LEAP is all about new adventures and experiences and although it took me a bit to adjust to a new and bigger city (editor’s note: the girl is from Houston, but she was a homebody), I was more than happy to explore what Austin has to offer, and that made for an artful weekend!
For many, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I don’t steer away from that. Missing home and my parents cooking, I decided to check out the La Yaquesita food truck. With many options to choose from. . . gorditas, tacos, tortas, sopes, and much more, I opted for what my heart most desired . . . chicharron prensado tacos made with freshly made maize tortillas. These delicious and flavorful tacos did not disappoint and were definitely a great start to my morning.
Austin has many historic homes you can visit, but I chose to visit one of the oldest – the Neill-Cochran House Museum – located in the heart of the city. This beautiful structure resembles Greek Architecture visible through the symmetry and use of Doric columns. The home was designed in 1855 by Abner Cook, who was commissioned by a young couple, Washington and Mary Hill , to construct a nice Greek revival home. [Cook is also the architect who designed the Governor’s Mansion and if you have seen them both you can easily see the similarities.]
After becoming the capital of Texas, the City of Austin rapidly expanded, and its economy rose as many wealthy and prominent individuals moved to the city. Before they knew it, the young couple’s dream home was no longer within their means. And despite their attempts to finance the home, they were not able to finish the construction.
Consequently, this home passed to different owners and for different purposes: it was a school for the blind, a hospital during the civil war for soldiers who were recovering from yellow fever and cholera, and a home that was privately owned.
And although it was built as a private home, it didn’t actually become one until 1892, when the Neil family, Colonel Andrew and Jennie, moved to Austin from Galveston and purchased this home for its majestic appearance. During their time in the home, they threw elegant parties, were known for their wine cellar (which is not open to tour), and entertained politicians.
The home was later purchased by Thomas Cochran, and he and his wife, three children, mother, and father-in-law lived in there. Although a large home, I suspect those living arrangements were cramped. The home is furnished with some of their original furnishings and other pieces from the same period.
The first floor consisted of a double parlor (where weddings took place throughout the history of the home), a French parlor, kitchen, and a dining room. The second floor consisted of all the bedrooms and a balcony, although safety concerns precluded public access.
My favorite part of the the house was the double parlor. Upon walking into the room you are welcomed by a grand space and a portrait of Mary Cochran Bohls. The room had a beautiful chandelier hanging from the ceiling, dainty lace curtains, fancy sofas, a kids trojan horse, and an absolutely beautiful melodeon (organ like piano). I was blessed to be able to hear a tune out of this piano as the staffer there showed us how it worked. As you made your way around the house you could see portraits of family members, the floral themed carpets that would have been installed during Thomas Cochran’s time, as well as servants’ entries. As I explored the bedrooms, I was amazed to learn about their stories, the similarity in toys/ dolls that they grew up with and the ones that I did, and to see the tiny shoes they used to wear.
On my way out of the home, I was also able to see the structure originally built for slaves, but which mostly served as servants’ quarters.
I then ventured off to the Umlauf Sculpture Garden where I not only admired the sculptures but also attempted to reenact some of them. Charles Umlauf is an American sculptor born to French and German immigrants. His work varied from expressionism to abstraction, while also utilizing different materials: wood, terra cotta, cast stone, rich bronzes, luminous marbles. Within the garden there was a mix of his work: sculptures of animals, religious and mythological figures, family groupings, etc. Although it is small, it is quite intimate and allows you to have fun with friends and family.
It was a nice follow up to the Neill-Cochran House Museum and a nice segue to Zilker Park, where I played frisbee and enjoyed the nice weather.
Although I had many other interesting adventures throughout my Austin internship, this occurred early in the semester, when it was still possible to relax a bit and learn as much as possible in the process.
Of course, just working the session in Austin is an adventure, and although my opportunities for relaxation declined over the course of the 140 days, the adventure and the learning never did!