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The Haas House: Back from Ruin

The Doeppenschmidt-Haas farmstead, circa 1915. A sleeping porch stretched across the front of the one-room log house, and the kitchen was housed in a shed addition at the rear. Hog butchering days generated activity in the smoke house in the rear of the well-swept yard. Crops and a vegetable garden were planted in adjacent fields. Painting by Charles Shaw.
The Doeppenschmidt-Haas farmstead, circa 1915. A sleeping porch stretched across the front of the one-room log house, and the kitchen was housed in a shed addition at the rear. Hog butchering days generated activity in the smoke house in the rear of the well-swept yard. Crops and a vegetable garden were planted in adjacent fields. Painting by Charles Shaw.
Signs of home. A heart-shaped stone still hangs on a gate post to secure a long-missing gate. A rock-edged pathway leads to the front doorway. Photo by Susan Dial.
Signs of home. A heart-shaped stone still hangs on a gate post to secure a long-missing gate. A rock-edged pathway leads to the front doorway. Photo by Susan Dial.
In ruin: interior of house as viewed by TARL archeologists in 1989. Photo by Susan Dial.
In ruin: interior of house as viewed by TARL archeologists in 1989. Photo by Susan Dial.

"The holes between the logs would get so large you could throw a cat through them!"

Photo of the house circa 1915. The frame sleeping porch extends across the front of the house and the kitchen has been added to the rear. Courtesy Fred Haas.
Photo of the house circa 1915. The frame sleeping porch extends across the front of the house and the kitchen has been added to the rear. Courtesy Fred Haas.
Ash-filled trash heap outside rear wall of Haas house contained a variety of burned bone, glass, and metal objects. Residents apparently kept the yard area swept and burned trash behind the house. Photo by Susan Dial.
Ash-filled trash heap outside rear wall of Haas house contained a variety of burned bone, glass, and metal objects. Residents apparently kept the yard area swept and burned trash behind the house. Photo by Susan Dial.
Remnants of past pleasures. Marbles, toy parts, pieces of china dolls and figurines, and decorative glass bottle stoppers found in the Haas house. Several of the marbles are of a cheap, common clay variety known at the time as "commies;" these were manufactured in the United States from colonial times into the 1920s. Glass marbles, imported from Germany beginning in the 1840s, were mass-produced in the U.S. in the early 1900s. Photo by Elizabeth Andrews.
Remnants of past pleasures. Marbles, toy parts, pieces of china dolls and figurines, and decorative glass bottle stoppers found in the Haas house.
Remnants of past pleasures. Marbles, toy parts, pieces of china dolls and figurines, and decorative glass bottle stoppers found in the Haas house. Several of the marbles are of a cheap, common clay variety known at the time as "commies;" these were manufactured in the United States from colonial times into the 1920s. Glass marbles, imported from Germany beginning in the 1840s, were mass-produced in the U.S. in the early 1900s. Photo by Elizabeth Andrews.
"In small things forgotten…." The souvenirs and treasures of pioneer families: top row, left to right, Brunet and Mattingly Ice Co. token, ca. 1880; 2 Pfennig German coin, 1875; gold hoop earring; bone or ivory tuning key; mother-of-pearl fan brace. Bottom row, left to right, brass Centennial badge, 1876; decorative belt buckles; brass luggage tag marked, "International Traveler's Association, Dallas, Texas, USA." Photo by Elizabeth Andrews.
Examples of the many bottles and jars found; some provided important clues in dating the site. The bottle on bottom left probably held a toiletry item and was made before 1900, whereas the "shoo-fly" picnic flask (bottom right) was fully machine made after 1920 and likely held whiskey. The bottle on the far right (bottom row) carries more information, an embossed label marked " Dr. J.J. Tobin, Druggist, Austin, Texas." Early city directories tell us Dr. Tobin operated in Austin from 1872 to 1896.
Examples of the many bottles and jars found; some provided important clues in dating the site.
Bits of harness, tack, and saddlery are reminders of the farm animals at the site. At top left is a small brass harness bell; at bottom left, a saddle pommel.
Bits of harness, tack, and saddlery are reminders of the farm animals at the site. At top left is a small brass harness bell; at bottom left, a saddle pommel.
The Haas house after restoration completed. Photo by Tom Hester.
The Haas house after restoration completed. Photo by Tom Hester.


Investigations at the Doeppenschmidt-Haas house combined many lines of inquiry to date the structure and determine its period of use. Documentation of the structure, survey of the grounds, and test excavations within the house interior and two dump areas outside produced a quantity of artifacts and data. Perhaps most valuable, however, was having one of the former occupants, Fred Haas, as a "co-investigator." Mr. Haas provided a colorful and poignant look back at the farmstead during its heyday and corrected the archeologists' interpretations of several enigmatic features. His recollections are woven into the account of archeological findings.

The Haas family moved to the log house shortly after 1901, the year Fred Haas was born. Although he was nearly 90 when he was interviewed for this project, his memory was sharp and his storytelling abilities unfettered by age. Although poor health prevented him from being at the site during archeological investigations, he returned for a celebration with his family and the current owners following the restoration of the house. On viewing the painstakingly rebuilt log structure, he exclaimed in typically forthright fashion, "The house never looked this good!"

Life in a One-room House

Although no recorded information was found pertaining to the builder or date of construction of the log house, construction techniques and certain artifacts suggest it was built sometime in the 1870s. In contrast to the cruder, more hastily built log cabins built by the earliest settlers of Texas, the Doeppenschmidt-Haas house was well constructed and built for permanence, drawing on building traditions developed in Europe and the upper southern United States. The half-dovetail notching used is a construction type associated with fine craftsmanship that, according to cultural geographer Terry Jordan, suggests the hand of a knowledgeable workman rather than a communal barn-raising effort by neighboring farmers.

The house is a roughly square, single-pen dwelling made of hand-hewn cedar logs stacked horizontally, joined at corners with a combination of half- and full-dovetail notching, and secured at the upper plate with cedar pegs. Chinking between the logs was a mix of mud and small stones, plastered over with a lime slurry. Haas recalls that re-chinking had to be done by the family about every spring: "The holes between the logs would get so large you could throw a cat through them."

A front porch once extended across the front of the house, and it is shown in the circa 1915 photo of the house. It was there that family members slept on warm nights when the one-room house became too confining. It was there also that Haas believes one of the former residents was kept "locked up." "They claimed he'd lost his mind," he said. This recollection corresponds with census records for 1880 that list Phillip Doeppenschmidt as "temporarily insane and paralyzed." Doeppenschmidt, who died in 1881, was buried at the hillside cemetery several miles from the house.

For Haas and his three brothers and sisters, life in the one-room house was cramped but pleasant. Haas recalls his mother cooking in an iron kettle in the large fireplace and heating water there for family baths. Water was hauled from the creek several hundred yards down the hill. In subsequent years, a shed room was added for a kitchen at the rear of the house.

During his childhood, Haas wandered freely across adjacent properties in the Hill Country. His mother allowed neighbors to bring stock onto her property for water from the creek during times of drought. Others from the area remember that cattle and stock were branded and allowed to roam free among the large ranches. As barb wire fencing became increasingly popular in Texas after about 1880, the easily climbed dry-laid rock walls were gradually replaced.

The Artifacts

Artifacts found during tests dug in the house interior bore out the varied activities that took place in the house. These ranged from toy parts and keepsakes to kitchenware and animal bone. A great many mementos were found in a test unit placed under the west window; among these were a German coin, a gold earring, a porcelain figurine, and a pocketknife—all small enough to have slipped through cracks among the floor boards. The same may have been true for the many buttons recovered, fifteen of which were in front of the north doorway. Perhaps a pioneer woman sat there with her handwork and sewing to catch the breeze and natural light. Haas recalls, however, that as a child he dropped coins and buttons through the floorboards.

Fragments of stoneware and glass storage containers as well as bottles of patent medicine, snuff, and beverages were found in test excavations in the house and in the two dump areas outside the rock-walled yard. From the 1880s and later, these items could be purchased at stores in Bee Caves, Cedar Valley, and Austin. Haas recalls walking several miles to Cedar Valley to buy snuff for his mother. He also recalls visits to Hallman's store several miles away.

For larger purchases, the family periodically travelled to Austin. The trip was a day-long process by wagon or on horseback along Bee Cave Road, a rocky and rutted dirt lane so narrow that cedar branches brushed the wagons. The road was not paved until 1936. Travelers crossed the Colorado River by ferry or, by 1890, bridges over Barton Creek and the Colorado River.

Some of the artifacts—a brass luggage tag, the German coin, ornate black glass buttons, beads, the earring, and fragments of decorative bric-a-brac—are more unusual items, particularly when considered in the context of the rugged frontier lifestyle epitomized at the site. Several appear to be the keepsakes of fairly worldly individuals who had traveled in a large city. Such a profile might fit an immigrant family—either Doeppenschmidt or Haas—who had retained mementos of a land and lifestyle left behind.

Artifacts were analyzed both for clues for dating the site as well as for information about the families themselves. One interesting piece of information that emerged from the study was the similarity of tableware and glassware used by folks in rural areas and in the city of Austin during the roughly fifty-year time period from 1880 to 1930. Vessels of plain white ironstone, or whiteware, predominated until a wide array of colorful decorated styles came into vogue in the early 1900s. That rural folk living on what were essentially "frontier" farmsteads would share the same style preferences with city dwellers and be part of a larger network of commerce is testament, perhaps, to the far-reaching effects of mail order catalogs.

Afterward

Although the house lacked such amenities as electricity, indoor plumbing, or a well, it was occupied into the late 1930s by families with as many as four children. At that point, the land was purchased as part of a larger acquisition by the current landowners who determined to restore the log house and protect the other historic sites nearby. With Austin architect Joe Freeman overseeing renovations, the house was brought back from ruin. The yard was cleared and landscaped using native plants and the rock wall surrounding the house carefully re-laid. Today the house, looking much as it did when first completed by the careful craftsman over a century ago, is used as a family retreat.


View of the Haas house prior to restoration. Photo by Tom Hester.
View of the Haas house prior to restoration. Photo by Tom Hester.

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Hand-hewn cedar log walls with mud and stone chinking. Plaster was applied over the walls as a final seal against wind, bugs, and snakes.
Hand-hewn cedar log walls with mud and stone chinking. Plaster was applied over the walls as a final seal against wind, bugs, and snakes.
Building materials, furniture parts, and keys found at the Haas house. Square cedar pegs, such as that shown at bottom left, were used to join the log walls at the corner of the house. A variety of nails, including square cut and round-head wire types were found along with a few earlier hand-wrought specimens. The skeleton keys likely were for trunks. Photo by Elizabeth Andrews.
Building materials, furniture parts, and keys found at the Haas house. Square cedar pegs, such as that shown at bottom left, were used to join the log walls at the corner of the house.
A large, caved-in, rock enclosure around these trees was puzzling to archeologists. Did it mark a grave? A seep spring? Former resident Fred Haas was tickled to tell us that it had been a pen for hogs while he and his family lived at the farm. Photo by Susan Dial.
A large, caved-in, rock enclosure around these trees was puzzling to archeologists. Did it mark a grave? A seep spring? Former resident Fred Haas was tickled to tell us that it had been a pen for hogs while he and his family lived at the farm. Photo by Susan Dial.
A look at some of the toys advertised in the Fall 1900 Sears, Roebuck, Inc. Catalog. Although children in rural areas sometimes made do with homemade toys, some of the toy parts found at the Haas house were mass-produced items, either purchased in town or by catalog. Photo by Elizabeth Andrews.
A look at some of the toys advertised in the Fall 1900 Sears, Roebuck, Inc. Catalog.
Necessities and pleasures, these items representing daily life range from a shoe-button hook for a high top boot (middle row, left) to a Prince Albert tobacco can, to a harmonica reed (bottom row, right). They hold temporal information as well. The leather sole, center, was made to fit the left foot. Prior to the Civil War, shoes were universal in cut and could be worn on either foot. The Prince Albert tobacco can holds a more obvious clue, marked as "Process Patented Since 1907." Photo by Elizabeth Andrews.
Necessities and pleasures, these items representing daily life range from a shoe-button hook for a high top boot (middle row, left) to a Prince Albert tobacco can, to a harmonica reed (bottom row, right).

Beads and buttons, both fancy and plain, provide a glimpse of how rural folk dressed near the turn of the century. The two black glass buttons on second row at left have ornate molded designs and may have come from Victorian period mourning style dresses of the late 1800s. At the far right of the same row are transfer-printed ceramic buttons with black and green calico designs; these were made from the 1840s to about 1900. Other buttons range from a tiny mother-of-pearl button used for infant's clothing to metal buttons from men's overalls.
Beads and buttons, both fancy and plain, provide a glimpse of how rural folk dressed near the turn of the twentieth century.
Side view of restored house, with chimney rebuilt. Wagon wheel hanging on chimney was found in adjacent field. Photo by Tom Hester.
Side view of restored house, with chimney rebuilt. Wagon wheel hanging on chimney was found in adjacent field. Photo by Tom Hester.
Interior of Haas house after restoration. Photo by Tom Hester.
Interior of Haas house after restoration. Photo by Tom Hester.
Fred Haas, who grew up in the log house, returns to see the newly restored structure.
Fred Haas, who grew up in the log house, returns to see the newly restored structure.