Tucked away in North University, a neighborhood that sits between the University of Texas campus and Hyde Park, is a house with a historic — and haunted — past.
Opened in 1908, the Confederate Woman's Home at 3710 Cedar St. now serves as the present site of AGE of Central Texas, but it was originally built to house the widows, wives, and orphans of Confederate soldiers or women who had participated in the war effort.
Many of the women living in the home were either widows or married to men living at Texas Confederate Home, which was located at 1600 W. Sixth St. While that building was eventually torn down and became the married student housing for University of Texas students, the Confederate Woman's Home, sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Confederate Women's Home, still exists.
Although the building has undergone major renovations during its 111-year history, it is believed that some of the original occupants remain.
The widows move in
The requirements for residents to live in the Confederate Woman's Home mandated that women be 60 years or older, with limited financial resources. Their husbands or relatives had fought during the Civil War, from 1861 to 1865, and as they approached old age, many found they were without money or support to live at home. To help, United Daughters of the Confederacy opened the home in 1909 to serve the aging population.
Morbidly, due to the number of female residents with infirmities, both a hospital and morgue were also added to the property.
Although the home was originally founded by the UDC, due to primarily financial reasons, the home was turned over to the state of Texas in 1911. From 1911 through the 1940s, the home continued to serve women in Austin. Following World World II, however, the population steadily declined, and in 1963, the last three women were sent to private nursing homes and the State of Texas officially closed the doors.
Figures available vary, but a historical marker in front of the home, erected by the Texas Historical Commission, reveals that "over 3,000 wives and widows" made their home at the location.
A place for children
The building sat unused until 1972 when the state began housing children with special needs that were residents of the School for the Deaf, Blind and Orphans. Infirmary rooms that once housed dying widows were converted into classrooms, a gym, and an area for physical therapy exercise. Hallways that were once filled with senior women were now filled with children playing in the halls.
A decade later, the students were merged back into the main campus at Burnet Road and 45th Street, and the school was renamed the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in 1989.
But, like the aging widows, there were some children who moved in and never moved out.
Today, the AGE of Central Texas offices are housed on Cedar Street, providing caregiving workshops and other free opportunities for the senior population in Travis County to grow and thrive as they age. AGE also provides critical services for a consortium of nonprofit agencies serving seniors, including Meals on Wheels, Lutheran Social Services, and Hospice Austin.
After hours, the space continues to be magnet for those curious in the spooky and spectral. Rob Faubion, director of marketing and communications for AGE, says ghost hunters have identified four unexplained spirits that haunt the grounds.
The first are two women, presumably war widows, who sit chatting in what was once the upstairs parlor. Two children appear to have stayed as well. The hunters believe there is a little girl who runs along the upstairs parlor and a little boy who plays downstairs, much to the chagrin of modern-day AGE employees.
In her book Haunted Austin, Jeanine Plumer recounts some of the terrifying tales as they were told to her, including stories of children screaming, toys being left on the ground, and a woman in white who stars in many of the Confederate Woman's Home's ghost stories.
To learn more about the former occupants of the home, pick up Haunted Austin or head to the Oakwood Cemetery (Austin's first cemetery, originally named City Cemetery) on October 26. A free hour-long public tour, Murder, Mayhem & Misadventure, will be offered from 10 am to 4 pm. The tours feature costumed actors at grave sites and highlights the cemetery's "residents" who died untimely deaths from the 1860s to the 1910s.