11 Aug

Friends Trip – Granite and Green Mountains: American Art and History Up East

Join the Friends of the Neill-Cochran House Museum for a six-day adventure in the history and artistry of New England.

The granite of New Hampshire and the Green Mountains of Vermont embraced an impressive range of artistry around the turn of the 20th century, including poets Robert Frost and E E Cummings; painters Winslow Homer and Maxfield Parrish; and America’s foremost sculptor in this period, Augustus St Gaudens, who anchored an artists’ colony at Cornish. An itinerary related to these figures will complement visits to famed houses from Georgian times to Frank Lloyd Wright.

Itinerary Overview –  June 25-30, 2017

Portland, Maine

City Tour
Wadsworth-Longfellow House (1785ff., childhood home of the famous poet)
Portland Museum of Art with special private visit to Winslow Homer’s Prouts Neck Studio
Portland Head Light


McPhaedris-Warner House (1716, earliest urban brick house in northern New England)
Moffatt-Ladd House (1763 elegant Georgian mansion; Portsmouth furniture; NSCDA property)
Lunch with New Hampshire Colonial Dames
Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion (1740ff., harbor-side home of first royal governor)

Lake Champlain

Shelburne Museum of Art (exceptional fine art and vast collections of American material culture)
Vermont State Capitol at Montpelier

Dartmouth, Cornish, Plymouth, Windsor

St Gaudens Studio (home, studio and gardens of America’s greatest 19th-century sculptor)
Cornish-Windsor Bridge over the Connecticut River (longest wooden covered bridge in the US)
Calvin Coolidge Homestead (1870? boyhood home and site of Coolidge’s Presidential oath-taking, 1923)


Currier Museum of Art, internationally renowned collection of European and American art    Zimmerman House (1950, Frank Lloyd Wright), observing the Wright 150 Robert Frost Farm (time permitting)

Featured Historic Hotels

2 nights in Portland at historic Regency (1895) in the Old Port District
3 nights at Inn at Mill Falls, Meredith NH, on Lake Winnipesaukee

Other inclusions

Porterage, breakfast daily, 2 lunches, 3 dinners, all ground transportation (chartered coach daily), museum admissions, guides and gratuities

Additional Costs

$200 gift to support operation and programs of the historic Neill-Cochran House Museum (Abner Cook, 1855)
Airfare via United Airlines (schedule pending) via Portland and/or Manchester; travel protection

Click Here to download a form with more information, including notes on different costs and accommodations. Then be sure to reserve your spot by mailing the printed form and your deposit to:

Karen Bluethman, Heart of Texas Tours
8501 Silver Ridge Drive
Austin, TX 78759

Have questions or concerns? Contact Karen Bluethman at (512) 345-2043 hottours@sbcglobal.net.

11 Aug

April 13 – Abner Cook Award 2017

Why Abner Cook?

“To give you an account of his life would be in a certain sense to write the history of this city,” said Reverend Richard Smoot of Abner Cook in 1884, nearly a full 45 years after he arrived in Austin at the year of its founding. Known for the quality of his work and his honest dependability in business, the architectural history of our city begins with Cook: The Hotchkiss House (1851-52), Woodlawn (1854), The Governor’s Mansion (1854-56), The Philips House (1854), Sweetbrush (1854), and our own Neill-Cochran House (1855-56) represent a majority of the 10 oldest structures extant in Austin. We give the Abner Cook Award to those who work to preserve or articulate this and other elements of our shared history.

Why Joe Pinnelli?

This spring, we invite you to join us in expressing our gratitude to Joe Pinnelli both for his careful stewardship of our historic house during its restoration and for his leadership in historic preservation across Austin and Texas including his award-winning restoration of the Neill-Cochran House from 2015-16. As the principals of the J Pinnelli Company, Joe and Janis Pinnelli have built a reputation as the premiere contractors for restoration of historic buildings. As an individual, Joe has served as a leader in the preservation community, having been appointed by Governor Ann Richards to oversee the restoration of the Texas Capitol and having served as the chairman of the Heritage Society (now Preservation Austin). In addition to their work preserving Texas History, both Joe and Janis have long-standing commitments to the community as a whole. Janis was both recognized by the YWCA of Greater Austin as Woman of the Year for Community Service and  inducted into the Austin Women’s Hall of Fame. Joe has been equally active, having served as Board Chair of SafePlace and Avance Austin.

For all of these reasons, it is our sincerest pleasure to honor Joe Pinnelli this year with the Abner Cook Award.

Why Us?

The Neill-Cochran House Museum makes preserving and reflecting the experience of some of Austin’s earliest residents its mission. Since its reemergence in the fall of 2015 after multiple stages and multiple years of careful restoration, the Neill-Cochran House Museum is now growing by leaps and bounds.  We have expanded our programming to include hands-on, history of STEAM workshops (History Lab), participation as a collaborative exhibition site in the West Austin Studio Tour, a makers’ workshop (Making History), and collaborations with the Bullock, the Briscoe Center, the Austin History Center, and the Governor’s Mansion resulting in our annual attendance increasing more than three-fold between 2015 and 2016. With the support of Humanities Texas and the Summerlee Foundation, we are currently developing an educational program designed to effectively and efficiently serve AISD students (including financial support to cover the cost of field trips from Title I schools) to be unveiled in Fall 2017. Simply put, this is a watershed moment in our development as a resource to our community.

As we honor Joe, we also invite you to support our mission to use our preserved past to inform the present and educate for the future. We preserve and present the groundwork of a growing Austin, Texas, and United States; the inspirations, observations, and cautions that we as a community may draw from our visible and tangible history are relevant and needed now for individuals in our society, for a public school system which struggles to bring history to the classroom, and for a city which as changed so rapidly.

Pledge a Sponsorship or RSVP

Abner Cook Award Honoring Joe Pinnelli - April 13th, 2017 6pm-8pm

Whether as a sponsor or as an individual attendee, join us in honoring Joe Pinnelli, his leadership in historic preservation, and our community’s need to access its shared past.

Questions about sponsorship, this event, or, prefer to give offline? Call us at 512.478.2335 or send us a note.

This Year’s Abner Cook Award is Generously Sponsored by:

Visionaries – $5,000 or more

Dorothy Knox Houghton

Architects – $2,500-$4,999

Harriet Christian

Master Builders – $1,000-$2,499

Karen Pope

Eliza Morehead

Caroline Caven

Liz Maxfield

Betty Bird

Susan and Earl Spruance

Fran Perez

Laura Caven

Janet Francis

Sonia and Sharon Wilson

Richard Slaughter

Tyson and Nicole Tuttle

Artisans $500-$999

Laura Bohls

Margaret Buescher

Joan Burnham

Susan Morehead

Vereen Woodward

Dolly Barclay

11 Aug

April 2 – NCHM at Work: Simple Machines

Block and tackle

What’s so simple about machines?

What is a machine? Many of us think of machines as things that do work for us, but we don’t often think about the machines that make our work go farther than it would on its own. If you want to lift a 200 pound weight, you could use your muscles (if you’re already really strong), or you could use a lever or a set of pulleys to make your work easier.

But rather than making our work easier this month, we went into the lab to figure out what makes simple machines work and to build a few models both large and small that we can experiment with.

Use the force!

History lab experimenters will be able to test their hypotheses on two full scale models of a first-class lever and a block and tackle (recommended for ages 10 & up or 6-10 with help from an adult or parent). We will also build our own force meters to investigate how pulleys, levers, and other kinds of simple machines make work go farther (recommended for ages 10 & up).

Weather permitting, we will also have croquet in the lawn. Bonus points for simple machines experiments who can guess what kind of simple machine is used to play croquet.

11 Aug

March 5 – Bright Ideas: The Lightbulb and the Electric Motor

Faraday disc
Electricity 2

Without ever being shocked,

Sunday Funday learned some really interesting things about lightbulbs and electric motors

Sunday, March 5th – 1pm to 4pm – FREE

“Is that really a lightbulb, or are you just having a great idea?”

This month, we at the History Lab have been thinking about electricity–specifically, about where it is in our lives and where it isn’t. When the Neill-Cochran House was completed in 1856, having ample indoor light at the flip of a switch was practically unimaginable. Today, we have to remind each other to turn off the lights before we leave the house. Meanwhile, next time you see a Tesla zip by you, think about the fact that from the early history of the automobile (aka horseless carriage) into the 1910s, it wasn’t clear whether gasoline engines or electric engines would become the standard.

With these things in mind, we rolled up our sleeves and decided to take a closer look at the well-known lightbulb and not-quite-as-well-known electric motor*. Here’s what we have for you, fellow experimenters, this month.

*electric motors are everywhere, even if they aren’t in that many cars

Re-inventing the lightbulb and the motor

Using nothing more than household batteries, History Lab experimenters can re-create some of Edison’s earliest attempts to find a filament that would give good light without burning too quickly AND build a simple model electric motor. We recommend this workshop for experimenters ages 8 & up, but younger children are welcome to work with an older child or an adult.

Questions about this event? Shine some light on our inbox or give us a call at 512-478-2335.

11 Aug

The Woman Must Marry, Else How Live: The Culture of Weddings from 1850-1950


The meaning of getting married

The American Wedding evolved alongside the material culture and social norms of the United States and the individual communities within it. The wedding ceremony did not exist as a fixed concept in most people’s minds until the middle of the 19th century. Weddings were the pragmatic products of their immediate environment rather than public celebrations–and displays of wealth.

This exhibit traces the culture of weddings as they took place in Texas from the beginning of the wedding as a common set of standards in the 1850s to the dawn of the more public and elaborate wedding that we experience and know today in the 1950s. Incorporating period textiles as well as original texts on the planning of weddings in the 19th century and the etiquette of courtship, we turn our focus not only on the material aspects of weddings but also on the social context in which men and women were married. As the setting and styling of the wedding evolved, so did common ideas of what men and women ought to do–including whether their love for each other was an indispensable part of a good marriage.

From the pragmatic ceremony staged at home (and sometimes without a minister or member of the clergy) to the publicly advertised gathering at a large civic space and from the practical union of a man to a woman whose vocation was the rearing of children to the centering of love and romance in the common understanding of weddings, we get married just as we live. The more we look at the historic context of weddings, the more we see that the way we understand the symbolism, pragmatism, and social implications embedded within the moment at which a marriage begins is not absolute but rather anchored in our own present.

Cake Topper Final
Jones Wedding Dress (with bride, too) (657x900) (2)

The Woman Must Marry, Else How Live? Opening Reception, Thursday, March 2nd, from 6:00 to 9:00pm

Amplify Neill-Cochran with complimentary cocktails by Freedmen's, a history of weddings, and live demonstrations of History Lab experiments.

We’re opening this exhibit in conjunction with our fundraising efforts for Amplify Austin 2017. (Read more about Amplify Austin here) Proceeds we raise during this event will go towards our $3,000 goal to fund another year of History Lab, our free, hands-on take on the history of technology and the arts.

We’ll be accepting live donations during the event by credit card, but you can also schedule your donation online anytime before March 3rd at 6:00pm.

11 Aug

Feburary 19 – The Senator versus the Regulator

Anti-regulation Texas squares off against the comparatively recently-formed Federal Power Commission. Returning to our look at the red scare politics of the 1950s, this month we turn to an early moment in Lyndon Johnson’s political career that would foreshadow the energy crisis of the 1970s. Bill Childs joins us for his talk, “The Senator versus the Regulator.”

read more
11 Aug

February 5: Sunday Funday: Pop-up Books

Pop-Up History

Long before one could pick up a tablet and conjure up a streaming video at the touch of a finger, the pop-up book was a popular sensation because of the way it engaged the imagination in a way that flat images and text never could. In fact, some of the earliest moving image books were anatomy texts; if a picture is worth a thousand words, pictures that move in 3 dimensions must be even more valuable!

While books with sliding and moving images date back at least to the 13th century, the pop-up book as we know it was not mass produced until 1930. By designing and building our own pop ups, we’ll get to think a little bit about the know-how it took to bring these familiar childhood books into our homes and lives – and have fun being creative, too!

How does it work?

Simple pop-up cards can be made with a few well-placed cuts and folds, glued flaps or accordions, and/or underlays. We’ll have examples of a different ways of creating a pop-up image along with all the materials and decorating supplies you’ll need. Staff and volunteers will be available to help with designs and pop-up book making, and we’ll also have pre-made pop-ups that younger kids (or anyone so inclined!) can decorate. Hint: pop-up cards make great valentines!

Throughout the afternoon, the historic house will be open for informal and self-guided tours. For those who wish to look more closely and carefully at some of the details of the architecture and historic furnishings, there will also be a museum seek-and-find guide (age appropriate to 7-11).

“Pop on by!”

We can’t take reservations for this free workshop and space is available on a first-come, first serve basis, but if you like what we’re up to and want to invite some friends, sign up and share on our Facebook page.

Think there’s no place to park in west campus? We can help! Parking is 100% free in the 40 space museum lot off of 23rd street between San Gabriel and Leon. Overflow parking is available on the street or 1 block away at the University Towers parking garage.


A volvella used by medieval astronomers



An example of a 1930s pop-up


A simple pop-up valentine





Another simple pop-up pattern

11 Aug

Remembered By Hand: Family Histories Illuminated

The Crazy Quilt Comes to Life

In a blaze of kaleidoscopic color, the late 1870s saw a fad rush in that took the United States by storm.  In a few short years, the crazy quilt was born, reached its zenith, and began a slow descent towards obscurity.  But within those years, the crazy quilt was king.  Magazines raved and shared tips and patterns for quilting.  Companies sold templates for embroidery, appliqués aimed directly at crazy quilters, and even grab bags of crazy quilt fabric.

Most crazy quilts share several characteristics.  First, they are not really quilts at all.  There is no “quilting,” that is to say, no stitching of a top fabric to a bottom fabric through a layer of batting.  Crazy quilts typically had no batting, often were never finished, and where finished had a silk or cotton backing that only loosely connected to the top.  Crazy quilts also typically featured silks and velvets, unlike most patchwork quilts, and elaborate embroidery stitching covered seams within blocks as well as between them.  Many quilts incorporated lace, appliqués, ribbons, hand-painted fabrics, and even beads and mirrors.  They provided women the opportunity to share their needlework skills in a context far more elaborate (dare we say flashy?) than a patchwork quilt or even a sampler.

The Centennial Exposition: Cultural Influences

Though precedents do predate the 1870s, the cultural phenomenon of the crazy quilt emerged directly from the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876.  This World Fair had a great influence on American culture, with millions visiting the fair and even more exposed to the exhibits through magazine articles.  Among other new trends, the Fair coincided with the first mass-marketing of Japanese culture outside of Japan.  This can be seen in the emphasis on printed fabrics, vibrant and exuberant color, and the many fan motifs incorporated into the quilts.

This exhibit brings together six crazy quilts from the Neill-Cochran House Museum’s permanent collection.  All of the quilts share characteristics, most notably an emphasis on velvet and silk fabrics and embroidered seams.  However, there are notable differences between the different quilts as well.  Some are backed, while others appear unfinished.  One quilt incorporates small mirrors, another pipe cleaners, and several are hand-painted.   All of the quilts reward close inspection and speak across the 100+ years since their creation to share the stories of their makers.

The preservation of some elements of our quilt collection is funded in part by a grant from the Quilter’s Guild of Dallas, Helena Hibbs Endowment Fund.

This exhibit will be on view from February 7th – February 25th, timed to coincide with quilt exhibitions by the Briscoe Center and the Texas Quilt Museum.