I met Kirk Farris at the Mckee Street Bridge hard by James Bute Park at what had been the northwest corner of Frost Town, if not the first, one of the first three subdivisions just outside the original grid of Houston.
“All of this area was developed and sub-divided by men that were, just prior, in the battle of San Jacinto.”
Farris says that in itself makes the area significant.
“You can imagine a man coming down here from Tennessee bring his family and setting up a saw mill or a blacksmith shop and a residence, buying this land from the Allen brothers, 15 acres, coming back out here and deciding what to do with it, developing it up into lots and then beginning to sell it off in 1837 and 38.”
Such was the story of Jonathan and Samuel Frost. Jonathan bought the land and a short time later became sick and died. His brother Samuel then subdivided the 15 acres into the neighborhood that became known as Frost Town.
Frost Town is a few blocks north of Minute Maid Park. It lies under James Bute Park and Highway 59. In fact the Crawford/Elysian Viaduct pretty much bisects it and rises above what had been Spruce Street, the main street of the original community.
Artist Kirk Farris painted and restored the McKee Street Bridge and founded the non-profit Arts and Environmental Architecture in 1985 to look after the bridge and to develop the area around it as a park and garden. He says Frost Town began as a home for new arrivals to the area. Ironically it was continued urban growth that eventually forced out all the people to make way for the new freeway. He says by that time Frost Town had been absorbed by a larger Hispanic community.
“It was a poor neighborhood at the time the freeways came through called Barrio de Alacran, the Scorpion. It had developed itself into a powerful and interesting folkloric, romantic Mexican neighborhood from abut ’36 to ’55, and that was it’s last breath. “
This area just downstream from the first city grid of Houston is rich in history and Farris may know as much of it as anyone. Farris would like there to be more visible evidence of Frost Town for people to see, perhaps a grid of the original streets. He’s been interested in and caring for this small part of the city close to 25 years.
As we drove along the Elysian Viaduct for a kind of birdseye view of what had been Frost Town I ask Kirk Farris why he’s devoted so much of his life to this small area of Houston?
“And there’s no other excuse for it, there’s no sanctimonious answer and there’s no angle. The entire program is an art project and I’m an artist. So, I’m interested in it purely from the stand point that it’s my project and I’m excited about the addition, building and culmination of my own ideas. So it’s very self centered and selfish, however it has the ancillary benefit of serving the public, thank God for that!”
You’ll find a link for much more on Frost Town at kuhf.org