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Intensive Cultural Resources Survey of the Messinger Tract, Austin, Travis County, Texas
Texas Historical Commission
Horizon Environmental Services, Inc. (Horizon) was selected by MileStone Community Builders, LLC (MileStone) to conduct a cultural resources inventory and assessment of potential US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) jurisdictional areas within a 11.0-hectare (27.2-acre) proposed development tract in southern Austin, Travis County, Texas. The tract is located a short distance south of West Slaughter Lane and is bounded on the east by David Moore Drive, on the west by Bilbook Place, and on the north by the southern end of Swansons Ranch Road. A large homestead complex is located in the eastern and southern portions of the tract. An unnamed tributary or Slaughter Creek flows southward through the eastern portion of the tract. The proposed undertaking is located on private property and would be privately funded. However, the developer has proposed impacts to the unnamed tributary of Slaughter Creek that flows through the eastern portion of the property. This water feature meets the criteria for designation as “waters of the US” (WOTUS). As such, construction activities that would impact this jurisdictional feature would be subject to federal permitting by the USACE, Fort Worth District, under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). As this is a federal permit, the proposed construction activities within the USACE’s permit area would fall under the jurisdiction of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, as amended. The purpose of the cultural resources survey was to determine if any cultural resources are located within the Area of Potential Effect (APE). The Area of Potential Effect (APE) associated with USACE jurisdictional features typically consists of the water feature(s) and the associated uplands on opposing banks. This jurisdiction does not extend for a standardized distance in any direction; however, for purposes of the current cultural resources survey and in an attempt to assess the full extent of areas the USACE could determine to fall within their jurisdiction, Horizon utilized an APE extending approximately 182.9 3 meters (600.0 feet) from the defined edges of proposed impact areas along the jurisdictional stream and ponds. Utilizing this buffer, the archeological survey area included approximately 9.4 hectares (23.3 acres) of the 11.0-hectare (27.2-acre) tract (roughly 86% of the overall tract), though the permit area will ultimately be decided by the USACE. While typical profiles of the depth of ground disturbance are not available, subsurface impacts associated with foundation slab construction likely will extend a maximum of 0.8 meter (2.5 feet) below surface based on typical construction practices, though deeper impacts extending to a depth of 1.82meters (4.0 feet) may be expected in limited areas associated within installation of subsurface utilities. On June 1 and 2, 2020, Horizon archeologists Mckinzie Froese and Colene Knaub, under the overall direction of Jeffrey D. Owens, Principal Investigator, performed an intensive cultural resources survey of the APE to locate any cultural resources that potentially would be impacted by the proposed undertaking. Horizon’s archeologists traversed the archeological survey area on foot and thoroughly inspected the modern ground surface for aboriginal and historic-age cultural resources. The survey area is situated on limestone uplands dissected by a narrowly incised, unnamed tributary of Slaughter Creek and one or two additional, smaller gullies or drainages that feed into this channel. Vegetation across the majority of the project area consists of relatively open cedar, live oak, and hackberry forests with light understory of grasses and weeds, though vegetation along the stream channel was considerably thicker. The southeastern portion of the project area is the site of the Messinger family homestead (designated herein as archeological site 41TV2573), which is characterized primarily by short, manicured lawn grasses, though a few less-tended areas were more overgrown, and copses of live oak, cedar, and hackberry trees. Erosion has been extensive across the project area, and the project area is characterized by shallow soils and rocky limestone outcrops. Artificial disturbances resulting from landscaping activities associated with the Messinger homestead are extensive across the southern portion of the project area. Ground surface visibility was generally high (60 to 80%) in the more open wooded settings that characterize the northern portion of the project area and poor (<20%) in the southern portion of the project area due to thick, grassy lawns in the Messinger homestead area and dense deciduous vegetation along the stream. In addition to pedestrian walkover, the Texas State Minimum Archeological Survey Standards (TSMASS) require a minimum of two shovel tests per 0.4 hectare (1.0 acre) for projects measuring 10.1 hectares (25.0 acres) or less in size plus one additional shovel test per 2.0 hectares (5.0 acres) beyond the first 10.1 hectares (25.0 acres). As such, a minimum of 47 shovel tests would be required within the 9.4-hectare (23.3-acre) archeological survey area. Horizon excavated a total of 64 shovel tests, thereby exceeding the TSMASS for a survey area of this size. Shovel testing typically revealed thin, surficial veneers of brown to grayish-brown silty loam to silty or loamy clay, often with a high limestone gravel content, overlying denser dark brown to dark grayish-brown marly clay sediments or limestone bedrock at depths ranging from 15.0 to 45.0 centimeters (5.9 to 17.7 inches) below surface, though the marly clay subsoil and limestone bedrock outcrops were observed on the modern ground surface in many areas. The project area as a whole is heavily eroded, and landscaping activities associated with the Messinger occupation have further compromised the integrity of soils on the property. It is Horizon’s opinion that shovel testing was capable of fully penetrating sediments with the potential to contain prehistoric and historic-age cultural resources. One newly recorded archeological site, 41TV2573, was documented within the project area during the survey. This site consists of a cluster of mid- to late 20th-century and early 21st-century buildings located off the western side of David Moore Drive approximately 0.6 kilometer (0.4 mile) south of Slaughter Lane in southern Austin. The homesite has been the residence of two generations of the Messinger family since they acquired the property in 1966. Currently, the homestead consists of a cluster of 12 buildings, including two houses (Resources A and D), a small apartment building (Resource C), a garage/shed currently in use as an art studio (Resource B), six sheds (Resources A.3, A.4, A.5, A.6, A.7, and C.1), a covered carport (Resource A.2), and a gazebo (Resource A.1). Most of the buildings on the site were constructed in the early to mid-1980s or in the early 21st century and are not of historic age. The only two historic-age buildings on the site are the two houses (Resources A and D), which were built circa (ca.) 1924 in downtown Austin and later purchased and moved to their current locations on the Messinger property by Milton and Dawn Messinger in 1967. Other features on the site include a swimming pool adjacent to the southernmost of the two houses (Resource A) and a gravel driveway that provides access to the site from David Moore Drive to the east. Prior to the Messinger’s acquisition of the property in 1966, the parcel was in the ownership of the Moore family and, prior to that, the Slaughter family, though no evidence of any historic-age occupations prior to the Messinger’s development of the property beginning in 1966 was observed during the survey. The resources identified on site 41TV2573 are located on a formerly rural property that is now surrounded by modern residential subdivisions. The only two historic-age resources on the site are two houses (Resources A and D) that were constructed elsewhere in downtown Austin in 1924 and subsequently moved to their current locations on the Messinger property in 1967, and both structures have been extensively altered and modernized. No other historic-age structures are present on the site, and no archeological deposits associated with any historic-age occupations of the property were observed during the survey. Based on the largely modern character of the architectural features on the homestead, the extensive alterations to the only two historic-age buildings, a lack of significant historical associations, and the absence of archeological deposits, the site is recommended as ineligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Based on the results of the survey-level investigations documented in this report, no potentially significant cultural resources would be affected by the proposed undertaking. In accordance with 36 CFR 800.4, Horizon has made a reasonable and good faith effort to identify historic properties within the APE. No cultural resources were identified that meet the criteria for listing on the NRHP according to 36 CFR 60.4. Horizon recommends a finding of “no historic properties affected,” and no further work is recommended in connection with the proposed undertaking. However, in the event that any human remains or burial objects are inadvertently discovered at any point during construction, use, or ongoing maintenance in the project area, even in previously surveyed areas, all work should cease immediately and the Texas Historical Commission (THC) should be notified of the discovery.
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