Friday, February 16, 2018

Thurms, Early German Settlers on Bull Creek

This is an expanded post of my history article for the March 2018 issue of the Northwest Austin Civic Association (NWACA) newsletter (

A detailed write-up is on file at the Austin History Center, Travis County Archives and on-line at

Whereas today we see Bull Creek District Park and Greenbelts as wonderful places to hike or swim, the valley formed by Bull Creek was once home to pioneer families. There were schools, cemeteries, churches, water powered mills.

In this article let me take you back in time to visit the homestead of an early pioneer family. Drive down Spicewood Springs Road, west toward Loop 360; turn left down Old Spicewood Springs Road; pull into the 2nd trailhead parking lot on the right with the porta potties. If you can, tune out the drone of Loop 360, imagine an open field where Loop 360 lies. Focus on the gurgle of Bull Creek and the beauty of the Appalachian like hills that surround you. You are now at the location of the old Thurm homestead.

William Thurm (pronounced “Term”) came from Germany in 1850 with his wife, Caroline, and two young daughters; a third soon born in Texas. Arriving in Galveston they lived first in Fredericksburg, then settled here along Bull Creek in 1855 on 80 acres of land purchased from Josiah Fisk, namesake of Fiskville. The family lived in a three-room log cabin constructed at the base of what was known to pioneers as “Thurm Hill”, the steep hill down which today’s Spicewood Springs Road descends. As with other historic homes in Austin, like Edward Zimmerman’s near Fiskville, the Thurm home may have been built from lumber milled at nearby Walden mill south on Bull Creek. Additional land purchases from Fisk in 1873 and 1874 expanded holdings to 340 acres on Bull Creek. The homestead was a landmark for defining Travis County voting precincts No. 14 and 15.

The turn-in to the parking lot corresponds to the old road off Spicewood Springs Road (it wasn’t “Old Spicewood Springs” then) to their farm. Bits of that road, later paved, that passed just east of their home are still visible. If you drive to the other side of Loop 360 you will find the continuation of that old abandoned road under today’s Bluffstone Drive. About where Loop 360 is located was a field. Common to German homesteads of the Texas Hill Country before barbed wire, the field was enclosed with a dry-stack stone wall, not to keep animals in, but rather out of crops.

The Thurms and the Waldens were neighbors. From Clementine (Walden) Jackson’s 1966 book, The Walden home in the valley, she recalls “There was a family of German people by the name of Thurm that settled on Bull Creek about the same time my Grandfather [Hughell] Walden [of Walden mill] did. They came over from Germany and were broke and couldn’t speak English. My grandmother could speak the German language, so she helped and befriended them, so to this day the Thurms’ descendants tell of how their grandparents told them of my Grandmother Walden --how she divided with them and waited on them when they were sick.”

William died ca. 1887, buried in Oak Grove Cemetery along upper east Bull Creek, along today’s Spicewood Springs Road (then Bull Creek Road). Wife Caroline died ca. 1897 and was buried in Walden Cemetery which today sits in the front yard of a family on Creekbluff Drive, west of Loop 360. In 2006 the Austin American-Statesman ran a piece “FORGOTTEN: Subdivision embraces, uses old graveyard, adding loved one's ashes” with a photo of the family beside Caroline’s tombstone. Her burial here raises the question: Why not Oak Grove with her husband? One possible explanation: Bull Creek may have been in flood stage that year. The road from the Thurm’s to Oak Grove Cemetery crosses Bull Creek 6-7 times; there were no bridges. Possibly after her death they simply could not reach Oak Grove Cemetery and opted for the Walden Cemetery which is on a high bluff out of the creek.

The old homestead, or derivative thereof, was still visible in historic aerials taken in 1967. Unfortunately, during construction of Loop 360 in the early 1970s, the historical significance of the Thurm homestead was not recognized and the property was razed.

In 1866 daughter Louise Thurm married August Waechter; the newspaper announced the marriage at the home of the bride on Bull Creek, i.e. the Thurm homestead. In a small world, I have good friends that, unbeknownst to me before researching the Thurms, have cousins descended from that union! Odd, on a quite night when I drive down to that spot on Old Spicewood Springs Road, I swear I can hear laughter from a wedding party! Ghosts on Bull Creek?



Photo from article "FORGOTTEN: Subdivision embraces, uses old graveyard, adding loved one's ashes", American Statesman, 2006. Tombstone of Caroline Walden.

Historic aerial of Thurm homestead as it stood in 1967 before Loop 360. The earliest aerial photo available is from Tobin Imagery of the property in 1937

Google Earth view of Thurm homestead as it looks today inside Lower Bull Creek Greenbelt

Married, 1866, at the residence of the brides's father on Bull Creek, Miss Louise Thurm to Mr. F.A. Waechter. The Southern Intelligencer, Austin, TX, March 1, 1866

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