Across the United States, historically black-owned properties and communities have continually faced threats by gentrification and eminent domain, which further endanger the preservation of the already underrepresented African American narratives and histories in our country.
This is the case of The Alexander Farm, a family farm that was founded in 1847 by the then-enslaved and renowned horse breeder and trainer Daniel Alexander. Following his emancipation, the farm and family cemetery were passed down from generation to generation and are still managed by his descendants today. As such, the Alexanders are among the founding African American families of Austin, and the farm is among the oldest in Travis County. Despite both the farm’s undeniable historical significance and impact on its local community and on the city of Austin at large, the family has faced unending discrimination at the hands of individuals, corporations, and government agencies alike.
Chief among these examples are the past and current eminent domain battles which the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has waged against the farm in their attempts to reroute and expand US Highway 183. The current TxDOT plan to add four additional lanes to the highway threatens to take and demolish up to 400 feet of land at both the historic Alexander homestead and the family cemetery. Given this, we wish to shine light upon the history and legacy of THE ALEXANDER FARM and Alexander Cemetery. We'll also highlight current threats facing the site in order to support our claim of historical significance to protect, preserve, and ultimately prevent the further erasure of African American narratives and legacy in Austin.
Daniel Alexander was born in 1810. As a young man, he and his mother Ceny were enslaved to the McKinney family. When brothers Thomas Freeman and James Prather McKinney moved from Missouri to Texas in 1823, where influential businessman Thomas made his fortune, Daniel and Ceny moved with them. Daniel Alexander was eventually introduced to Emeline Adams, an Irish indentured servant in the McKinney household, who would become his wife. The couple homesteaded in the McKinney Falls/Onion Creek area of Travis County sometime before 1846.
Daniel was an expert racehorse trainer and breeder, and thus was a valuable asset to the McKinney family. Horse racing, and more specifically the landed gentry's wagering that went with it, was a hugely profitable sport throughout the nation. As a result, Daniel’s skills afforded him certain privileges and status that enslaved people in Texas were not generally granted until years later with emancipation. The most important of these privileges allowed Daniel Alexander was land ownership via homesteading. In 1847, the McKinney’s transferred 73 ⅓ acres of land to Daniel through a verbal contract which was finalized in 1879. It was on this land that Daniel and Emeline Alexander raised their children, farmed, as Daniel continued to breed and train Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, .
As time went on, the family grew and spread throughout the country, and the farm’s ownership was divided between Daniel’s heirs until 1969 when Milton Everett Alexander consolidated ownership by purchasing the shares from family members with the promise that he would keep the land in the Alexander name and never sell it. It is on this land that Milton Everett’s descendants still reside.
Throughout the last 175 years, THE ALEXANDER FARM has been operated by six generations of farmers, with the seventh generation being trained to take over. Given its long history, the farm has seen many shifts in its primary function. When the land was transferred to Daniel Alexander in 1847, he used it to breed and train horses. When Daniel’s son, Milton Winston Alexander, took over the land, he significantly contributed by purchasing acres of land adjacent to and a short distance from the farm, a portion of which was seized by TxDOT in 1968 when US Highway 183 was rerouted over Route 2. Milton Winston also bought 100 acres in Elroy near Maha Loop for the family to expand their operations in 1895. The farm transitioned into a dairy farm in 1937 after Milton Winston's son, Milton Everett, took charge of the land. Under his care, the dairy farm became a flourishing operation, servicing six different dairy establishments in the region, including Superior Dairies, Oak Farms Milk, and Bell Creameries. In its peak operation, the farm had a variety of livestock on its land. The dairy operation continued with Milton Everett and his son Marcellus, Sr. teamed together, until operations ceased in the 1970s. Since then, the farmland has operated primarily as a livestock and beef cattle raising enterprise.
Three houses remain on the property. The oldest house to exist on the property was the home of Milton Winston and Helen and, later, Milton Everett and Velma. (It is unconfirmed as to when this house was built). After Velma passed in 1981, the house was given to Jennifer (daughter of Marcellus Winston) who has since passed. Her husband lives on the farm to this day. The second house to be added to the property was gifted by Milton Everett (via his aunt Bertha Alexander, daughter of Daniel Alexander, and/or his sister (also named Bertha), to Marcellus and Juanita after they married in 1948. Before it arrived in Pilot Knob, the already historic house is said to have functioned as a way station in Maha under the care of Bertha Alexander. After 1948 until 1994, the house served as the family home for the children of Marcellus and Juanita. However, in 1994, the third house was built for Marcellus and Juanita to live in. After they moved into the new house, the second house was left vacant until early 2017. Currently, Rosalind Alexander-Kasparik, daughter of Marcellus, is working with her siblings Winell, Carmen, Mark, and Gerald to restore and renovate the house to be used as a gathering place for the entire Alexander family. While the room configurations of the house have changed slightly, the siblings have been able to keep the south wall and roof supports as original. Also during the renovation process, the family discovered volcanic rock, which came from the 83-million-year-old Pilot Knob volcano, as part of the house’s foundation. The rocks were placed there by their father, Marcellus, Sr.
As a part of the farm’s operations, there have been a few barns on the property. The first one was built by Daniel Alexander and later dismantled in the late 1950s. The second hay barn was utilized during the dairy farm operation, but evidence fuels speculation that it was burned down by arsen in 1970. The structure used to milk the cows and facilitate the dairy still remains on the property, but it is currently not in use. The land will continue to be used as farmland, to honor the family legacy and livelihood. The most regal rise on the grazing pastureland may also ocassionally be used as a pop-up, outdoor amphitheater that will host dramatized versions of Daniel Alexander and his descendants' story.
Colton Road that runs adjacent to the southeastern frontage of The Alexander Farm was named in 1970 for the then-long-gone cotton crops. Likely laid by Daniel Alexander and/or his sons, the road will be renamed Daniel Alexander Way on or before September 14, 2022, by Travis County officials who support honoring the Alexander family farm legacy.