Austin Texas history carries a variety of monikers – Silicon Hills, Live Music Capital of the World – but in the late 1800s it was known as the City of the Violet Crown due to the bluish aura glowing across the hills to the west at sunset.
Texas Republic President Mirabeau B. Lamar Selects Austin for a New Capital
The first Europeans found the area inhabited by the Tonkawa, Comanche and Apache. A Spanish mission was founded in what is now Zilker Park in 1730 for a few months before removal to San Antonio de Bexar. In the mid-1830s William Barton settled at the springs that bear his name. Settlement of the area foundered due to the violent resistance of the local Native Americans.
However, a few years later when Texas President Mirabeau Lamar was hunting buffalo on the Colorado River, he became enamored of the area’s possibilities for a permanent capital. Settlement at the time consisted of Waterloo (Austin) with four families while further east twenty families called nearby Montopolis home.
Critics of the proposal cited the poor soil, a lack of nearby timber and the threat of Indian raids. Nonetheless Lamar, a Revolutionary hero and indomitable Indian fighter, had his way – the new capital was approved on January 19, 1840 and Waterloo was renamed Austin in memory of the “Father of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin.
Edwin Waller Surveys and Plats Austin
Lamar chose surveyor Edwin Waller to plat the village; a site measuring a square mile on the shores of the Colorado River between Shoal Creek and Waller Creek (named after the surveyor) was selected. A fourteen block grid, divided by Congress Avenue which ran from the river to Capital Square, formed the basis of present-day downtown Austin.
Establishment of Travis County and Austin as County Seat
Also in January 1840, the Texas Congress established Travis County after Alamo hero William Barret Travis and designated Austin as the county seat. When elections for county officials were held the following month, Travis County included approximately 40,000 square miles and a population of 856.
Austin’s Postwar Population Growth
Following the Civil War, Austin experienced a boom in population and prosperity. The establishment of the Houston and Texas Central Railway (H&TC) in 1871 transformed the capital into a major trading area. Other railroads soon arrived. Austin was also the trailhead of the southern portion of the Chisholm Trail. Besides cattle, cotton was another economic engine driving growth; the crop was ginned downtown and shipped out of state by rail.