New Face for the New Millennium:
Restoration at the Neill-Cochran House Museum in the 2000s
In December 2008, we noted significant degradation of mortar in the basement of the Neill-Cochran House Museum. The culprit? Differential movement in the building due to dramatic growth in our West Campus neighborhood.
The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in Texas rose to the challenge, raising funds for the first stage of a two-phase project. The foundation and structural support lintels were reinforced around the historic main structure and the air conditioning and heating systems were brought up to date, including a substantive asbestos abatement program. All of the furnishings and fixtures were removed from the house – when work began on the second floor the contractor, Braun & Butler, constructed a dramatic two-story stair to access the building while protecting the 1856 cantilevering balcony. The structural work completed, we addressed plaster repair on the interior, repainted with historically-appropriate colors, and refined our interpretation of the historic spaces by incorporating an exhibit gallery and new Cochran rooms with original family furnishings.
After a pause to assess the remainder of the work to be done, in 2014 we embarked on Phase II – the restoration of our historic windows, blinds, and columns, walkways, front steps, and major water remediation in the area of the Dependency, a secondary structure as old as the main building. We partnered with J. Pinnelli Company and VOH Architects to complete the work, which has seen craftsmen working day in and day out to bring the public face of the 160 year-old house up to unprecedented perfection.
Untangling the inherently historical act of preserving this window on our community’s past from the Austin history the house has already recorded is near impossible. As staff, dedicated Dames, and sustaining Friends, we find our place in time as the people who hold up, repair, and teach using this one unique cultural resource. But, these actions are as much about what we can hold in our hands, smooth with sandpaper, paint on with a brush, or dig out with a shovel as they are about ideas and convictions. This page is our preservationist’s-eye-view of the work that goes into engaging the past with the present for the sake of the future.