Erasing a Remnant of Slave History to Development outside Houston

A large Sugar purgery operated by one of Texas’ most brutal slaveowners at the Arcola Plantation, now near a master-planned suburb.

In the United States, historic preservation often hinges on the wishes of the landowner. Unless a site has been designated as a historic site by State or Federal authorities, preservation happens at the whim of a property owner. That legal regime means that some historic sites may be lost, especially if they force us to confront uncomfortable truths about our past. Writing in the Houston Chronicle, Lisa Gray walks through the history of the Arcola Plantation, and reports how its preservation may be in doubt due to a nearby master-planned subdivision.

The remains of sugar plantations have special historic significance, notes James Sidbury, a Rice professor who studies the history of race and slavery. “There just weren’t as many of those,” Sidbury said. “So blocking the ability to look at those things is a bigger blow to what we know about slavery in the U.S. than if it were a cotton plantation or a tobacco plantation.” The plantation where Sienna now stands wasn’t called “Sienna Plantation.” It was called Arcola. And it was both one of the most valuable and most brutal plantations in Texas. Its owner, Jonathan Dawson Waters, left Alabama for the Republic of Texas in 1840, and began amassing the land where he’d eventually grow cotton and sugarcane. By 1860, Arcola was one of the largest plantations in Texas, and Waters was the richest person in Fort Bend County. According to the 1860 Census, he owned 216 slaves, which made him the third-largest slaveowner in Texas. He could do much as he pleased . . . .Heavy work and inadequate food meant that sugar-plantations slaves were, “compared with other working-age slaves in the United States, far less able to resist the common and life-threatening diseases of dirt and poverty,” he wrote.

Lisa Gray, Hidden in Fort Bend’s Upscale Sienna: A Rare Plantation Building Where Slaves Made Sugar., Houston Chronicle, Oct. 23, 2019, https://www.houstonchronicle.com/life/article/fort-bend-last-sugarhouse-plantation-slavery-14556046.php [https://perma.cc/236R-GH99].

Moving a Street Art Gallery in Austin

Since 2011 the HOPE Outdoor Gallery in Austin has offered permission walls for aspiring street artists. Hope stands for “Helping Other People Everywhere”. The site was a failed condo development which was converted into an outdoor gallery with the help of artist Shepard Fairy in 2011. It has become quite the tourist and Austin attraction. Fairey of course is best known for his OBEY stickers, and the controversy over his successfully lifted Obama HOPE poster.

Now though the park is moving to a new location on 6 acres outside of central Austin near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The new site should still attract visitors and Instagram photo hunters, but will not be quite so centrally located North of bustling Lamar in the heart of Austin. That property is a valuable piece of land in Austin, and as one of the founders of the HOPE organization which manages the outdoor gallery Andi Scull Cheatham told the Austin Chronicle in 2016:

This project was meant to have a shelf life of a couple years, but once the owner saw how much it had been embraced and loved by the community, he’s done everything he can to keep it going.

The move was approved in February by the Austin Historical Landmark Commission. Part of the cement wall of the existing park will be moved to the new location, but the rest of the walls will be demolished. An amicable arrangement as compared to the 5Pointz dispute.

  1. Craig Hlavaty, Austin’s “Graffiti Park” to be demolished – Houston Chronicle, Houston Chronicle (Jan. 30, 2018), https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/texas/article/Austin-Graffiti-Park-to-be-demolished-Hope-Outdoor-12536309.php#photo-10133301.
  2. Nicole Raney, Downtown Austin’s iconic graffiti park searches for new home, Austin Culturemap (8.8.2016), http://austin.culturemap.com/news/arts/08-08-16-hope-outdoor-gallery-castle-hill-grafitti-new-location/?platform=hootsuite.
  3. Community bids fond farewell to HOPE Outdoor Gallery | Texas (Feb. 25, 2018), http://www.kxan.com/news/local/austin/community-bids-fond-farewell-to-hope-outdoor-gallery_20180312075742473/1031502585.