The Colonial Revival house and accompanying mill were built in 1853 on Little Walnut Creek, four miles from what were then the city limits of Austin, a small town with a population of 629, and the new capital of the five-year-old state of Texas. Today the 2-1/2 acres on which the house is situated are embedded in an urban residential area. The original 1853 homestead contained 451 acres of farmland, all visible from the third-story "lookout tower" of the house.
When clock peddler Sherman Case first proposed building a mill on his homestead, the local Texas Monument newspaper heralded the news as an exciting sign of progress.
According to an editorial, "Ere long many believe it is probable Austin will be one of the most flourishing cities in the area, as it is in location decidedly one of the most beautiful and interesting. New farms are continually being opened. Much wheat will be sown the ensuing season. Mr. Case is building a flour mill and expresses himself confident, that out of Texas wheat, he will be able to make good and white flour. Mr. Case's mill will be ready for use in a few weeks, and he has informed us that some two thousand bushels of Travis [County] wheat are ready to test the efficiency of his undertaking."
Mr. Case turned out to be a tight-fisted and litigious man (dismissed as a "carpet bagger from up North" by native Texans). He cut timber on his neighbors' land and even forced the mason who built the mill to sue him for payment. His assets, including the mill and a livery stable in downtown Austin, changed hands several times while he waged war in court. One of his many battles came up before the State Supreme Court.
William Burdett, Mr. Case's partner in the mill business, was steadier. He kept the mill functioning, although on paper it changed hands eight times in two years. His son Giles took over the mill operation in 1866.
Giles Burdett sometimes appeared in the local newspaper because of his political activities. Mr. Burdett sold the mill to a man named Christian. He operated the mill from 1903 to 1905. Nothing more is known about Mr. Christian.
Today, no trace of the mill remains. Some local elders suppose that Little Walnut Creek washed it away during one of the area's unpredictable floods. Thanks to Central Texas' dramatic high-intensity rainstorms, the local creeks are known worldwide for their "flash" nature.
In 1905 the house and 451 acres of the surrounding land became the property of Edwin Frame. In 1949, two years after his widow Maggie Frame's death, 231 acres of the "old Frame Place" were purchased by Vernon and Betty Cook. They farmed the land until the mid-1960s, then gradually sold most of it off, until the fields and hedgerows around the house had entirely given way to blacktop and backyards. Vernon Cook, Jr. sold the Homestead to the American Botanical Council in June 1997.
ABC is pleased to have "inherited" a thorough record of the house's history from the Cooks. Among the collected papers is a newspaper clipping (ca. 1955) that is pure Americana. It shows Vernon's two sisters, ages 8 and 9, in long braids and pinafores, picking Texas bluebonnets with the fine old house as a backdrop. ABC will preserve the Case Mill Homestead and the memory of its many occupants as an enduring relic of Austin's history, while giving the venerable property a new identity and mission.
Article copyright American Botanical Council.
By Betsy Levy