A tour through time and place in South Austin

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Ken Ashworth, left, with his two brothers in front of their house on South Third Street.

In case you missed my story in the American-Statesman, here’s a bite:

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Ken Ashworth, left, with his two brothers in front of their house on South Third Street.

The cottage at 1203 South Third St. hasn’t changed that much since the 1930s.

“There was a store that sold wood in the next block,” says Ken Ashworth, gesturing across West Gibson Street. “My mother sent me up there with a nickel to fetch wood. At age 5, it was my first errand.”

Ashworth, former Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, described this one-bedroom — now expanded — house with its little wood-burning tin stove in his magnificent 2015 memoir, “Phantom in the Family: Tracking Down My Runaway Father.” It was the first secure retreat for his mother and his three siblings, abandoned by their mysterious father, H.L., who had as many as nine children with five or possibly more wives.

“We had no hot water, just one faucet in the kitchen over a sink attached to the wall,” Ashworth writes. “And the toilet was an outhouse shared with a neighbor where the sewage dropped into a pit.”

On a nippy day, Ashworth gives a tour of the land around two of the four houses that his amazing family occupied during the 1930s and ’40s. A third home was at Chalmers Court — one of three Great Depression public housing complexes built in East Austin, where rent was $14 a month — and another at a spot now gobbled up by University of Texas expansion off Manor Road.

“There was a swing on that tree,” Ashworth says of the shaded lot on South Third in the Bouldin neighborhood. “Mother would take us down to the creek and let us play in this little channel of water cut into the stone. But we weren’t allowed to swim in the pool downstream. She said a Model T Ford was swamped down there somewhere.”


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