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Spelunking in Adams-Hemphill Park

Old tunnel was a magnet for adventurous kids

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com

For decades, children from Hyde Park and Aldridge Place took a secret passage to the Texas State Hospital on Guadalupe Street.

They started in Adams-Hemphill Park, walking along the allée of pecan trees that date back to the park's founding in 1912. Back then, Lewis Hancock — banker, former Austin mayor, Austin Country Club developer and namesake for Hancock Center — donated to the city more than two acres along Hemphill Creek, a western tributary of Waller Creek.

Next, the neighborhood scamps dropped down into the park's stone drainage channel, built in 1934 as a New Deal project and still the park's distinguishing feature.

At the channel's northern terminus, these would-be Tom Sawyers and Becky Thatchers entered a dark passageway. This tunnel, large enough for a creeping child, led to the hospital. Recalling these exploits, some Austin adults remember that the hospital staffers kept treats on hand for kids who made the journey (inadvertantly encouraging these undertakings).

The drain is now gated. Some of the rainwater that would have raced through it — and into the park — now forms ponds in the Central Park project.

Spelunking aside, Adams-Hemphill is one of those ideal little Austin parks. The upper portion (Hemphill) is fine for dog-walking and picnicking above the decorative channel. The lower section (Adams), south of West 30th Street and downhill from the Scottish Rite Dormitory and Kirby Hall, contains sporting areas and a playground.

The first five acres of the Adams part of the park were acquired in 1929. An old stone wall, not unlike the channel and some of the bridges, lines its southern flank. The combined parks now encompass more than 10 acres.

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