CBC Volunteers Restore Historic Freedman’s Town Homes

Terry SwensonCharity Projects, Custom Builders, Featured

Preserving Houston’s Rich Heritage

In the heart of Houston, lies a hidden treasure—the Fourth Ward community, once known as Freedmen’s Town. This historic enclave emerged as a thriving hub of creativity, innovation, and economic vitality in the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation, drawing in former slaves seeking a new life of opportunity. However, as time passed, shifting demographics, economic challenges, and natural forces took their toll on this once-vibrant neighborhood. Houses and churches fell into disrepair, and the rich history that had unfolded within its streets was on the brink of fading away.

Nearly three decades later, Freedmen’s Town is enjoying a renaissance, thanks to the dedicated efforts of concerned citizens and organizations. Joining this effort is the GHBA’s Custom Builders Council (CBC), that was recently invited to provide expertise, hard work, and professionalism to an exceptional restoration project within this historic district.

The project centers around the Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum, a cornerstone of the Freedmen’s Town Museums Houston. Established in 1996, this museum is dedicated to safeguarding the history of Freedmen’s Town by meticulously restoring and preserving the remaining historic homes that stand as silent witnesses to the past.


“As a member of the GHBA, it is a privilege to take part in the valuable restoration projects in the heart of our community. The Freedmen’s Town project allowed our team to honor Houston’s history and the men and women who built it.”CHRIS BOLIO, 2023 CBC PRESIDENT AND OWNER/PARTNER ALAIR HOMES HOUSTON

The significance of Freedmen’s Town cannot be overstated. Following the Emancipation Proclamation’s impact in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, a stream of newly-freed slaves migrated to the heart of Houston, establishing the Freedmen’s Town community. This vibrant area became a hotbed of ingenuity, medicine, and economic activity. However, as history often goes, the tides of change brought challenges, leading many to move on and leaving the area in a state of disrepair.

Answering the call to revitalize history, the CBC, spearheaded by Houston City Council Member Abbie Kamin, embarked on a restoration journey during the scorching heat of August. The team’s dedication to this project is evident as they rolled up their sleeves and delved with enthusiasm into restoring the Rutherford B.H. Yates home and two additional homes, all built by the hands of freed slaves before the turn of the century.

The CBC team volunteers included: Chris and Michelle Bolio, and sons, Alair Homes; Alan Martinez, Datasmart; Sterling Storm, IMG Financial Group; Sonora Storm, Lincoln Jacob Construction; Debbie Page; Greg Madrey, Builders Post-Tension; George Gomez, Res Com Custom Builders; Eric White, Datasmart; Ted Moore, Stately Homes; and Jennifer and Jay Jones with Farmhouse Stone.

One of the project’s significant accomplishments lies in the preservation of original materials. The CBC, working alongside the Town Museums Houston, successfully retained 80 percent of the authentic materials within the Rutherford B.H. Yates home. The painstaking process involved removing non-original layers of flooring, meticulously cleaning and organizing reclaimed floor planks, and carefully storing original doors for later use during the rebuilding phase.

But restoration goes beyond just materials; it encompasses the essence of history itself. In another home, the CBC’s efforts turned an ordinary room into a “future archaeological lab.” Tacks were meticulously removed from layers upon layers of wall coverings added over the years, that had also served as insulation, to prepare the original walls for a renewed life. The task was not just about preserving the history within the walls, but also about honoring the intricate hand-painted wallpapers that adorned them. These wallpapers, genuine works of art, were preserved with utmost care, a testament to the CBC’s commitment to preserving even the smallest fragments of history.

Several of the garden areas around the site also received special attention to freshen and tidy up overgrown vegetation and provide a boost to ensure seasonal growth.

“The CBC was not just renovating homes; we were restoring the very essence of resilience and hope that this community embodies. It’s an honor beyond words to contribute to the restoration of Freedmen’s Town, preserving its history for generations to come.”ALAN MARTINEZ, CBC CHARITY PROJECTS COMMITTEE CHAIR AND DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT DATASMART

The vision for Freedmen’s Town doesn’t stop at restoration; it extends to a larger ambition. The Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum and its partners aspire to achieve UNESCO world heritage status for Freedmen’s Town, recognizing its historical significance on a global scale.

CEO, civil engineer, and founder of the Freedmen’s Town community Investment Project (aka Invest in FT), Zion Escobar encourages professionals of every field to connect with the owners of historic assets in Freedmen’s Town, to find out how they can lend their knowledge, networks and resources to the equitable revitalization and “rebirth” of Freedmen’s Town and other historical sites.

“I’m very encouraged to have seen this GHBA volunteer service day supporting the Freedmen’s Town Museum’s,” said Zion. “These types of hands-on collaborations spearheaded by Councilwoman Abbie Kamin, and long-standing organizations like the Freedmen’s Town Museum, should shine as an example of how valuable these connections can be.”

About Freedmen’s Town Conservancy

The Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization that protects and preserves the history of Freedmen’s Town for the benefit of future generations. They support community engagement, re-education, and heritage tourism. Their mission is to preserve the historic legacy of Freedmen’s Town inspiring all through education and awareness of its unique story.


Children and adults are encouraged to tour the museum and learn about Freedmen’s Town’s incredible history. An early African-American printing press, a Black inventors exhibit, archaeological artifacts and much more are a must-see.


Freedmen’s Town archaeologists have unearthed several interesting artifacts that provide a fascinating peek into the lives of Freedmen’s Town residents. To learn more visit houstonfreedmenstown.org/.

About the Author

Terry Swenson


A writer and a photographer, Terry Swenson is GHBA's director of public relations.