Ball: Homeless slave cabin finds new home
Excerpt: Last month, Terry Barnett was facing a dilemma.
For 15 years, the Austin man owned an 1850 slave cabin purchased from the descendants of Thompson Islands Plantation, a San Marcos property that once included a saw mill, gristmill and cotton gin. He planned to rehabilitate the building. It never happened. Until recently, the disassembled, one-room building was sitting under a tarp in a family member’s yard.
Barnett contacted the American-Statesman, hoping a story would attract people who could help him preserve the historic structure. It did.
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History of the Slave Cabin
The original plantation business was a saw mill. Mr. Thompson did the layout of the plantation which included the slave cabin and mill. The latter was 1800 yards long, 30 feet wide, funneling to 20 feet wide. The original depth was unknown. It was the most powerful with no concrete. The maintenance was terrific.
A young man called “A Man” lived in the slave cabin during the winters of the 1850’s. He was freed later. Many lived in the cabin. There were descendants of slaves on the plantation. All provided muscle and sweat in building the Thompson Plantation.
Two bridges crossed three islands. They were logs with heavy timber without metal, loosely laid. When horses and wagons crossed, the logs made a clackity-clackity sound. This noise was the doorbell. It signaled the arrival of customers for the mill workers. Business was good. A cotton gin was added later. Wheat was also grown and ground. Cornbread was a staple. This was before the railroads. The Bradys ran the wheat mill; which was called a grist mill.
All of the wood in the slave cabin came from “stumping the land” on the plantation. A rip or buzz saw with a sleigh was used to hand cut the trees. Mules dragged the trees with chains. They would be squared off depending on the tree size. Many were elm.
Mr. and Mrs. Steven Brady moved into the cabin in 1860. They had twelve children. All worked on the plantation. Several of the sons names were Freeman, Walt and Tom. Tom was the youngest . Walt was the oldest and worked the longest on the plantation. He and his wife began living in the cabin in 1889.
During the milling off season, Walt took care of the farm animals and worked in the house. He also drove the Thompson family to the Presbyterian Church in a hack every Sunday. This was a highlight for everyone.
Mrs. Brady was the cook for the family. The Bradys had a son. His name was Alonzo. He was the same age as the third Thompson son, Frank. They spent a lot of time together. Alonzo moved to Arizona at an early age to go to school. The state of Arizona advertised for people to live there. Land was promised.
Mr. Thompson (William) died in 1913. Mrs. Thompson sold the cotton gin and saw mill. The Bradys moved to Arizona to live with Alonzo.
In 1926 the cabin was moved to Avoca Plantation. It was one of the four plantations acquired by William Alexander Thompson. He was a son of the original owner of the slave cabin. The plantation business was a dairy farm and saw mill. The oldest and his favorite was William Hardeman. He received a Bachelor of Arts and L.L.B., Magna Cum Laude from the University of Texas in Austin. He inherited the plantation after he graduated.
In 1927 the cabin was leased to the Eastwoods after William Hardeman Thompson become a County Judge. They had a boy, Corden, and a girl. Mrs. Eastwood was expecting a third child.
The cabin was refurbished. A room was added across the back. It was make a comfortable little country home for the family.
Mr. Eastwood was a good dairy farmer. His business was successful. They were happy. This changed in 1929. The cabin was low. There was a bad flood. Water was 1 ½ feet deep in the cabin. Almost everything was lost. The flood ended the cattle operation. The Eastwoods moved to town to live with relatives in a big house on what’s now Hunter Road.
The cabin was ordered placed on 18 inch stumps by Mrs. Thompson (William Hardeman). She wanted to prevent flooding in the future. However, it flooded three times. 1929 and 1956 were two of those times.
Another black couple, newly-wedded Mr. and Mrs. Bain rented the cabin for almost eighteen years as late as 1970. They weren’t employed by the Thompson family. However, they “checked” on Mrs. Thompson everyday. Mrs. Bain (Leona) would bake for the family on special occasions and holidays. They especially liked her blue ribbon pecan pie.
The Bains were the last family to live in the cabin.
Today the original home of the slave cabin, Thompson Islands Plantation, is the site for an apartment complex. There is also a beautiful residence in the elmgrove across the street from a state park, Stokes Park at Thompson Islands. The plantation name was included at the request of the Thompson family.
In 1977, Mr. Terry Barnett became the owner of the slave cabin. It was town down and moved for reconstruction.