A Brief History of Austin, Texas
And Where to See It in Today's Austin
Glimpses of the Texas capitalís colorful past can be seen today in the regal pink granite Capitol, the 19th century limestone Bremond House and more than 220 other historic landmarks that pay homage to Austinís glorious past. Nine national historic districts and five distinctive touring areas testify to the cityís heritage.
Austinís sheer physical beauty captured the heart of visiting Republic of Texas vice president Mirabeau B. Lamar, who traveled in 1838 to what was then known as Waterloo to hunt buffalo with friend Jacob Harrell, who lived in the land of the Comanche and Tonkawa Indians.
Succeeding Texas Revolution hero Sam Houston as president of a young nation, Lamar dispatched surveyor Edwin Waller to the Texas Hill Country village that the Presidentís Commission had renamed the capital of the upstart Republic to honor Stephen F. Austin. Waller in 1839 surveyed the town, selling lots and overseeing construction of a dog-trot style state capitol.
Wallerís visionary layout of the central city, which followed the areaís topography, remains essentially unchanged all these years later.
With the city still vulnerable to Indian attacks in 1842, Austin found itself virtually deserted as Gov. Sam Houston moved the Republicís government to Houston to keep it out of harmís way.
Houston might be the state capital today without the governorís failed attempt to have Texas Rangers retrieve the stateís archives. In The Archive Wars, Austin hotel keeper Angelina Belle Eberly spotted the Rangers that Houston had dispatched to Austin loading documents taken from a state building into wagons. She fired a cannon to alert the townspeople, who chased the lawmen to Brushy Creek and recovered the documents.
In 1845, Republic President Anson Jones moved the capital back to Austin. Austinites would see a flourish of construction: the Capitol (1853), the Governorís Mansion (1856) and the General Land Office (1857). Today, the General Land Office serves as the Capitol Complex Visitor Center.
By 1871, city fathers had replaced the ferry service with the first permanent bridge across the Colorado River and witnessed the coming of the "Golden Age" of the railroad and a building boom, which lined city streets with elegant business houses.
In the next quarter century, an iron bridge spanned the Colorado River (1884), the University of Texas was founded (1883) and the moonlight towers lit the downtown sky. The Flood of 1900 swept away the bridge, houses and livestock, and left more than 20,000 residents in darkness.
When the cityís limestone Capitol burned to the ground in 1881, citizens rallied to build a granite structure that stands 309 feet. Free Capitol tours are given every 15 minutes, seven days a week at the statehouse that underwent a four-year, $67 million renovation. The townís political legacy includes the likes of "Ma" Ferguson, the second woman to serve as governor in the United States, and President Lyndon Johnson, who was elected in 1937 to represent Austin in the U.S. Congress.
The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on the UT campus chronicles the remarkable life of the stateís most renowned politician through 40 million papers and documents, emotionally charged dioramas, recordings, photography, music, sound effects and recorded commentary. The museum is open 9 to 5 daily, except Christmas Day.
The Congress Avenue and Sixth Street (Pecan Street) National Register Districts interweave modern skyscrapers with more ornate 19th century buildings such as the Old Bakery (1876), Millett Opera House (1878), Driskill Hotel (1886), Walter Tips Building (1876) and Robinson-Rosner Building (1856). Historically significant places of worship, such as St. Maryís Cathedral (1874) and St. Davidís Church (1854) reflect Old World architecture. The Historic Congress Avenue & Sixth Street tour times are 9 a.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.
O. Henry Home and Museum (1888) is worth a short side trip. Relocated from 308 E. 4th St. to 5th Street between Trinity and Neches, the Victorian cottage served as the residence of famous short story writer William Sydney Porter and his family from 1893-95. The museum is free and open from 12-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday.
Take a stroll through the Bremond Block National Historic Register District, a residential enclave of stately homes built on the edge of the cityís commercial district before the turn of the century. It contains a collection of homes belonging to members of the John Bremond Sr. family, a wealthy merchant, and his prosperous neighbors, the Robinsons and Hirschfields. Guided walking tours of the Historic Bremond Block take place at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Other self-guided tours, using informative brochures, offer an inside look at historic Hyde Park and one of Austinís oldest neighborhoods in West Austin, and the Texas State Cemetery, the resting place of many Texas heroes. But whether you visit turn-of-the-century neighborhoods, state landmarks or the cityís fine museums, youíll be walking in the footsteps of statesmen, cattle barons, outlaws, bankers, artists, gamblers and preachers who made indelible marks on Austin.
The information in this report appears courtesy of the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau.
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