History of Austin, Texas: Wikis

  
  
  

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The recorded history of Austin, Texas began with the first permanent settlement of the area in 1835. In the late 19th century, the establishment of several universities in the city made Austin a center of education. In the 20th century, Austin also became known for its music (now known as "the Live Music Capital of the World"), as well as its technology industry. Austin's history has also been largely tied to government and politics; at one time it was the capital of the Republic of Texas, and it is currently the capital of the state of Texas in the United States.

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Early settlers

Two of the oldest Paleolithic archeological sites in Texas, the Levi Rock Shelter and Smith Rock Shelter, are located southwest and southeast of present-day Austin. For several hundred years before the arrival of European settlers, the area was inhabited by a variety of nomadic Native American tribes. These indigenous peoples fished and hunted along the creeks, including present-day Barton Springs[1], which proved to be a reliable campsite.[2] At the time of the first permanent settlement of the area, the Tonkawa tribe was the most common, with the Comanches and Lipan Apaches also frequenting the area.[3]

The first documented permanent settlement of current-day Austin occurred in 1835. Anglo American settlers began arriving in the area, when Texas was still part of Mexico. They founded the village of Waterloo in 1837, along the banks of the Colorado River.[4] Edward Burleson laid out the town of Waterloo in the spring of 1838.[5] According to local folklore, Stephen F. Austin, the "father of Texas," negotiated a boundary treaty with the local Native Americans at the site of the present-day Treaty Oak after a few settlers were killed in raids.[6]

In 1838 Mirabeau B. Lamar, vice-president of the Republic of Texas, visited Waterloo with a group of Texas Rangers and stayed his friend Jacob Harrell.[7] Harrel was living near the river ford at the mouth of Shoal Creek.[8] The next morning Lamar shot a wild buffalo near the present intersection of 8th Street and Congress Avenue. The visit left an impression on Lamar, who reportedly said "This shall be the seat of future government." Lamar was elected president shortly thereafter.[7]

Republic of Texas

In 1839, Mirabeau B. Lamar, then the third president of the Republic of Texas, nominated the Waterloo site for the capitol location. This nomination was met with much controversy; many, including Sam Houston, felt the remote location would be especially vulnerable to Indian and Mexican raids. However, Lamar prevailed in his nomination, which he felt would be a prime location that intersected the roads to San Antonio and Santa Fe.

After the republic purchased several hundred acres to establish the city, Lamar renamed it in honor of Stephen F. Austin.[9] The city's original name is honored by local businesses such as Waterloo Ice House and Waterloo Records, as well as Waterloo Park downtown.

In May 1839 Lamar's designated government agent Edwin Waller organized and led a workforce of about 200 men from Houston to Waterloo to construct the new city. A grid plan for the new capital's streets was surveyed by Judge Edwin Waller (after whom Waller Creek was named). The grid survives nearly intact in present-day downtown Austin. The north-south streets of the grid were named for the rivers of Texas, following an east-west progression from Sabine Street to Rio Grande Street (Red River Street being "out of order" to the west of Sabine Street). The exception was the central thoroughfare Congress Avenue, which leads from the far south side of town over the river to the foot of the hill where the new Texas State Capitol was to be constructed and marks the point from which downtown streets are labeled east or west. The original north-south grid was bookended by West Avenue and East Avenue (now Interstate 35).

Statue of Angelina Eberly firing off warning cannon shot.

The east-west streets of the grid followed a progression uphill from the river and were named after trees native to the region, with Pecan Street as the main east-west thoroughfare. These streets were later renamed in a numbered progression, with Pecan Street becoming 6th Street. The original names survive in certain local names, including the annual Pecan Street Festival.

In October 1839, the entire government of the Republic of Texas arrived by oxcart from Houston. By the next January, the population of the town was 839.

Also in 1839, the Congress of the Republic of Texas set aside 40 acres (160,000 m²) of land near downtown Austin for a "university of the first class." This land became the central campus of The University of Texas at Austin in 1883.

In 1842, Austin almost lost its status as capital city during the Texas Archive War. Lamar's political enemy Sam Houston regained the presidency in 1841 and then tried to relocate the seat of government from Austin to Houston, and then to Washington-on-the-Brazos using two Mexican army incursions to San Antonio as an excuse. Within months Austin's population had shrunk to about 200, and many Texans assumed that the city would die. In the dead of night on December 29, 1842, a group of men were sent to take the archives of Texas from Austin to Washington-on-the-Brazos. Remaining Austin residents responded to the threat by forcibly keeping the national archives in their city in defiance of President Houston's attempts to bring them to Washington. Angelina Eberly fired a cannon at the men, who made their escape, only to be caught by another group of men who returned the archives to Austin.

1844 to 1899

An 1873 illustration of Austin

Anson Jones became president in 1844. The following year he called a convention in Austin to discuss annexation to the United States, as well as to consider a new constitution. Texas was admitted to the Union in 1845. Two unsuccessful statewide elections were held that attempted to move the capital elsewhere. Delegates wrote a new state constitution in which Austin was again named the seat of government.

From 1861 to 1865, Texas was part of the Confederacy. After the Civil War ended, it was occupied by a federal garrison, led by General George Custer.

Texas State Capitol.

On Christmas Day 1871, the first train arrived in downtown Austin to great celebration. A decade-long building and population boom followed, as Austin became a mercantile and shipping center for Central Texas.

St. Edward's University (then St. Edward's Academy) was founded in 1878 by Rev. Edward Sorin, Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross, on South Austin farmland.

In September 1881, the city schools admitted their first public school classes in Austin. That year, Tillotson Collegiate and Normal Institute, the forerunner of Huston-Tillotson University, opened to the public.

In 1882 construction began on The University of Texas at Austin campus with the placement of the cornerstone of the Main Building. The University of Texas at Austin formally opened and held its first classes in 1883.

From 1884 to 1885, an axe murderer, the Servant Girl Annihilator, terrorized Austin. This was the first recorded serial killer in US history.

On December 20, 1886, the Driskill Hotel opened at 6th and Brazos, giving Austin its first premier hotel. The hotel would close and reopen many times in subsequent years.

The Texas State Capitol was completed in 1888 on the site specified in the 1839 plan. At the time it was billed as the "seventh largest building in the world." Funded by the famous XIT Ranch, the building still remains part of the Austin skyline. The state capitol is smaller than the United States Capitol in total gross square footage, but is actually 15 feet (4.6 m) taller than its Washington, D.C. counterpart.

In 1891, the neighborhood of Hyde Park was developed north of the The University of Texas as a streetcar suburb.

In 1893, the Great Granite Dam on the Colorado River was completed, stabilizing the river's flow and providing hydroelectric power.

1900 to 1969

In 1900, a great storm caused Colorado River waters to crest 11 feet (3.4 m) above the granite and limestone dam. At 11:20 am on April 7, the dam broke, sending a wall of water into downtown Austin, leveling homes, and killing 47 persons. Two more failed attempts would be made to rebuild the dam until Tom Miller Dam was completed slightly upriver in the 1940s.

In 1910, the city opened the concrete Congress Avenue Bridge across the Colorado River, fostering development along South Congress Avenue. The Littlefield and Scarbrough buildings at 6th and Congress downtown also opened that year, representing the city's first skyscrapers.

In 1911, the city extended the streetcar line into South Austin, allowing for development of Travis Heights in 1913.

In the 1930s, the Lower Colorado River Authority replaced the Great Granite Dam by building a series of seven dams and reservoirs that now define the Colorado River's course through Austin. Lyndon Baines Johnson, then a member of the House of Representatives, played an instrumental role in authorizing funding for the dams.

In the 1950s, Austin's first research labs and think tanks were built.

On August 1, 1966, UT student and former Marine Charles Whitman killed both his wife and his mother before ascending the UT Tower and opening fire with a high-powered sniper rifle. Whitman killed or fatally wounded 14 more people over the next 90 minutes before being shot dead by police.

1970 to 1989

In the 1970s, Austin became a refuge for a group of country and western musicians and songwriters seeking to escape the music industry's corporate domination of Nashville. The best-known artist in this group was Willie Nelson, who became an icon for what became the city's "alternate music industry." Others included Stevie Ray Vaughan and Janis Joplin. In 1975, Austin City Limits premiered on PBS, showcasing Austin's burgeoning music scene to the country.

The Armadillo World Headquarters in 1976.

The Armadillo World Headquarters gained a national reputation during the 1970s as a venue for these anti-establishment musicians as well as mainstream acts. In the following years, Austin gained a reputation as a place where struggling musicians could launch their careers in informal live venues in front of receptive audiences. This ultimately led to the city's official motto, "The Live Music Capital of the World."

During the 1970s and 1980s, the city experienced a tremendous boom in development that temporarily halted with the Savings and Loan crisis in the late 1980s. The growth led to an ongoing series of fierce political battles that pitted preservationists against developers. In particular the preservation of Barton Springs, and by extension the Edwards Aquifer, became an issue that defined the themes of the larger battles.

1990 to present

Downtown high-rises, viewed from the west.

In the 1990s, the boom resumed with the influx and growth of a large technology industry. Initially, the technology industry was centered around larger, established companies such as IBM, but in the late 1990s, Austin gained the additional reputation of being a center of the dot-com boom and subsequent dot-com bust. Austin is also known for game development, filmmaking, and popular music.

On May 23, 1999, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport served its first passengers, replacing Robert Mueller Municipal Airport.

In 2000, Austin became the center of an intense media focus as the headquarters of presidential candidate and Texas Governor George W. Bush. Interestingly, the headquarters of his main opponent, Al Gore, were in Nashville, thus re-creating the old country music rivalry between the two cities.

Also in the 2000 election, Austinites narrowly rejected a light rail proposal put forward by Capital Metro. In 2004, however, they approved a commuter rail service from Leander to downtown along existing rail lines. The "Capital MetroRail" service was scheduled to begin in late 2008.[10] It has since been postponed twice: once until spring of 2009, and then indefinitely while multiple safety issues get corrected.

In 2004, the Frost Bank Tower opened in the downtown business district along Congress Avenue. At 515 feet (157 m), it was the tallest building in Austin by a wide margin, and was also the first high rise to be built after September 11, 2001. Several other high-rise downtown projects, most residential or mixed-use, were underway in the downtown area at the time, dramatically changing the appearance of downtown Austin, and placing a new emphasis on downtown living and development.

In 2006, the first sections of Austin's first toll road network opened. The toll roads were extolled as a solution to underfunded highway projects, but also decried by opposition groups who felt the tolls amounted in some cases to a double tax.

As Austin became known as a location for creative individuals, corporate retail branches also moved into town and displaced many "home-grown" businesses. To many longtime Austinites, this loss of landmark retail establishments left a void in the city's culture. In response, "Keep Austin Weird" became a popular rallying cry and many Austinites have reacted with renewed support of local businesses.

Presently, Austin continues to rise in popularity and experience rapid growth. Young people in particular have flooded the city, drawn in part by its relatively strong economy, its reputation of liberal politics[11] and alternative culture in Middle America, and its relatively low housing costs compared to the coastal regions of the country. The sudden growth has brought up several issues for the city, including urban sprawl, as well as balancing the need for new infrastructure with environmental protection. Most recently, the city has pushed for smart growth, mostly in downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods, spurring the development of new condominiums in the area and altering the city's skyline. This has increased gentrification and has drastically raised the housing prices throughout the metropolitan area, especially in the more central neighborhoods.

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