed apta mihi –“ small but suiting me.” He called the creek, Crazy Creek, supposedly because it originated at the “lunatic asylum” at 45th Street.
The house became known as the Benedict House. Dr. Benedict, a gardener, took great care of the gardens, adding rock walls and planting trees. The Benedicts entertained often and were famous for their garden parties and grand occasions.
At Dr. Benedict’s death in 1937, Delia Edwards from Laredo bought the property and she employed a well known architect, Arthur Fehr, to make additions to the main house and build a cottage at 502 West 34.. The limestone cottage, the first private residence built by Fehr, has casement windows, Mexican tile floors and a Peter Mansbendel fireplace mantel. Fehr also designed the First English Lutheran Church and the Chapel at the Episcopal Seminary in our neighborhood.
In 1944 Wilhelmine Sheffield, a prominent Austin realtor and appraiser, facilitated the sale of the part of the property facing Guadalupe to Eddy Joseph for commercial development. Unable to talk Mr. Joseph into purchasing the entire property, Mrs. Sheffield bought the rest of the property herself in 1946. She continued to make improvements in the property, building a wall on the west side separating her property from Mr. Joseph’s commercial development and then a very high wall on the north side of the property creating the courtyard. In 1950 she built another limestone cottage at 500 West 34 th with casement windows and Mexican tile floors. She also built the small stone cottage at 504 W. 34th. Mrs. Sheffield owned a good bit of property in our neighborhood including 502 and 500 West 33rd Street, which she leased along with the cottages in her compound. Every year she gave a New Years’ Day party and it was at one of those parties that two of her tenants, Rick and Nancy Iverson, met. After their marriage in 1975, they bought the property from Mrs. Sheffield but allowed her a life estate in the original 1860 house where she lived until 1989.
By Judy Willcott