Summertime pool dwellers, fierce baseball games and after-school programs have long had a home at Rosewood Park. Additionally, if the shade trees, picnic tables and stone walls could talk, they’d tell a story of community more than 90 years in the making.
Situated two miles northeast of downtown Austin, this 13.9-acre park was established in 1929 as Austin’s first public space for African Americans. A year prior to the creation of the park, a city plan by Dallas-based consulting firm Koch & Fowler institutionalized racial segregation by designating a “Negro District.” As Austin’s African American population was largely concentrated in the area on the northeast edge of the city, the neighborhood became this district.
Before Rosewood Park
Prior to the creation of Rosewood Park, African Americans used Emancipation Park, a nearby parcel purchased in 1905 by the Negro Park Association, for use in civic events such as the annual Juneteenth celebration. But in 1938 Emancipation Park had been seized by the City for the site of Rosewood Courts, a federally funded public housing project, and Rosewood became one of the only green spaces available to Black Austinites.
Over the next few decades Rosewood Park became the go-to recreational spot. By the end of the 1930s the park included a swimming pool, stone entry columns, a bandstand, and a sports field flanked by stone retaining walls - some of which was built by the Civil Works Administration. In 1944 a recreation center was constructed in the southwest corner of the park, and in the 1950s the pool was enlarged and a bathhouse and concession stand were constructed. Two decades later, a federal grant was used to expand the recreation center and in 1973 the Henry Green Madison Cabin (dating to the 1860s) was relocated from 11th Street to Rosewood Park.
Each of these important spaces within Rosewood Park contributed to its recent designation as a Lone Star Legacy Park in February of 2019 by the Texas Recreation & Parks Society, and has a special place in the history of the park and Austin as a whole.
Delores Duffie Recreation Center
The Delores Duffie Recreation Center sits in the middle of the old Bertram-Huppertz place, which Rudolph Bertram acquired in 1875. The older portion of the building was the residence of Mr. Bertram who was a local store-owner in 1921. Seventeen acres were sold to the City of Austin after Charles Huppertz, Mr. Bertram's son-in-law, died. In 1929, an after-school program began there, and the Parks and Recreation Department began to more fully develop the park in the 1930's. Tennis courts, a picnic area, bandstand, baseball field and open spaces were available to the public.
“I always had a thing for Rosewood Park,” said Delores Duffie, who played in the park as a young girl. “That’s all we knew. That’s the only place we had to go for recreation. Rosewood was just in my blood.”
The Delores Duffie Recreational Center is a charming 14-room, hill view stone house, now home to after-school programs, workshops and community events. Rosewood Park became the heartbeat of the community hosting events like the Miss Rosewood Pageant (which Delores won in 1950) and countless sports games, classes and activities.
The dynamic Delores Duffie became known among city leaders for her activism to promote quality education and adequate housing for neighborhood residents. “I never had any fear of confronting people about inequalities in our area,” Duffie said. “That was one reason people began to call on me. Not everyone likes to speak up or out.”
That spirit is what likely led to the election of Duffie as chair of the newly-created Rosewood Advisory Board in 1973, a post she maintained for 13 years. In 2014, City Council officially named the recreation center after Delores to honor her hard work in the East Austin community.
Doris Miller Auditorium
A short walk away from the splash pad and pool, the Doris Miller Auditorium sits near the front of the park. The auditorium was constructed in 1942 by the Civilian Conservation Corps for the recreation needs of the Armed Forces. The facility is named after Doris "Dorie" Miller, a hero at Pearl Harbor, and the first African American recipient of the Navy's highest honor, the Navy Cross. Miller was a Waco-native, but there are reports he spent time here in Austin before his Naval service. The building hosted black WWII servicemen from various bases who came to attend dances and see entertainment organized by the park staff in collaboration with the USO.
It also became a stop on the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” where African American musicians passing through Texas could play before music venues were integrated or friendly to African American Musicians. In the early years, musicians like Ella Fitzgerald and Ike and Tina Turner graced the stage.
Later, the facility hosted the city’s first hip-hop shows where rapper Terrany Johnson a.k.a. Tee Double played one of his first gigs, a sold out show, with the group Dope Melody, that also featured Austin emcee Tigre Liu, “way before they would even let hip-hop downtown,” said Johnson. Today, Notes for Notes operates a recording studio for young artists inside the Auditorium, and the building hosts fitness classes and sports for youth and adults.
Henry Green Madison Cabin
The Henry Green Madison cabin was moved from its original location off East 11th to the park grounds in the 1970s. In 1863, Madison, the first African American city councilman in Austin, a farmer and police officer, built the small log cabin that he, his wife and their eight children called home. He also built the frame house that enclosed the cabin in 1886.
“It was discovered within the walls of a wooden frame house at 807 E. 11th Street during demolition,” writes Kim McKnight in an Austin Parks and Recreation report. “It dates to 1864 at the latest.”
The property’s owner during the late 1960s, Mrs. Greenwood Wooten, donated the cabin to the city. She partnered with the Rosewood Recreation Association and Delta Sigma Theta service sorority in taking the cabin apart and putting it back together in the park in 1973.
Decades and a flood of new residents later, the cabin (a state historic landmark) now sits quietly under oak trees just steps away from the Rosewood pool and splash pad.
Despite the historic growth—and the challenges and opportunities that presents—Rosewood Park remains a community treasure for all who call Rosewood home.
Additional historical information from the Austin Parks & Recreation Department and the Cultural Landscape Foundation.
Historical photos care of the Austin History Center.