For the Austin, Texas-based Alexander family, their family land is a great source of pride that needs to be protected. But as the population of Austin continues to grow, the farm’s existence is being threatened through eminent domain as Texas transportation officials, who want to meet the demands of a growing population, are considering expanding a local highway to lighten traffic congestion.
“We are a 175-year-old presence. That is our home,” Rosalind Alexander-Kasparik, a fifth-generation descendant of Daniel Alexander told the Express News. “Our lives, blood, dreams and aspirations are here. These acres first acquired by (our) great-great-grandfather and his mother are our identity and legacy and everything around us.”
Recently, a feasibility study concerning the expansion of U.S. 183 has resumed after being tabled for some time, according to Diane Hodges, Southwest Texas communications director for the Texas Department of Transportation. Texas officials plan to begin reaching out to the public and conducting studies on the expansion in the upcoming year.
Fighting to Block Eminent Domain
The Texas Department of Transportation sent a postcard to the family three years ago detailing its plans to expand U.S. 183 from four to twelve lanes. The need for expansion was a result to increased mobility and safety needs related to population growth and traffic.
In response, the Alexander family testified at the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization hearing that their farmland had historical significance and should be protected from eminent domain.
Eminent domain allows the government to seize private property to expand infrastructure and property owners will receive compensation.
However, the Alexander family is not interested in being paid for their property. Instead, they want to retain the land and its story for future generations of their family.
It was in October 2020, the family attended a Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting, testifying that their historic land should be protected and providing alternatives to encroaching on their land. According to Alexander-Kasparik, the Texas Department of Transportation said it would consider other alternatives to expanding the highways.
“We gave them three options,” Alexander-Kasparik told the Express News. “Why won’t they remove us from their route of expansion? The only thing we get is, ‘Yes, TxDOT does this with eminent domain sometimes.’ It’s unacceptable.”
The Alexander Farm and Its Legacy
Daniel Alexander was born in Virginia in 1810. At some point in his life, Alexander and his mother, Ceny moved to Galveston, Texas with the McKinney family, their owners. In Galveston, Alexander was responsible for breeding and training thoroughbred and quarter horses for the race track. Later, he worked with horses at McKinney Falls, outside of Austin. One of the most notable horses handled by Alexander was Sir Archy, a popular racehorse.
Not only did Alexander train and breed horses, but he also taught other Black Americans to ride horses – either to complete tasks as enslaved people or participate in horse races.
“That’s among one of the incredible findings about my great-great-grandfather,” Alexander-Kasparik said. “Every facet seems to show the ancestor’s perseverance; it is important to the community, city of Austin, state of Texas and the nation.”
After his horse breeding and training days ended, Alexander became a farmer. In 1847, Alexander brokered a deal to purchase 73.3 acres of land from his owner, James Pather McKinney.
The land is currently nestled west of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and an extinct subterranean volcano is known as Pilot Knob. And as flights take off and land, Alexander’s descendants, Mark and Gerald, are still running the farm. The brothers are up at sunrise to begin their day, just like their great-great-grandfather. The brothers raise cattle to support food crops. They also have livestock, animal husbandry and a dairy business partnering with six central Texas distributors.
For 175 years, Alexander’s descendants have kept the land in the family despite the state government’s consistent use of eminent domain to seize their farmland. In 1968, the Texas Department of Transportation used eminent domain to build U.S. 183. The highway cut through the southeastern edge of the family’s property. As the area surrounding the family’s property has expanded, it has also impacted the land. In 2015, the family cemetery was flooded due to drainage renovations connected to subdivisions surrounding their land.
Now the Texas Department of Transportation wants to widen U.S. 183. While this expansion project would support Austin’s economic and social development and its surrounding areas, it leaves the family feeling vulnerable.
The project would stretch across 400 feet of the Alexander property, unearthing two historic homes. And according to family lore, one of these homes may have been part of the Pony Express, a mail service reducing delivery time between the east and west coast of the United States. Even more troubling is destroying marked and unmarked graves in the family’s cemetery.
“The Alexander family, its farm and cemetery mark a place, an African American cultural landscape that has persisted through slavery, Jim Crow, suburban sprawl and gentrification,” Marcellus Winston Alexander Jr said. “It’s time the road functions as an anchor to connect our distinct Texas history, rather than divide it.”