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Untold Stories: The Haskell House

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com
Haskell House 1703 Waterston Ave. Named for: Hezekiah Haskell Built: 1875 Dedicated: Late 1970s

Gloria Pennington, a historian for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, has hatched a terrific idea. When new signs are made for the city's parks, basic facts like the park's namesake and when it was dedicated could appear on the back of the signs.

Thanks to crusading neighbors, a lot of information is available for any future Haskell House sign. This City of Austin park is basically one rather lonely house sitting on one city lot in the Clarksville district. Yet it embodies so much of our region's social and cultural history.

The board-and-batten structure with two front doors — common in the 19th century South, separating public and private family functions — was built by freed slave Peter Tucker on land purchased from Gov. Elisha Pease in about 1875, according to Clarksville Community Development Corporation spokeswoman Mary Reed.

Later, Tucker sold his home, located in one of Austin's several freetowns, to Mary and Edmund Smith, among the founders of the nearby Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church.

The Smiths' daughter married Hezekiah Haskell, a Buffalo Soldier who also fought for the Union during the Civil War. Their son, Hezekiah Haskell Jr. died in the house in the 1970s. (Now that would have been an interview subject!)

The property became dedicated parkland after his death, and the city served lunch to seniors there for about 10 years. Reed's group rehabilitated it and now manages the property for the city, turning it into a museum and meeting place. A community garden sprouts out back.

Contact Michael Barnes at 445-3970

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