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WHEATVILLE, TX (TRAVIS COUNTY)

WHEATVILLE, TEXAS (Travis County). Wheatville, the first black community associated with Austin after the Civil War, was located at the western edge of Austin on former plantation land. The boundaries of Wheatville corresponded to present 24th Street to the south, 26th Street to the north, Shoal Creek to the west, and Rio Grande Street to the east. James Wheat, a former slave from Arkansas, brought his family to the area and founded the community in 1867. In 1869 he bought a plot of land at what is now 2409 San Gabriel Street and became Wheatville's first landowner. Wheat raised corn in a site now bounded by Guadalupe, West 24th, and San Gabriel streets. Wheatville residents worked mainly as domestics in white households, merchants in the community, and as semiskilled laborers in the Austin construction industry. A few blacksmiths lived in Wheatville, and some residents farmed and raised livestock. George Franklin, a former slave and a carpenter, purchased land at the site of present-day 2402 San Gabriel in 1869 and constructed a stone building with walls four stones thick. Now known as the Franzetti building, it became the center of the community as subsequent owners used it to house families, grocery stores, various other businesses, and churches. Jacob Fontaine, a prominent Baptist minister, settled at Wheatville in the late 1860s. The St. John Regular Missionary Baptist Association, organized by Fontaine and originally named the Travis County Association, convened at Wheatville in 1868. Fontaine and his family lived in the Franzetti building periodically from 1875 to 1898. In 1876 he used it for the office of the Austin Gold Dollar, an early black newspaper. In 1889 Fontaine organized and opened the New Hope Baptist Church at the site. It moved to another location in Wheatville several years later. In 1904 the Pilgrim Home Baptist Church organized at Wheatville. The Wheatville community had what was probably an informal school in 1876, attended by sixty-six students. In 1877 the Travis County Court designated surplus building funds from its sixth district for the building of free public schools for African Americans. Two schools, one at Wheatville, the other in East Austin, were built. The Wheatville school opened in 1881. W. H. Passon, a prominent black educator in Austin, served on the school staff and later became principal. In 1896 the school had an enrollment of sixty students. In 1904 ninety-seven students attended the school.

Wheatville had about 300 inhabitants at its peak, which was probably around the turn of the century. The community remained relatively isolated until Austin's white population began to expand toward the more varied landscape and better drainage offered to the west. Wheatville began gradually changing to a neighborhood of Italian immigrants, and white residents surrounded the community. In 1905 Salvatore Perrone bought the Franzetti building and began operating a grocery store there. As land values in the area increased, the city passed restrictions on building quality and the raising of livestock within city limits. The presence in East Austin of Tillotson College, Huston College, and a high school were inducements for black residents to leave Wheatville, since they disliked the long commute their older children had to make across town. In 1913 a social survey of Austin reported an accumulation of garbage and waste in the streets of Wheatville and blamed the lack of city sanitation service on the community. The survey also reported that city garbage wagons often dumped their loads into the community's streets and alleyways before arriving at the local dumpsite. Most black residents endured the hardships and remained, as indicated by the enrollment of 177 students at the Wheatville school in 1914. Between 1915 and 1920 the city of Austin passed more building restrictions designed to affect Wheatville residents. The Wheatville school enrollment had dropped to forty-four by 1924. In 1928 the city of Austin adopted a plan to locate all public facilities for blacks, presumably schools, recreation facilities, and health clinics, in East Austin. The plan's stated purpose was to draw the remaining black inhabitants in western Austin to the east. The Wheatville school closed in 1932, and the community had practically vanished by the mid-1930s. A few black families remained in the area, working mainly as domestics in white households and later in fraternity and sorority houses near the University of Texas. The New Hope Baptist Church relocated to East Austin about 1939, and the Pilgrim Home Baptist Church had moved there by 1952. The remaining sign of Wheatville is the stone building at 2402 San Gabriel, which was purchased by Joe M. Franzetti in 1919. Members of the Franzetti family operated a grocery store there until the late 1950s. In August 1977 the Austin City Council declared the building a historical landmark. The Wheatsville Food Co-op, founded in 1976, was named in memory of the community.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Austin American-Statesman, October 7, 1984. Austin History Center Files. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, A Pictorial History of Austin, Travis County: Texas's Black Community, 1839–1920 (Austin, 1972). Jacob Fontaine III and Gene Burd, Jacob Fontaine (Austin: Eakin Press, 1983). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (Jacob Fontaine).

Nolan Thompson

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Nolan Thompson, "WHEATVILLE, TX (TRAVIS COUNTY)," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hpw01), accessed December 21, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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