Oakwood Cemetery Chapel Monitoring and Excavation

Project Name: City of Austin Oakwood Cemetery Chapel Monitoring and Phase III Data Recovery Excavation

Project Location: Austin, Travis County, Texas

Project Type: Archeological Monitoring and Data Recovery Excavation

Owner: City of Austin Parks & Recreation Department

Hicks & Company provided archeological monitoring services to the City of Austin for the proposed restoration of the historically significant Oakwood Cemetery Chapel. As a National Register of Historic Places (NRHP)-listed resource, a Historic Texas Cemetery, and a City of Austin Historic Landmark Site, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) initially required archeological monitoring of activities with potential to disturb cemetery grounds. During these monitoring activities, unmarked graves were discovered, and data recovery excavations were deemed warranted. Archeological work included monitoring of construction; exploratory mechanical, shovel, and trowel scraping; data recovery; TDS mapping; exhumation of identified burials; bioarcheological analysis; and curation. In 2016 and 2017, archeologists conducted exterior monitoring and exploratory work at the chapel in order to delineate burial shafts within the chapel interior. 37 unmarked graves were located within the chapel interior and 35 of these burials were excavated. As the remains represent historic-period burials, the City of Austin and Hicks & Company team participated in public involvement efforts and engaged with representatives of the community in recognition of the need to advance the project in a respectful manner. Such representatives included District 1 Council Member Ora Houston, Policy Aide Genoveva Rodriguez of Six Square (Austin’s African American Cultural Heritage District), the Church of God in Christ, the Saint James Missionary Baptist Church, and Save Austin’s Cemeteries. As of 2018, the restoration of the chapel is complete, and the City of Austin Parks & Recreation Department was the recipient of the Preservation Award for Restoration for the rehabilitation of the chapel. In 2020, Hicks & Company archeologists participated as Speaker and Panelist for the City’s virtual Oakwood Symposium on the exhumations of human remains at Oakwood Cemetery Chapel (All Together Here: A Community Symposium for Discovery and Remembrance). A webpage is maintained by the City with links to deliverables. The symposium engaged the public and provided education about the project and what the field of archeology can reveal about people who lived more than a century before, as well as an opportunity for the community to offer ideas about how these individuals are honored and memorialized.