McMinn Law Firm Historic Building

McMinn Law’s Office Holds Place in Austin History

Historic McMinn Law Firm Building Built By Scottish Immigrant

McMinn Law Firm team uncovered some of the hidden history behind our place of work. We know it as the place we meet with clients, leave for much needed coffee runs and shelters us from unpredictable Texas weather. But this house has a history that remembers long before car accidents and vehicles were an issue to residents of Austin, TX.

So what did we find? The McMinn Law Firm office is historically known as the Smith-Bickler House or one of the “Twin Houses.” According to records “it was one of twin houses built on lots 3 and 4 in block 177 of the original city.”

The house was designated a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1975 and listed on the National Register of Historic Place son April 20, 1979. It was through this registry that much of this information has been recorded and shared.

Construction of “Twin Buildings” around 1883

Date of erection: Circa 1883-1885. The present owner recalls seeing an encryption on the brick which stated that John G. Palm was the first occupant.

The builder was likely James Baird Smith. He purchased the property in May 1883. According to the 1880 census, he was a carpenter and builder, and was born in Scotland. The carpenter had six children, and in 1883 the oldest was thirteen. In 1883 he was 37.
He was listed in the Austin city directories between 1872 and 1873, as well as directories between 1906-1907 as a “carpenter,” “builder,” “architect,” and “contractor.” All children were born in Texas. Smith died sometime between 1907 and 1909. James Baird Smith built many houses in the area including a two story house located nearby at 502 W. 13th St Austin TX 78701.

The historians made note of several unique qualities of the “twin houses” on W 14th.
“This residence is an example of a well-designed, well-constructed small stone house built in the City of Austin during the late nineteenth century. The use of cut stone quoins and trim, probably from the old capitol building is rarely found in small residential structures of the area.”

Historians were not able to verify that the building was constructed of the old capitol building – but they do indicate that it was probably the case.

The Capitol building that stands today in the heart of Austin, TX was constructed in 1885. Before that there were three other buildings that were used as a state Capitol when Austin was named the capitol of Texas. The first building was a log cabin. The second state capitol building is shown to the right. It stood until 1881 when it burned in the “great capitol fire”. This is the building that historians believe was used to build what is now the McMinn Law Office.

Residents of 502 W 14th from 1887 – 1887

photo of McMinn Law Firm office
Detail of Doorway in what researchers called the “South Elevation.” Photo taken in 1974 by Roy Pledger.

Early Residents: Jacob Bickler, Mary Bickler

In 1893, 502 W 14th Street was once the home of Jacob Bickler, a pioneer in early Austin education. Jacob Bickler’s life has been celebrated as an early pioneer in Texas education. Records show that in 1872 Jacob Bickler purchased the home.

Jacob Bickler

Jacob Bickler moved to Austin from Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1872 to work as a teacher in Bickler German-English Academy until April 1873. Then he took a new work position at the General Land Office of Texas as an assistant draftsman and calculator. There he met Martha Lungkwitz Bickler while she was employed as a clerk to the General Land Office. Jacob Bickler married Martha Lugkwitz Bickler in 1874.

Mary Marth Lungwitz Bickler

Martha Lungkwitz Bickler is recognized as the first female employee for the Texas government. The couple had 9 children together.

Bickler family portrait at 502 W 14th st

Above, Jacob Bickler and Martha Bickler are seated inside 502 W 14th St, circa 1880. Both were German immigrants to the United States. Click to view the photo in higher resolution.

bickler family 502 W 14th st
Photograph of the family of Jacob Bickler standing outside a house (502 West 14th Street) on the front porch.

In 1877 Bickler founded the Texas German and English Academy, which he operated at 502 W 14th st for 10 years. In 1887 Jacob Bickler accepted the superintendency for Galveston Public Schools. He returned to Austin in 1892. Access this record at tshaonline.org.

Records indicate that the family were early members of the Congregational Church of Austin, TX. Click here to read the church history account written by Jacob Bicker’s son, Ralph A. Bickler. Likely during that time period, the photo shown below was taken which shows the Bickler family with Elisabet Ney in front of her home. 

Elisabet Ney and Bickler family

Elisabet Ney’s home (pictured above) is located at 304 E 44th St, Austin TX. Elisabet Ney was a celebrated German sculptor who moved to Austin in 1882. At that time, the home was known as a place where influential Texans gathered to discuss politics, art and philosophy. Today the home operates as a museum.

The Elisabet Ney museum has been closed indefinitely for public safety during the pandemic. Typically admission is free to view the iconoclastic sculptor’s works of art.

See the records Texas State Historic Sites records of residence:

Austin Residents of 502 W. 14th st: James E Chapman

In 1887, the property was purchased by James E. Chapman, of the State Treasury Department. His name can be found in Morrison and Fourmy’s General Directory of the City of Austin 1900-1901.

National Register of Historic Places: Smith-Clark and Smith-Bickler Houses

Although built at the same time, only one of the “twin houses” is designated a historic property. Owners of the property for 504 W. 14th st took an additional measure to conserve the history in Austin during the 1970s.

In 1975 a team of researchers collected the history and compiled their findings into a report for the National Historic Landmarks. At that time, only the house on 504 W 14th, the Smith-Clark House was included in the report.

In their report, they include some details about the transition of residents who occupied the property at 504. W. 14th St. Through these deeds, we took a glimpse into the changing lives of Austinites since the 1890s.

  • 1883 – Deed May 1, 1883, recorded May 2, 1883, Volume 55, pages 470-473. William and Henrietta Schroeder and E.W. Ashcraft and wife to James B. Smith Lots 3 and 4 “together with all and singular rights members, improvements, hereditaments and appurtenances.”
  • 1886 – Deed of Trust October 19, 1886, recorded November 10, 1886, Volume 71, pages 1-10.
    Between James B. Smith and wife, Mary K., and Henery A. Linn and A.S. Johnson. Lots 3 and 4 described as “no part of the homestead of the said parties.”
  • 1899 – Deed June 6, 1899, recorded June 22, 1899, Volume 159, pages 42-44. Property sold at public sale. Defendants James B. Smith, Mary K. Smith, et al. to Dillwyn Parrish and James Brown Potter.

When the property was entrusted to E.J. Cavileer, the deed states that he was prohibited from cutting down any of the trees. Today’s homeowners in Austin may relate to the frustrations of making modifications to homes.

  • 1901 – Deed of Trust June 14, 1901, recorded October 23, 1901, Volume 169, pages 2740277. E.J. Cavileer to James Brown Potter et al. Conditions of deed specified that Cavileer “keep said improvements in good habitable repair,” and “not, without the written permission of the Trustees herein, cut, or allow to be cut any wood or timber on siad premises, except preservation and repair of the fences and other improvements on said premises.”
  • 1902 – Deed May 8, 1902, recorded October 8, 1902, Volume 184, page 38. E.J. Cavileer and wife Olivia to Mrs. Leah B. Copes.

Researchers discovered a missing link when they looked for the will of Mrs. Leah B. Copes. They noted that her will was not formally recorded in Travis, County. However, later deeds show that the property was divided among three different parties. They were Mary E. Copes, H.B. Copes, and Robert J. Hammond and wife Lucie.

Just 10 years after Texas became a state, anyone could write a legal will. In 1856 a new provision was ordered that allowed anyone “of sound mind” to make a last will and testament.

  • 1912 – Deed September 11, 1912, recorded September 19, 1912, Volume 253, page 434. H.B. Copes, son and one of three heirs of Mrs. Leah B. Copes, conveyed his one-third interest or “the proceeds of said property now in the hands of Robert J. Hammond” to Mary E. Copes.

In 1912 the property house was transferred to the son of Mrs. Leah B. Copes, Robert J. Hammond and his wife Lucie.

  • 1916 – Deed December 9, 1912, recorded September 4, 1915, Volume 276, page 4770478. Mary E. Copes to Robert J. Hammond and wife Lucie.

It’s not clear from the records put down in the 70s when the property’s history was collected into one place, but it seems that just 4 years after acquiring the house in 1912, Robert J. Hammond died. The house was left to his wife, Lucie C. Hammond. For men, the life expectancy in 1912 was 51.2 years of age. For women the life expectancy was 55.9. Therefore, it is not surprising the husband could have passed away shortly after the couple moved into a new home.

A Right to Hold Property: Women’s History in Texas

When Lucie Hammond’s husband died (if we move forward with this assumption), she acquired the property. In 1912 a woman could not vote. Nor could she serve on a jury. But she could own property. As Texas grew in population size and urban cities expanded, more women were entering the workforce in more public roles.

In Texas, women held more privilege than they would have had in other states in part because of the state’s patchwork history. Spanish rule may have been pushed out of Texas first when Mexico took it’s independence from Spain, second when Texas took it’s independence from Mexico, and last when Texas became a state in the United States. But Spanish law left an indelible mark on laws in Austin and across Texas.

Within a marriage the Spanish Law indicated limited, but specific rights to married women. This differed from the English Common-Law practice of marrying the wife’s legal identity with her husband’s.
A woman in Texas could sue, be sued, own and control property, and if widowed have custody of her children. In 1916 Lucie C. Hammond was considered “a femme sole” – just another way of indicating that she was single. She sold the property to Hal Hailey.

    • 1916 – Deed July 21, 1916, recorded August 7, 1916, Volume 286 page 410-411. Lucie C. Hammond, “a femme sole” to Hal Hailey.
    • 1917 – Deed May 3, 1917, recorded May 8, 1917, Volume 294, pages 345-46. Hal Hailey to J.H.Rogers.

    The house changed hands a few more times. In 1918 the house moved to the hands of A.L. Netherly and his wife Mary Leon. In 1921 they sold the property to J.H. Fowler and his wife Blanche E. Agin in 1924 the house changed hands again to Lucille Clark. Some things change – like names. At the time, Lucille was the 992nd most popular boy’s name in the United States. (OK not very high on the list, but that just goes to show the name was already going out of fashion for boys.)

    Clark kept the house until 1959 when the house was sold to S.S. Laird. However Laird didn’t hold onto the property for any amount of time as he sold it just 3 months later to Homer D. Smith and wife Hazel L. They were the owners of the property in 1975 when the study was conducted. The couple operated an Antique shop downtown and lived in the Balcones neighborhood in Northwest Austin.

    Before Cars or Crashes, Congress Avenue in Austin Texas

    This photo captures Lundberg Bakery on 1006 Congress Avenue, Austin, Travis County, TX. Looks a lot different now, right? Before cars people moved around town by horse. This photo was taken sometime in the 1890s in Austin. At that time the population of Austin was 14,575.

    Today, the population of Austin, TX is estimated to be 978,908 by a 2019 Census Bureau Annual Estimate Report. During most of Austin’s growth the city has had to contend with the traffic of vehicles. Austin’s traffic has long been considered bad – remember the traffic scene in cult-classic Office Space? Even in 1999 the city was known for two things – the growing tech industry and infuriating traffic.

Before cars and automobiles ruled the roadways it was horses and people on foot or bike that you might see traveling. The decorative hitching rail seen to the right still stands in front of the McMinn Law Office. It is just one of the memories we hold from Austin’s vibrant history.

Austin Car Accident Lawyer

Today the building is used by local Austin personal injury attorneys as office space.

If you or someone you know has been injured in a fall, work injury, or car accident, don’t hesitate to call Austin Crash Lawyers at McMinn Law Firm. Our dedicated staff has the experience to ensure you can get the justice you deserve. No case is too small for McMinn Law Firm. Give us a call at our office on 502 W 14th St. at (512) 474-0222.