This Old House
Sam Houston and the historic jigsaw puzzle of Boggy Creek Farm
By Virginia B. Wood, Fri., Dec. 23, 2011
Many of the people who shop at the biweekly Boggy Creek farm stand or attend the various events held on the shady grounds probably have no inkling of the bucolic acreage’s historic significance. Urban farmers Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle, the current stewards of the farm that dates back to the Republic of Texas, bought the vacant house and five weedy acres in 1992, moving in the day after the sale closed. They’ve lived and farmed there ever since. Sayle has always said that one of the most compelling aspects of their stewardship of the farm has been researching its rich history. In the early days of their residency, the couple spent Sunday afternoons and rainy days poring over the treasure trove of historical information at the Barker Texas History Center on the University of Texas campus as well as the Travis County archives and the Austin History Center, gathering bits of information like so many pieces of a historical jigsaw puzzle. They discovered that the original 50 acres were purchased as a homestead in 1839 and that the land had belonged to two longtime Austin families before they bought it 19 years ago. Much of the history they’ve pieced together is posted on the farm’s website at www.boggycreekfarm.com.
Butler and Sayle’s extensive research reveals fascinating facets of early life on the farm and raises some questions with no definitive answers: When the house was built, and by whom? The city of Austin historic designation for the house lists the date as 1854, but that was a guess, at best. Butler and Sayle contend the house was built much earlier, and they have their own speculation about a possible builder. The house has the same floor plan as a similar Greek Revival home at the French Legation, and their research reveals that the original owners did business with master builder Abner Cook, as well as two of the French Legation’s residents, French Ambassador Alphonse Dubois de Saligny and Dr. Joseph Robertson. While we still can’t say for sure who built the Boggy Creek farmhouse, an amateur genealogist researching her own family’s relationship to Robertson recently revealed a connection between what is now Boggy Creek Farm and Republic of Texas President Sam Houston. A letter written by Houston to his wife bolsters the contention that the house already existed in late 1841, making it the oldest surviving house in Austin. To fully understand the importance of this newest piece of the jigsaw puzzle, we have to look back at the two main families who owned the farm for the longest periods of time: the Smiths and the Siegmunds.