Who's Who in Austin History
Who's Who in Austin History
by Sebastian Wren
If you live in Austin, many of these names will be familiar to you. These (in alphabetical order) are the characters, names, and events that shaped this town.
Harry Akin -- Founder of the popular Night Hawk restaurant chain, Akin became a civic leader and role model in Austin. Akin promoted blacks in his restaurant, allowing blacks to serve as managers as early as the mid 1930s. He began serving blacks in his restaurants in 1958, well before other restaurants began doing so. Serving as Mayor of Austin, Akin encouraged other businesses to integrate and to lead the South in promoting civil rights.
L. C. Anderson -- A former slave who pursued a life of education and became a civic leader in Austin in the early part of the 20th Century. Anderson's father had been a city Alderman, and his brother had been one of the first principals of Anderson High School. L. C. Anderson took over Anderson High School from his brother in 1896 and remained principal for 30 years. L. C. Anderson remained one of the strongest leaders of the black community throughout his life.
Thomas Anderson -- established a grist-mill on Cypress Creek (Anderson Mill). The mill was covered in 1941 when Lake Travis was created.
William Barton -- one of the first settlers in Austin, lived near the springs that bear his name. Mostly known as an Indian fighter, and a loner. His daughter was the first woman married in Austin -- married to Richard J. Lloyd.
John Bergstrom -- A soldier from Austin stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines on December 7th, 1941. Hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese bombers attacked Clark Field. John Bergstrom was killed in that attack, becomming the first citizen of Austin to be killed in combat in World War II. The Del Valle Army Air Base was renamed in his honor less than a year later. After the air base was closed, the Austin City Airport was moved to the air base location, but retained Bergstrom's name.
George William Bonnell -- commissioner of Indian affairs under President Sam Houston. Mount Bonnell (once known as "Antonette's Leap," in memory of a woman who jumped to her death to escape Indians who had just killed her fiance) was named for him probably by Edward Burleson.
Richard Bullock -- opened the first hotel in Austin at what is now 6th and Congress. Mostly famous for a fight over pigs with French representative, Alphonse Dubois de Saligny.
Aaron Burleson -- Served under the command of his two brothers, participated in the Battle of Brushy Creek, and was one of the original land owners of what would eventually become Austin. The Burleson family settled a community they called Govalle, and Aaron Burleson lived there, a wealthy man, until very late in his life.
Edward Burleson -- lieutenant colonel of the militia of Austin Municipality, and lieutenant colonel of the infantry in Gen. Stephen F. Austin's army. On November 24, 1835, Burleson became general of the volunteer army and replaced Austin. He named Harrell's settlement "Waterloo." The most note-worthy of the Burleson brothers, Burleson Road is probably named for him, and he was the first person interred at the Texas State Cemetery.
Jacob Burleson -- commander of the army in the Battle of Brushy Creek -- the battle was a decisive victory over the Comanche raiders in the upper Colorado settlements, but Jacob was killed and his body mutilated.
David Gouverneur Burnet -- First president of the Republic of Texas, but only ad interim -- he served for 6 months. Later, he would be vice-president under Lamar. Burnet Road is named for him.
William Caswell -- Community activist and chairman of the Austin Parks and Recreation Board. In 1958, Caswell received the city's first award for being an outstanding citizen in community recreation. He is credited with Austin's first community recreation center - the Austin Athletic Club - which he built in 1923 as a private club and made available to the city, at a nominal cost, in 1931. (In June of 2006, the City Council finally voted to demolish the venerable Athletic Club, far too damaged from multiple floods to restore.) The tennis courts at the Athletic Club (then called the Austin Rec Center) were paved over during World War II to accomodate skating and dancing, so in 1948, the Caswell Tennis Center on Shoal Creek was jointly developed by Caswell and the City of Austin. Caswell Tennis Center is the oldest operating tennis facility in Texas. It is likely that Caswell Road in Hyde Park is also named for him.
Charles Clark -- Former slave. Bought two acres of land near 12th and West Lynn to establish the black community, Clarksville.
Abner Hugh Cook -- noted architect; built a number of the early substantial homes in Austin, including the governor's mansion, the Swisher-Scott Mansion, the Neill-Cochran House, and the Pease-Shivers Mansion. He also built the administration building at the Austin State Hospital and the school for the blind.
Alphonse Dubois de Saligny -- Assigned to establish relationships between France and the new country of Texas, Alphonse Dubois de Saligny created a fine building on a hill east of Austin that was to house the French Legation. A charming, but hot-headed individual, Alphonse Dubois de Saligny got into a heated argument with an innkeeper Richard Bullock over pigs. Bullock's pigs entered the Legation grounds on several occasions, and de Saligny threatened to kill them if they were not controlled. One day, pigs entered the courtyard, de Saligny's servant killed them, and Bullock responded by assaulting the servant. De Saligny became angry when the government in Texas did not take immediate action against Bullock and abandoned the city immediately. Austin's "Pig War" became part of Austin's folklore, and de Saligny's French Legation building stands to this day.
Angelina Eberly -- There was a lot of disagreement about where the capital of Texas should be established in the early days of Texas independence and statehood. Sam Houston wanted the capital further east, preferably in Houston. Others wanted it in Austin. Elections were held, compromises were made, and of course, Austin eventually became the capital of Texas. At one point, Houston sent Colonel Thomas Smith to Austin to take the land office papers (official papers of government that, among other things, contained information about land ownership in the state) out of the Land Office Building on Congress Avenue and take them to Houston's designated capital, Washington-on-the-Brazos. As Smith and his men were attempting to take the papers, Austin citizens began firing upon the Land Office to drive Smith away. Some of the citizens wheeled a cannon down the street, aimed it at the Land Office, and opened fire. Angelina Eberly is credited with being the person who actually fired the cannon. I'm pretty sure the new statue on Congress Avenue of a woman firing a cannon is a depiction of Eberly.
Jacob (Jake) Fontaine -- A former slave who became a Baptist minister. Established several of the first black churches in Austin, and founded the "Gold Dollar" -- the first black-owned weekly newspaper in Austin (and one of the first in Texas).
John Salmon (Rip) Ford -- Early mayor of Austin who made a career out of oppression and slavery. An outspoken advocate of secession prior to the Civil War and a commander of Confederate troops during the War. He fought to limit the rights of slaves and fought to abolish the practice of slaves buying their own time from their owners. In 1854, Ford and a group of vigilantes forced most of Austin's Hispanic residents to leave the city. They felt the presence of the Hispanics gave the slaves "false notions of freedom." Quite appropriately, I don't think that anything in this town is named in his honor.
General Gordan Granger -- Union commander of the Department of Texas, officially proclaimed the end of slavery in Texas on June 19th (Juneteenth).
Thomas Green -- celebrated general in the Confederate Army. Green died while leading an attack on federal gunboats patrolling the Red River at Blair's Landing. Tom Green Dam and street are named for him.
Andrew Jackson Hamilton -- A civic leader who was an outspoken opponent of secession prior to the Civil War. Fearing for his safety, Hamilton fled Texas during the Civil War, but returned to Austin in 1865 to serve as the first governor of Texas during Reconstruction. I have no idea if Hamilton Creek and Hamilton Pool are named for him, but I'd like to think so.
George Duncan Hancock -- One of the original landowners in Waterloo who relinquished land to create the city of Austin. Later ran a business at Pecan Street and Congress, and served on the committee that kept Austin the capital of Texas.
Louis Hancock -- mayor of Austin, son of George Duncan Hancock; established a 92-acre country-club on his property northeast of town featuring the city's first golf course. Hancock Center and the Hancock Golf Course are named for him.
Jacob Mangrin Harrell -- first white settler to what is the present site of Austin. He and his family lived near what is now the Congress Avenue bridge. Others joined Harrell and formed a community called Waterloo between Shoal Creek and what is now the Congress Avenue bridge. Mirabeau Lamar went deer and buffalo hunting with Harrell, and fell in love with the area (He also bagged the "biggest buffalo seen by his guide" near the present site of Eighth and Congress). Harrell was one of the owners of the land that Lamar bought to establish the capital of Texas (along with Logan Vandeveer, James Rodgers, George Hancock, and Aaron Burleson).
J. Pinckney Henderson -- first governor of the state of Texas after Texas joined the Union.
Sam Houston -- first and third elected president of the Republic of Texas, it is said he hated the "swamp lands" where the new capital was established. In 1842, General Vasquez, invaded Texas and captured San Antonio (again). Sam Houston ordered the seat of government moved from Austin to the small town of Houston. The citizens of Austin organized to prevent this movement. Although government operations were moved to Houston on March 13th (and then to Washington-on-the-Brazos in September), they were returned to Austin in 1845. An ongoing debate to select a permanent site for the capital was not fully resolved until November 1872 when Austin won over Houston and Waco in a state-wide election.
Anson Jones -- fourth and final president of the Republic of Texas, Jones moved all state government operations back to Austin after Sam Houston moved them away during the Mexican invasion of 1842.
Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar -- Commander of the cavalry at the crucial Battle of San Jacinto on April 21st. Ten days after this victory over General Santa Anna, Lamar was appointed Secretary of War in the Cabinet of David Burnet. By June of 1836 Lamar was a Major General and the Commander in Chief of the Texas Army. In less than one hundred days, the 38 year old Lamar had risen from private to Commander in Chief. Eventually, he would be the first elected vice-president of the Republic of Texas, and then he would succeed Sam Houston as the second elected president of the republic. As president, Lamar was largely responsible for the selection of Austin, then named Waterloo, as the permanent site for the capital of Texas. He also established the educational system that would eventually give rise to both the University of Texas and Texas A & M University.
George Washington Littlefield -- Fought in the civil war with the Texas Rangers; achieved the rank of Major at a young age, but was severely wounded by a cannon blast. Moved back to Texas and eventually made a fortune as a cattle rancher owning about a million acres of ranch land all around Texas and New Mexico. He bought the Driskell Hotel shortly after it was built, and built the Littlefield Building next to it. Originally the Littlefield building was 7 stories tall and featured a rooftop garden, but when the 8 story Scarbrough building was built across the street, Littlefield, miffed that his was no longer the tallest building downtown, had two extra stories added to the top of his building.
He served on the board of regents for the University of Texas, and gave the university a variety of gifts, including the Littlefield Fountain, the Alice Littlefield women's dorm, statues on the south mall, and of course, the Littlefield Mansion. He also helped to finance the construction of the new main building. When funding for the University of Texas was cut, Littlefield saved the University by providing funds from his own estate.
Emma Long -- Elected in 1948 as the first woman to serve on the City Council, Emma Long was a champion of civil rights in Austin. In the late 40s and early 50s, blacks were beginning to demand fair rights, and Emma Long found herself supporting their causes on several occasions. From allowing blacks to use the Public Library to integrating the schools, Emma Long was an outspoken advocate of civil rights. Emma Long Park is named in her honor.
Woodford H. Mabry -- General in the Texas Volunteer Guard. Mabry commanded a summer encampment of the Texas Volunteer Guard in Hyde Park in 1891, putting on shows and dress parades for the citizens of Austin. The next summer, Austin donated 90 acres to the Guard northwest of town -- what is present-day Camp Mabry.
Sam and Raiford Mason -- Both were freed slaves who established the black community of Masontown east of Austin.
Jane Y. McCallum -- Very influential and successful leader of the Woman Sufferage Association. However, McCallum High School is named for her husband, Arthur, who was superintendent of schools from 1903 to 1942.
Tom Miller -- Very powerful and influential mayor of Austin for 22 years before, during, and after World War II and stretching into the 1960s. Miller was responsible for the shaping of Austin during periods of incredible growth.
Charles Newning, George Warner, and William Stacy -- started the Fairview Park (Travis Heights) section south of the Colorado River. Stacy Park in the middle of Travis Heights is, of course, named for William Stacy.
Elisabet Ney -- sculptor; primarily noted for her works of Texas heroes. Built a substantial home and studio on Shipe's Hyde Park.
Lester Palmer -- Mayor of Austin in the early 1960s, Palmer distinguished himself by fighting for the wrong side in Civil Rights disputes. After a Civil Rights battle with peaceful protesters who filibustered the City Council meetings for several days, Palmer, who adamantly would not give ground to the protesters, was hospitalized for eleven days due to exhaustion. The protesters were only asking for the establishment of a human relations commission.
Elisha Marshall Pease -- Governor of Texas when the first capitol building was built. He also established the Texas asylums for the blind, deaf and insane. He lived in Woodlawn which overlooked Shoal Creek, and Pease Park (once part of Woodlawn) is named for him (as is Pease Elementary School). Later, he sold some of his land to Charles Clark, a former slave, to establish the town of Clarksville.
William Sydney Porter (a.k.a. O'Henry) -- noted author and humorist. Ran a weekly newspaper called The Rolling Stone. In one of his stories, he made reference to the "Violet Crown," and this became the nickname for the city of Austin: "The City of the Violet Crown."
Joseph William Robertson -- surgeon in the Texas Rangers and the Texas army. Established a medical practice and a pharmaceutical business on Congress Avenue and became Austin's 5th mayor. Bought the French Legation in 1848 at the top of what is now Robertson's Hill -- his family lived in the building for 100 years, and then turned it over to the state of Texas.
Lawrence Sullivan (Sul) Ross -- Former governor of Texas. Took over as president of Texas A &M. Eventually died after accidentally eating rat poison.
James B. Shaw -- State comptroller. Established a 200 acre estate called Woodlawn on Shoal Creek (the palatial main house is still on Niles Road). He sold the estate to governor Elisha Marshall Pease (later, governor Allan Shivers lived in Woodlawn). Woodlawn is one of four surviving mansions built by celebrated architect Abner H. Cook (the governor's mansion being one of the remaining three).
Monroe Shipe -- built the city's first electric streetcar system and powered it with his electric power plant on the Colorado River. He also created the Hyde Park neighborhood (Austin's first suburb) and built a road from Hyde Park to the city. The road was well maintained and was the fastest thoroughfare in town, and thus earned the name "Speedway." Hyde Park featured a horse racetrack, a man-made lake for swimming, sailing and rowing, and a large recreation park. Homes in Hyde Park cost as little as $125. Later, Shipe extended track from his streetcar system to take people to and from the Hyde Park subdivision. Shipe Park is named for him.
Samuel Stone -- operated the only ferry across the Colorado River, near the mouth of Waller Creek.
Heman Marion Sweatt -- After four years of legal battles, culminating in a Supreme Court decision, Sweatt became one of the first blacks to be admitted as a student in the University of Texas in 1950. Blacks were admitted in 1950, but only into a few, select graduate programs. Sweatt, appropriately enough, entered the U.T. Law School.
Jessie Cornelius Tannehill -- Established a small community just down river from Waterloo called Montopolis.
Ben Thompson -- A notorious gunfighter and gambler, Ben Thompson settled in Austin in the 1870's. In 1880, the gunfighter became the Austin City Marshal, and served for two years until he had to resign after killing gambler Jack Harris in a gunfight in San Antonio. He was acquitted of murder, but when he returned to San Antonio in 1884, Jack Harris' friends attacked and killed Thompson.
William Barret Travis -- commander of the Texas forces who died defending the Alamo.
Roy Velasquez -- Founder of Roy's Taxi, Roy Velasquez was a powerful leader in Austin's Mexican-American community. Velasquez helped to establish the Austin chapter of LULAC and supported Lyndon Johnson in his first campaign for Congress.
Edwin Waller -- Designed the city plan for Austin. Waller conceived of the "tree" streets running east to west and "river" streets running north and south (the tree names were later replace with numbered streets, but the river names remain). Later, he was elected as Austin's first mayor. Waller Creek is named for him.
James Wheat -- Former slave. Established a black community on the banks of Shoal Creek (between 24th and 26th streets). Bought a plot of land at 2409 San Gabriel street and became Wheatville's first land owner (now a parking lot for Freewheeling Bicycles, this black-owned property was less than one block from the Neill-Cochran House -- a mansion built by Abner Cook).
George Franklin, another former slave, built a substantial stone building across the street from Wheat's house at what is now 2402 San Gabriel -- that building (once the offices for Jake Fontaine's Gold Dollar newspaper) is the only surviving artifact of Wheatville. In the 19-teens, pressures were exerted to move the blacks from Wheatville to east Austin. Trash was dumped in the streets, and black schools were moved. In the 1920s and early 1930s, the black population of Wheatville dropped to nearly zero. Wheatsville co-op grocery was named as a tribute to this forgotten community.
Alexander Penn Wooldridge -- One of the most influential citizens in Austin history, Wooldridge had a profound impact on the evolution of the city of Austin. In the 1880s, a statewide competition was held to determine the location of the University of Texas. Wooldridge led the fight to establish the seat of education for the state here in Austin. A. P. Wooldridge also helped to establish a city public school system, and served on the first Board of Trustees for the Austin Public School System. Wooldridge also led the often contentious fight to create a dam across the Colorado River.
In 1909, Wooldridge became Mayor of Austin and became a strong proponent of city planning and beautification, creating Austin's first landscaped public park -- Wooldridge Park -- and launching a system of city parks. Wooldridge later led the fight to create a public hospital (now Brackenridge Hospital) and managed to close Austin's long-standing Red-Light district known as "Guy Town."
Andrew Jackson Zilker -- A political rival of A. P. Wooldridge in the early 20th Century, Andrew Zilker also helped to shape Austin. Donating his family land (a donation that came with the stipulation that the city establish a $100,000 fund for the public education of white students), and working behind the scenes to support Tom Miller, Zilker's contribution to Austin was quite substantial.
Other Places and names: Before this area became Austin, it was a small pioneer village called Waterloo. A number of businesses and places in Austin are still called Waterloo.
Enfield was a section of the Elisha Marshall Pease estate that was sold to the public in 1916. It was named for the birthplace of Elisha Pease -- Enfield, Connecticut.
Prostitution had a place in the formation and evolution of the city of Austin. The notorious "Guy Town" located a few blocks west of Congress Avenue (in what is now colloquially known as the Warehouse District) thrived from the 1870s until it was closed in 1913. Although technically illegal, Guy Town was frequented by thousands of university students, politicians, and civic leaders. In 1887, the city council voted to legalize Guy Town, but the mayor vetoed the resolution -- many civic leaders clearly condoned Guy Town. Later, prostitution was accepted practice in hotels along South Congress.
Convict Hill -- Original plans for the State Capitol Building called for a limestone construction and facade. However, tests revealed that the local limestone tended to streak and stain in the weather. The plans for the facade were changed to Llano Pink Granite, but limestone was still a major part of the interior structure. To cut costs, much of the limestone was quarried by prison labor in an area southwest of town called Oatmanville, later called Oak Hill. A few of the prisoners died in the process and were buried in the hill being quarried -- thus the name Convict Hill.
Events of note:
A period of widespread lawlessness began in May, 1865 when bands of returning soldiers looted government buildings in Austin. They argued that they had not been paid for their years of service in the army of the Confederacy. Local authorities were unable to stop the destruction. The State Treasury was looted on June 11th, 1865.