Tipping the Research Iceberg in Austin, Texas

By K.P. Gresham

In the process of writing the fifth novel in The Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series, I needed to find a venue for a fictional FFA Fundraising Gala at a revered, historical venue. My husband and I enjoyed going to such a place when we first moved to Austin, Texas, years ago.

Enter Green Pastures, a 6,000 square foot Victorian home built in 1895. The original structure was constructed with Louisiana pine, a naturally termite-resilient wood, and parts of the home, such as the staircase, banisters, and all of the fireplace mantels are still the original materials. Between its history, its delicious Southern meets French cuisine, and its wandering peacocks, the place was exactly what I needed for my book.

But that was only the tip of the iceberg. The more I read about Green Pastures, the more interesting it became.

For example, John Henry Faulk, an Austin judge, and his wife, “Mattie”, bought the home in 1916. They had five children, two of which figure prominently in Austin’s history.

John Henry Faulk II (1913 – 1990) was an American storyteller and radio show host. His successful lawsuit against the entertainment industry helped to bring an end to the Hollywood blacklist. In 1955, Faulk earned the ill will of the blacklisting organization when he and other members took control of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists from officers who did not share his dedication to civil rights long before it was “hip” to fight racism. In reprisal, the now-deposed union officers labeled Faulk a Communist. He took the group to court when he discovered they had actively been keeping radio stations from carrying his radio show.

Faulk’s book, Fear on Trial, (1963) was made into an Emmy award-winning TV movie in 1975 by CBS television with William Devane portraying Faulk and George C. Scott playing Faulk’s lawyer. Other supporters of the blacklist struggle included radio pioneer, Parks Johnson, and reporter and CBS television news anchor Walter Cronkite.

Then there’s the story of his sister, Martha Faulk (1910 – 1996). When their father passed, he left the property to his daughter who was known as a socialite with terrific hospitality qualities. She and her husband, Chester Koock, opened a restaurant in the home in 1945 by converting the downstairs bedrooms into dining spaces while the upstairs remained private family space. This restaurant has a very special legacy of being inclusive and non-discriminatory towards people of all races and color prior to when the law required businesses to do so.

Though the restaurant went through several owners after she passed, they have stayed true to the history of the home and its reputation for excellent food. I know. I went their last night to do my research for my book. I found it very important to my novel’s authenticity to sample the milk punch, the fried green tomatoes and the “Mattie’s Fried Chicken” (which WILL appear in the book).

Finally, I’d like to mention the beautiful peafowl that roam the expansive grounds. Peafowl is the correct generic name of the majestic, plumed birds. Peacocks are just the male of the species; peahens the females, and peachicks are the babies. (Tho’ in Texas these are sometimes called chickpeas. Gotta love a Texas colloquialism 😊.)  The birds don’t belong to Green Pastures, but a friend of theirs who owns an exotic bird farm takes care of them.

What I needed was a venue, but I got a whole lot more. I love to “tip the iceberg over” when I do my research. And Green Pastures of Austin was a house with many stories to tell.

P.S. The restaurant’s fried chicken is delicious, and don’t forget to order the milk punch!

K.P. Gresham, Author

Professional Character Assassin

K.P. Gresham is the award-winning author of the Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series as well as several stand-alone novels.  Active in Sisters in Crime and the Writers League of Texas, she has won Best Novel awards from the Bay Area Writers League as well as the Mystery Writers of America.

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Books by

K.P. Gresham

Three Days at Wrigley Field

The Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series

The Preacher’s First Murder

Murder in the Second Pew

Murder on the Third Try

Four Reasons to Die