The Age of the Farm House:
The Farmhouse at Boggy Creek Farm is one of the two oldest still-existing homes in Austin. Since the beginning of our stewardship of the farm in 1992, we have done a lot of research, but the exact building date or the builder's name eluded us. We did find a significant hint, in court papers, when James Smith's son Alfred Smith argued for a larger share of his father's estate. He testified that he deserved a greater inheritance, because, in addition to farm duties, he also "supervised the building of his father's house over the winter of 1840-1841." Thus the farm house existed in the same era as the French Legation, a house of very similar design (Greek Revival) and also in East Austin.The firm evidence of the general date of the farm house was discovered in the spring of 2011, when Susan (Siegmund) Sherrill Estes, a very able genealogist, and descendant of the Siegman Family who owned the farm from 1902 to 1979, discovered in the Letters of Sam Houston (Commander of the Texas forces at the Battle of San Jacinto, 1836, and first [elected] President of the Republic of Texas) that the President attended a wedding party celebrating the wedding of James Smith's son, Alfred Smith, to Nancy Ann Mills, at the home of Alfred's parents, December 24, 1841.
In a letter to his wife Margaret, Houston related that the bridegroom was "a genteel man and well to do," and his bride lovely and resembling Margaret! He also pronounced the "eating doings" as "first rate throughout".....We're glad to now have confirmation, from the President of the Republic of Texas, that the farm house existed in 1841, and that food has always been important here. (See last footnote in "Sources" below for a link to the Correspondence of Sam Houston.)
The Pioneers Settle in Texas:
James Smith had visited Central Texas in 1832, to secure land grants from the Mexican government. He was successful. Subsequently, he and his wife, Elizabeth Hayden Smith, moved from North Carolina, to the area in February, 1838, according to a letter written in February, 1858 by their son, John Franklin Smith. They were accompanied by their children and eleven African slaves.
At that time the Colorado River Valley, east of Austin (then known as Waterloo), was covered with prairie grass and dotted by a few very large live oak trees, such as the one still shading the farm house today. "Buffalo grazed; the roar of panthers and the war whoops of the Indians was heard around." (Letter from John Franklin Smith to his cousin, Justina Rowzee, The John Scott Pickle Papers, Barker History Center.) First living in a cabin in Bastrop, a town east of Austin, the family acquired the 50 acre homestead on Boggy Creek in 1839. They purchased four agricultural outlots in the bottom lands east of Austin at a public auction held in Republic Square, under the live oak trees, in the new City of Austin. The family home, built over the winter of 1840/41 by the Smiths and their slaves, was surrounded by a "picket fence" with portholes for defense, as described by John. When John was about 7 years old, he and his father narrowly escaped attack by Indians as they returned home from the village of Austin, 2- 1/2 miles upstream on the Colorado River. John remembered being so scared that his "hairs stood on end."
In the 1840's, the village of Austin was a poor assortment of log cabins and simple plank houses. The Smiths were a family of means (worth $40,000 in 1845, court appraisal, after J. Smith's death) and did much of their shopping in nearby Bastrop (a finer town than Austin), where they owned two pieces of property, including a house. The family owned hundreds of acres of farm land. James Smith was also active as a developer and was a partner in planning the town of Montopolis, which the partners hoped would overtake Austin in importance.
The Smiths raised many crops and operated a grist mill on the Colorado River. "There was diversification even then (1840); James Smith and the Hancock family, east of Austin, were growing wheat successfully...By 1843, the 30 acres of wheat at Smith's farm were yielding over 25 bushels to the acre." (History of Travis County and Austin, 1839-1899 by Mary Starr Barkley, p.257).
James and Elizabeth had three daughters, Mary Elizabeth Smith, Caroline Amelia Smith, and Susan Antoinette Smith, and a son, John Franklin Smith. James also had two sons by a previous marriage, Alfred Smith and James W. Smith. Alfred was a grown man by the time the family moved to Texas and lived in his own residence. Aside from farming, he supplemented his living by bringing back and reselling livestock from Mexico.
Mr. Smith met an untimely death at the hands of a "villainous overseer": "We learn that a fatal difficulty took place between Mr. James Smith, near Austin, and a young Mr. Baker, in which the former received the contents of a pistol of which he died on Saturday night last." (January 25, 1845). (Northern Standard, Clarksville). He was attended, in the 40 hours before death, by his doctor, Joseph Robertson, who bought the French Legation house and 21 acres formerly owned by the French Ambassador to the Republic of Texas, Alphonse Dubois de Saligny. Dr. Robertson also attended the birth of Elizabeth's last child, Susan, who was born in August, 8 months after her father's death (The charge for this delivery was $25.) James Smith left a deathbed will, witnessed by Aaron Burleson, C.L. Wing and James H. Matthews. His coffin was built by Abner Cook, a carpenter who arrived in Austin in 1839. It is very possible that Cook participated in the building of the farm house, as he was a fan of Greek Revival houses. Cook later became the architect and builder of the Governor's Mansion, the Neil Cochran and Governor Pease Mansions, and other 1850's era Greek Revival homes.
The widow Smith alternately lived at the farm and in a house she owned in Austin (which apparently was the house earlier occupied by Alphonse Dubois de Saligny while the French Legation house was being built) and later to a new house situated just west of Congress along Pecan Street (West 6th Street). She also owned a city block (no. 119) just southeast of the present Capitol.
Soon after Mr. Smith's death, a lawsuit developed between Mrs. Smith and stepson Alfred over division of the family property. In his oral deathbed will, James gave Alfred 400 acres of land. Elizabeth claimed that he had no right to give so much of the total worth of the estate to Alfred, as she had brought more wealth to the marriage than had James, and there were 5 other children involved. Many records citing their differences survive in the Travis County Archives. Estate sales took place at the Farm and many famous old Austin names may be found on the inventory/sales lists (including Abner Cook and Martin Moore, who owned a grocery downtown and farmstead located on Sinclair Avenue at 49th.) Despite a challenging lawsuit filed in 1854 by second stepson James W. Smith (claiming he'd also received less than a fair share of the properties), Elizabeth retained ownership of the homestead until she willed it to daughter Mary Elizabeth Smith Matthews in 1874. She died that year in her home on West 6th. Various of the children had farmed the place during the 30 years after James' death. Mary Elizabeth's son Eric Matthews inherited it on July 18, 1885. From that point ownership went thusly:
*Probate No. 78, Travis County Archives, Travis County Courthouse
*John Scott Pickle Papers, Barker History Center, University of Texas campus
*Northern Standard, Clarksville, Austin History Center
*History of Travis County and Austin, 1839-1899, Mary Starr Barkley,
Austin History Center
*Deed Records, Travis County Courthouse
*The Personal Correspondence of Sam Houston, Vol. 1: 1839-1845. University of North Texas Digital Library
Compiled by: Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle
3414 Lyons Road
Austin, TX 78702-3727