History of Austin

Pioneering Austin attraction gives visitors living history of Central Texas' past

Pioneering attraction gives visitors living history of Austin's past

Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms Austin
Pioneer Farms provides a living history of Austin. Photo courtesy of Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms

Nestled away in today's very modern city are 90 acres that very much embody Austin's past. Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms, known simply as Pioneer Farms, is a group of original homesteads that provide a living history of Central Texas pioneer life through the 1800s.

Located about 11 miles northeast of downtown Austin, Pioneer Farms allows visitors to experience six sites important to the history of Central Texas: a Tonkawa encampment, an 1853 greenbelt, an 1868 German farm, an 1873 Texian farm (residents of Mexican Texas and later the Republic of Texas before it became a U.S. state), an 1887 cotton planter's farm, and a rural village from 1899.

Visitors have the option of taking a self-guided tour of the property or following a detailed map along with narration by native Texas storyteller Thomas Burkhardt. The tour includes former homes of a horse doctor, a former lawyer and governor, a seitengebaude (German word for outhouse), and encounters with native wildlife.

History of Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms
Pioneer Farms first opened in 1975 primarily as a site for summer camps and other activities, eventually adding festivals in the 1990s. In 2003, the Heritage Society of Austin took management over the property, innovating the farms' offerings and experience, and adding staff, including Mike Ward, who volunteers to serve as CEO.

"A lot of people don't know about Texas history, the farm is a tremendous opportunity to learn," says Ward, who notes the farms had more than 56,000 visitors last year. "We offer a family-friendly, hands-on approach where visitors can touch history, smell history, and tour the sites."

Learning the past in the present day
Claire Steffan is the director of experience and oversees exhibits, volunteers, and collections at the farms. (As she says, she is in charge of the "museumy side of things.") Currently, she says, spring break and summer camps are not offered at the farm. Instead, visitors can opt for an experiential field trip or curate their own event, including weddings; family reunions; campouts; dances and hoedowns; fundraising galas; filmmaking; and annual events such as Christmas, Halloween, and other holidays.

In addition to events, Pioneer Farms has an extensive artisan program, designed to preserve pioneer crafts through practice, demonstration, and education. 

"We have a strong blacksmithing group with beginning classes for youth and adults and more advanced classes to stretch a person's skills and experience," explains Jesse Stamper, lead blacksmith and director of artisans at Pioneer Farms.

In addition to blacksmithing, curious students can take woodworking, leather making, textile, home and garden, and culinary classes, Pioneer Farms also offers "heritage" education, which allows visitors to learn the art of soapmaking, candle making, basketmaking, and flint knapping.

Future of the historical farm
Pioneer Farms offers a unique glimpse into Austin's past in a time where the city's future is unclear. The nonprofit relies on funding and community donations, which can be made by purchasing season passes or making a one-time donation.

The historical site also is currently looking for volunteers to help in the future. For more information, head here