Austin's sheer physical beauty captured the heart of visiting Republic of Texas vice
president Mirabeau B. Lamar, who traveled in 1838 to what was then known as Waterloo to hunt
buffalo with friend Jacob Harrell, who lived in the land of the Comanche and Tonkawa Indians.
Succeeding Texas Revolution hero Sam Houston as president of a young nation, Lamar
dispatched surveyor Edwin Waller to the Texas Hill Country village that the President's Commission
had renamed the capital of the upstart Republic to honor Stephen F. Austin. Waller in 1839
surveyed the town, selling lots and overseeing construction of a dog-trot style state capitol.
Waller's visionary layout of the central city, which followed the area's topography, remains
essentially unchanged 150 years later.
With the city still vulnerable to Indian attacks in 1842, Austin found itself virtually deserted
as Gov. Sam Houston moved the Republic's government to Houston to keep it out of harm's way.
Houston might be the state capital today without the governor's failed attempt to have Texas
Rangers retrieve the state's archives.
In The Archive Wars, Austin hotelkeeper Angelina Belle Eberly spotted the Rangers that
Houston had dispatched to Austin loading documents taken from a state building into wagons. She
fired a cannon to alert the townspeople, who chased the lawmen to Brushy Creek and recovered
In 1845, Republic President Anson Jones moved the capital back to Austin. Austinites
would see a flourish of construction: the Capitol (1853), the Governor's Mansion (1856) and the
General Land Office (1857). Today, the General Land Office serves as the Capitol Complex Visitor
In the next quarter century, an iron bridge spanned the Colorado River (1884), the
University of Texas was founded (1883) and the moonlight towers lit the downtown sky. The Flood
of 1900 swept away the bridge, houses and livestock, and left more than 20,000 residents in
When the city's limestone Capitol burned to the ground in 1881, citizens rallied to build a
granite structure that stands 309 feet. Free Capitol tours are given daily at the statehouse that
underwent a four-year, $67 million renovation. The town's political legacy includes the likes of “Ma”
Ferguson, the second woman to serve as governor in the United States, and President Lyndon
Johnson, who was elected in 1937 to represent Austin in the U.S. Congress.
The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on the UT campus chronicles the
remarkable life of the state's most renowned politician through 40 million papers and documents,
emotionally charged dioramas, recordings, photography, music, sound effects and recorded
commentary. The museum is open 9 to 5 daily, except Christmas Day.
The Congress Avenue and Sixth Street (Pecan Street) National Register Districts interweave
modern skyscrapers with more ornate 19th century buildings such as the Old Bakery (1876), Millett
Opera House (1878), Driskill Hotel (1886), Walter Tips Building (1876) and Robinson-Rosner Building
(1856). Historically significant places of worship, such as St. Mary's Cathedral (1874) and St.
David's Church (1854) reflect Old World architecture. The Historic Congress Avenue & Sixth Street
tour times are 9 a.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.
O. Henry Home and Museum (1888) is worth a short side trip. Relocated from 308 E. 4th St. to 5th Street
between Trinity and Neches, the Victorian cottage served as the residence of
famous short story writer William Sydney Porter and his family from 1893-95. The museum is free
and open from 12-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday.
Take a stroll through the Bremond Block National Historic Register District, a residential
enclave of stately homes built on the edge of the city's commercial district before the turn of the
century. It contains a collection of homes belonging to members of the John Bremond, Sr. family,
a wealthy merchant, and his prosperous neighbors, the Robinsons and Hirschfields. Guided
walking tours of the Historic Bremond Block take place at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.