History of Austin

United States > US City Index > Austin > History

Austin, Texas has a history of burgeoning growth, beginning with the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836. As the new nation, dubbed the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau B. Lamar felt a new seat for the government was in order. Austin was named after Stephen F. Austin, founder of the Republic. Lamar sent Edwin Waller to survey the beautiful land off of the Colorado River to found the new capitol. The city was planned in a grid pattern that still maps the downtown area. Congress Avenue was the center street, with the north/south streets named for Texas rivers. The Capitol was moved to Austin in 1839, with 50 ox-drawn wagons transporting archives and furniture from the previous seat of government in Houston, Texas.

This newly established country continued to be part of the frontier. The next decade was full of fierce battles that are now collectively known as the Mexican-American War. During this time there was an attempt to move the Capitol away from Austin. But the residents of the city made sure that even if the government chose to move further away from the war zone, the archives and records remained in the city. As a result of their efforts, called the Archive War, Texas joined the United States in 1845, and Austin was named the state capital.

The 1850s were a period of tremendous growth. The first limestone Capitol building, the Governor's Mansion and General Land Office Building were erected. In 1888, structural problems and a fire destroyed the original Capitol, but a new building made of Hill Country granite was completed to replace the burned structure. The Governor's Mansion is still in pristine condition, and the General Land Office is one of the state's oldest surviving office buildings.

While surveying for the City of Austin, Edwin Waller also laid out 40 acres for the University of Texas campus. Over 40 years later, construction began on the Main Building at the center of the site. In 1883, the west wing was completed in time for the first class of 221 students. But 35 years after the building was completed, discussions began for expanding the library facilities on campus. After great debate, plans were announced to destroy the old building in order to construct a new administration and library facility. That new building is now known as the University of Texas Tower, standing 307 feet tall and boasting one of the best views of the city from the observation deck.

1871 brought a new era of success to Austin with the Houston and Texas Central Railway. This line was one of the westernmost railroads in Texas and the only railroad for scores of miles. Today, visitors can ride those same rail lines on the Austin Steam Train.

The population boomed. Education became a secondary industry. In 1881 Austin became known as a seat of education with the opening of Tillotson Collegiate and Normal Institute, now known as Huston-Tillotson College. Just four years later, St. Edward's University.

The turn of the century brought even more success to the bustling town of Austin. Elisabeth Ney blessed the city with her talents as a sculptress and William Sidney Porter (also known as O. Henry) wrote his celebrated stories there. By the 1920s, the city had acquired Barton Springs, adopted a council-manager government, and drew up a new city plan that included a focus on beautification, parks and recreation.

The Great Depression was hardfelt among the Austin population, but the city continued to grow. In 1941, Mansfield Dam was completed, creating Lake Travis. This, combined with the development of the Highland Lake system, created a wonderful recreation site and a huge attraction.

The 1950s brought a realization'the city could not continue its massive growth with only academia and government as an economic base. The Chamber of Commerce began to attract high-tech companies to the city. By the mid-seventies, three of the largest high-tech manufacturing companies had plants in Austin. In the 1980s, two major research consortiums, Microelectronics and Computer Technology and Sematech had been brought to the city. Now, Austin is known as one of the high-tech centers of the United States, with offices for hundreds of high-tech companies.

Austin's volatile past has created an exciting environment for its residents. The explosive growth has brought more than just people; entertainment'through theater, museums, film, music and the arts has become a prominent aspect of the Austin lifestyle. City planning has preserved greenbelts and parks so residents can have easy access to a more natural environment. The lakes provide fantastic water sports during the day, and Sixth Street offers a nightlife of dining and dancing.