Everything You Need to Know about the History of Austin

Everything You Need to Know about the History of Austin

Attracting visitors from all over the world, Austin welcomes more than 19 million tourists annually. We explore the city of Austin, from its humble beginnings to its reputation today as the Live Music Capital of the World.

The Father of Texas

Founded in 1839, Austin is named after Stephen F. Austin, a pioneer who negotiated immigration to the region, earning him the moniker “the Father of Texas.”

Austin’s father, Moses Austin, was the first person to establish an American colony in Mexican Tejas, as the state of Texas was then known. In 1821 Moses Austin organized for 300 American families to settle on over 200,000 acres, but he died before seeing his plan come to fruition. The orchestration of the project then fell to Stephen.

Statue of Stephen F. Austin | Image by JD Hancock | Flickr

Stephen F. Austin began settling families at a site between the Brazos and Colorado rivers in January 1822. He faced prompt resistance from the Mexican government, who questioned the legitimacy of his father’s land grant.

Austin traveled to Mexico City. Through his diplomacy and negotiating skills, he persuaded the Mexican government to allow him to colonize the area, and he became empresario, or the administrative authority, of the new colony.

Stephen F. Austin acted as an intermediary between his colony and the Mexican government for the next decade, establishing new judicial and law enforcement systems, allocating land, controlling immigration, and supervising the creation of basic social infrastructures, including roads, sawmills, granaries, and schools. In 1827 Austin successfully petitioned to ban slavery in Texas.

Austin gained independence from Mexico in 1836

In 1830 the Mexican government passed legislation prohibiting further American immigration to the Tejas area. Mexican officials were growing concerned at expanding American influence over the region. The passing of these new laws stirred up resentment in local American colonies, with settlers calling for independence.

Stephen F. Austin was persuaded to petition the Mexican president, Antonio López de Santa Anna, not only for repeal of the law prohibiting further American immigration but also for independence from Mexican governance and the creation of a new state of Texas. The empresario had only limited success. While the Mexican government agreed to repeal the 1830 law against American immigration, they denied demands for Texan independence. Mexican officials imprisoned Austin for five years on the charge of inciting an insurrection.

Upon his release, Austin found that troops had already begun rallying to fight for independence. The Texas Revolution erupted on October 1st, 1835.

Stephen F. Austin led an attack on Mexican troops at San Antonio, and, as the commissioner to the United States, he traveled to Washington to seek military help for the annexation of Texas by the United States. Though he was not successful, he returned to Texas in the fall of 1836, shortly after the war had ended. After a failed bid at the Texas presidency, he served as secretary of state until his death in late December of that year.

Edwin Waller planned the layout for the City of Austin

In 1839 Edwin Waller was chosen to design the new city. He designed Austin along a 14-block grid, with Congress Avenue bisecting the city. Temporary wooden administration buildings, including a small capitol building, were quickly built. By October 1839, the President of Texas, Mirabeau B. Lamar, had taken up residence, and the city flourished. Officials appointed Edwin Waller the first mayor of Austin in 1840.

The Austin Dam was completed in 1893

In 1890 work commenced on the Austin Dam, at considerable expense to local taxpayers. Citizens voted in overwhelming support, putting themselves deeply in debt, hoping that industrialists might be attracted to their cheap water power and establish cotton mills and factories in the area. The vision was for Austin to transform from a sleepy rural town into a lively industrial hub.

Image by mirsasha | Flickr

The 60-foot-high dam stretched almost 1200 feet across the Colorado River, just northwest of the town. At the time of its construction, it was one of the biggest dams in the world.

Though the project did spark investment in the area, with developments springing up around the city, the flow of the Colorado River proved rather unpredictable, making it unsuitable for the steady power supply needed to drive the cotton mills. The manufacturing boom promoters had envisioned failed to materialize.

The dam fails

On April 7, 1900, at 11: 20 a.m., two 250-foot sections collapsed after a night of torrential downpour. Almost half the length of the Austin Dam gave way, allowing torrents from the Colorado River to breach the city. Eighteen people died in the floods, and more than 100 homes were destroyed.

Austin became one of the biggest oil towns in Texas

Today, more than 300 different companies contribute to Austin’s oil industry, which boomed in the early 1970s. Companies such as Brigham Exploration and Jones Energy have invested heavily in local infrastructure, employing residents in the fields of oil production, investment and surveying, and investing in research facilities at local universities.

Austin is known as the Live Music Capital of the World

Home to world-famous music festivals like Austin City Limits and South by Southwest, Austin has hosted some of the world’s finest performers—and has produced a wealth of musical talent itself. Some of the world’s most celebrated artists come from Austin, including Bob Schneider, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Willie Nelson, and Janice Joplin.