Janice Williams Loves Austin And sometimes I write about it.

May 26, 2014

The Sneed Plantation and Mansion

Filed under: Austin,Cemeteries — Janice @ 11:49 pm

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the past. I’m fascinated by cemeteries and the stories they tell (or don’t) and I am thinking about my ancestry a LOT. You can’t begin to imagine how much of the time my head is full of a family that came to Texas in 1839.

Mark and I explored the Sneed Mansion from a distance on Saturday. It is a story that I’ve learned slowly over 10 years and I don’t know how I missed THIS giant puzzle piece until now. For 5 years I had a feature called “Let’s Learn About Austin” where I asked a trivia question about the city on the radio and gave away a prize. It was my favorite part of the show. Some questions were contemporary and simple, others were deep history that most people didn’t know, but it taught us all in the process. I loved researching those questions.  I don’t know how the history of the Sneeds escaped me.

About 10 years ago, Mark came home, excited because he had found me a cemetery. He has always been great about finding lost cemeteries for me and then taking me exploring. That day he took me over to I-35 and Little Texas Road and, sure enough, behind lots of brush, there was an old cemetery. We walked through it and took pictures. Where are those pictures tonight? Good question.

I came home and did research and found that this was Williamson Creek Cemetery and, as I had suspected while I was there, it is a slave and descendants-of-slaves cemetery. It had fallen into disrepair and was abandoned, but recently a group of Mormon youth had taken it on as a project and had cleared the brush and cleaned it up.

Fast forward to 3 or 4 years ago. I got a thank you email via Findagrave.com where a woman thanked me for having posted pictures of her g-g-g-grandfather’s grave. She and I exchanged some letters. She asked if this was also known as the “Sneed Cemetery.” I was unaware of the Sneed Cemetery, but I looked on the Austin Genealogy website and saw where it was a different cemetery. I did some basic Googling and read that there had been a Sneed plantation on the east side of I-35. I even found a fascinating interview with a former slave from the plantation telling about his days there and what happened when they were freed. Another interesting bit of the history was that the (now former) head of Hewlitt-Packard and (former) Republican candidate for Senate, Carly Fiorini, was a Sneed and was born in Austin.The woman I was emailing with was a descendant of slaves, but also a member of the Sneed family.  In my Googling I came to the conclusion that the Williamson Cemetery was, at one time, a part of the Sneed plantation. There’s now an interstate highway separating it from the area that appeared to have been the plantation, but obviously in those days they weren’t as separated as they are now.

Now, this week, Mark sends me a great article in the Austin Chronicle about the “Sneed mansion.” It had some pictures of the house as it had once been and the rubble that it is mostly reduced to now. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard about this “ruin” at some point in the 15 years we’ve lived just a few miles from it.  I did some more basic research and found a Facebook page about the place: Save the Sneeds.  Lots more pictures and info about how the place was lived in until 60s (sadly occupied by a hermit-hoarder) and then it burned in the 80s. No one appears to want to take responsibility for preserving it or restoring it in any way. Developers would love to take that corner and continue their paving of Austin (it is already surrounded by beautiful apartments).

So Mark and I went there Saturday to see it and take some pictures. Mark had been curious about another old rock home he had seen in the past so we went to it first. I was almost convinced that THIS must be the Sneed home because it seemed big and impressive to me, but Mark was certain it was not. Later I learned that it is called the “Horton-Duval Home” and it may have been slave quarters at one time for the Sneeds. More research to be done.

But then we moved on to the main attraction, the Sneed Mansion. There is  a chain link fence around the property and (for once) we didn’t scale the fence to explore.


It is hard to grasp the scale of this house. Thick walls with layer after layer of Texas limestone… all hauled to the site by slave labor and placed to last 150 years.  More of Mark’s pictures are on his Facebook page.

I’ve been emailing with Bobby Cervantes, who is working to save the Sneed place. He was there this morning and sent some pictures from INSIDE the fence.

bc sneed 1

bc sneed 2

After we went to the Sneed mansion, we went on to find the Sneed Cemetery. I appreciate Mark’s persistence. I knew where it was, but didn’t think we could get to it. Mark found a way. It, too, was surrounded by chain link fence, but it was easy to see how many stones had been destroyed on the graves. We got some pictures there, said our goodbyes to the spirits of the Sneeds and moved on.

I’m still doing some research and am fascinated by this place. My Cunninghams were in Travis County at the same time that this mansion was being built and they, too, may have had some slaves then (I know they did later). In Texas, while we are aware of our Confederate background and think of cottons and plantations in East Texas, it is hard to imagine the pre-Civil War, slave era that existed here in Austin. This home brought it a little more into my reality.

This was the place in 1937:

bc sneed 3

My computer is trying to crash because I have 18 browser windows open along with 8 programs. It is as overloaded with processes as my mind is when I sort through this Sneed family history. I wish Bobby and Save the Sneeds lots of luck and look forward to learning more.  Go to Save the Sneeds and look at more pictures.

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