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AUSTIN HISTORY

Before the arrival of European settlers, the area around present-day Austin was inhabited for several hundred years by a mixture of Tonkawa, Comanche, and Lipan Apache Indians, who fished and hunted along the creeks, including present-day Barton Springs.

In the late 1700s the Spanish set up temporary missions in the area, later moving to San Antonio.

The first Anglo settlers arrived in the area in the 1830s when Texas was still part of Mexico. They founded the village of Waterloo along the banks of the Colorado River. According to local folklore, Stephen F. Austin, the "father of Texas", negotiated a peace treaty with the local Indians at the site of the present day Treaty Oak after several settlers were killed in raids.

In 1839, Waterloo was chosen to become the capital of the new Republic of Texas, and the town was renamed Austin in honor of Stephen F. Austin.

A grid plan for the city streets was surveyed by Judge Edwin Waller (after whom Waller Creek was named). The grid survives nearly intact as the streets of 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. The original north-south grid was bookended by West Street and East Street (now I-35).

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. The east-west streets were later renamed in a numbered progression, with Pecan Street becoming Sixth Street. The original tree-named streets survive in nostalgic names, including Pecan Street, which is the name of a locally-produced beer.

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 people.

In 1842, Austin almost lost its status as capital city during the event known as the Texas Archive War. President Sam Houston had tried to relocate the seat of government from Austin to Houston, and then to Washington-on-the-Brazos. In the dead of night on December 29, 1842, a group of men was sent to take the archives of Texas from Austin to Washington-on-the-Brazos. Mrs. 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 back to Austin.

After Texas was admitted to the Union in 1845, two statewide elections were held that attempted to move the capital elsewhere, but Austin remained the capital.

In September 1881, the city schools admitted their first classes. That same year, the first institution of higher learning, the forerunner of Huston-Tillotson College, opened as the Tillotson Collegiate and Normal Institute.

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."

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

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

In 1910, the concrete Congress Avenue Bridge across the Colorado River opened, fostering development along South Congress. The Littlefield Building at 6th and Congress also opened in 1910.

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

In the 1930s, the original dam was replaced by a series of seven dams built by the federal government which created the string of reservoirs that now define the river's course through Austin. Lyndon Baines Johnson, then a member of the House of Representatives, was instrumental in getting the funding authorized for these dams.

On August 1, 1966, Austin was terrorized by Charles Whitman, who shot and killed 16 people with a high-powered rifle from the clocktower of the Main Building on the University of Texas campus. The event is considered the most traumatic event in the city's history.

In the 1970s, Austin became a refuge for a group of Country and Western musicians and songwriters seeking to escape the corporate industry domination of Nashville. The best-known artist in this group was Willie Nelson, who became an icon for the local "alternate music industry." In the following years, Austin gained a reputation as a place where struggling musicians could come and launch their careers in informal live venues in front of receptive audiences. This ultimately led to the present situation where the city touts itself as 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 collapse 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 which defined the themes of the larger battles.

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.

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

 

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