The historic Oakwood Cemetery Chapel was constructed in 1914 to function as a mortuary chapel. Designed by Austin architect, Charles Page, the historic Gothic-revival chapel is located within Oakwood Cemetery, a City of Austin Historic Landmark, registered Historic Texas Cemetery, and National Register of Historic Places site. In the subsequent 103 years since its construction, the historic building suffered from uneven foundation settlement and deferred maintenance. Funded under the 2012 GO Bond funding for Cemeteries and the Historic Preservation Fund, PARD rehabilitated the building for use as a visitor’s center and space for memorial services. The chapel reopened in 2018 and is programmed by PARD’s Museums & Cultural Divisions in partnership with the Cemetery Operations Division as recommended by the Historic Cemeteries Vision Plan.

View Oakwood Cemetery Archeological Monitoring and Exhumation (Vol. 1) & Bio-Archeological Report (Vol. 2) (PDF, 14MB)

Oakwood Cemetery Chapel: Community Engagement Report (PDF) 

All Together Here: A Community Symposium for Discovery and Remembrance Press Release (PDF)  

"All Together Here: A Community Symposium, October 9-10, 2020 link with video recordings of symposium

 

Oakwood Chapel image after rehabilitation and restoration

Project Description

Rehabilitation of the Chapel was completed in August 2018. The project included:

Structural stabilization of foundation Surface drainage improvements ADA site access improvements, including creation of one parking space behind Chapel and new sidewalk

 

The Chapel now hosts programming under the Museums and Cultural Programs Division as recommended by the Cemeteries Vision Plan. View more information on current programming here.

Oakwood Chapel construction drawings

  • Rehabilitation of single unisex restroom
  • Mechanical, electrical, lighting overhaul
  • Restoration of interior and exterior finishes, including doors, windows, masonry, roof, plaster, etc.

Rehabilitation of the Oakwood Chapel was made possible in part by funding from the Heritage Tourism Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department.

Archeological Process Background Information

In 2016, during the rehabilitation of the Oakwood Cemetery Chapel, archeologists monitoring construction discovered human remains below where the chapel was built. Careful exhumation of these rediscovered individuals proceeded, and, under the Antiquities permit obtained by the Texas Historical Commission, the remains were transferred to bio-archeologists at Texas State University. The Texas State University burial context was provided by a non‐invasive analysis of the physical remains, which often provides demographic data, including race and ethnicity, gender and approximate age. In some cases, physical remains can also inform about cause of death and aspects of lifestyle, such as physical health, levels of nutrition or stresses endured. Further, artifacts may reveal aspects of material culture and possibly the cultural significance for those buried in this section. The process does not provide information about the individual identities of the people who were discovered.

The analysis of the remains, which date to the mid to late 1800s, is complete and the report is below. The report was developed by the archeological contractor for the Oakwood Chapel project, Hicks & Company Environmental/Archeological Consultants, and their sub-consultant, the Forensic Anthropology at Texas State University. The reports were also reviewed by the Texas Historical Commission.

Volume 1: Oakwood Cemetery Archeological Monitoring and Exhumation Report (PDF, 13 MB) Volume 2: Oakwood Cemetery Bio-archeological Report (PDF, 1 MB)

Next Steps in Archeological Process and Community Connection

Reinterment and Commemoration

As part of the educational outreach for the Oakwood Chapel archaeological project, PARD produced All Together Here: A Community Symposium for Discovery and Remembrance, a free, online two-day symposium held in October 2020, for more than 300 registrants. The symposium featured sessions from 40 nationally-renowned archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, and community activists about the archaeological findings and comparative projects from around the country, and they further engaged the community in ideas for memorialization of the people who were found. The symposium sessions are featured online on PARD’s YouTube Channel. PARD has also produced an online exhibit, All Together Here, about the archaeological and bioarchaeological findings.

PARD is making progress on the DNA analysis of the individuals who were exhumed during the chapel restoration. PARD notified City Council in a June 18, 2020, memo about an academic partnership with the University of Connecticut and the University of Texas to undertake DNA analysis, at no cost to the City of Austin, to better understand the lives of the men, women, and children who were discovered. The DNA analysis is underway following the issuance of an Antiquities Permit from the Texas Historical Commission in late fall of 2020. The analysis of DNA from the people who were exhumed offers a unique opportunity to learn more about their identities, familial connections, and life experiences. If the preservation of the DNA in the Oakwood Cemetery remains is sufficient to permit these analyses, living individuals who think they may have a familial connection may be able to submit a saliva sample to the University of Connecticut lab for DNA analysis, allowing relatedness to be assessed. As soon as feasible, PARD will provide further details to community members on how they may work directly with the University of Connecticut research team to explore whether they have a family relation to any of the exhumed individuals. The DNA extraction component of the project is expected to be completed in Summer 2021. Once completed, PARD will proceed with reinterment of the exhumed individuals with assistance from Weston Solutions and Amaterra Environmental, Inc.

While reinterment will proceed, the analysis component is a lengthy and complex process and may continue for 36 months. Additionally, the team is exploring undertaking isotopic analysis in conjunction with the DNA analysis, which may provide additional insights into the diets and regions of origin of the individuals. PARD intends to reinter individuals close to the Oakwood Chapel, which was a recommendation from PARD’s community engagement process in 2017. The reinterment process will require mechanical scraping and monitoring to ensure that the selected reinterment sites are devoid of unmarked burials. Following the reinterment, PARD intends to collaborate with the community to host a ceremony to memorialize the individuals who were reinterred. The timeline for an in-person ceremony will be dependent on the status of the public health crisis.

Additional Information Regarding Archaeological Process

Mar. 6, 2017: Memorandum to May and City Council (PDF)

Mar. 25, 2017: Community Meeting: Presentation at Community Meeting and Community Comments (PDFs)

Apr. 27, 2017: Oakwood Chapel Rehabilitation Project and Archeological Investigation Staff Report and Recommendation for Discovered Burials (Apr. 27, 2017) (PDF)

May 1, 2017: Memorandum sent to Mayor and City Council (PDF)

Dec. 13, 2019: Memorandum sent to Mayor and City Council (PDF)

Feb. 5, 2020: Memoranda sent to Historic Landmark Commission, African American Resource Advisory Council, Human Rights Commission, and Parks and Recreation Board (PDFs)

May 14, 2020: Memoranda regarding release of final reports sent to Mayor and City Council, Historic Landmark Commission, African American Resource Advisory, and Human Rights Commission (PDFs)

Oct. 9-10, 2020: "All Together Here" Community Symposium

Oakwood Chapel Ribbon cutting from August 24, 2018 with Mayor Pro Tem Tovo, Council Member Ora Houston, and PARD Director Kimberly McNeeley