For hundreds of years, the Colorado River attracted the nomadic tribes of Tonkawas, Comanches, and Lipan Apaches to what is now known as Austin. According to Biruta Celmins Kearl, Curator Emerita for the Austin History Center, “In the late 1700s, the Spanish set up temporary missions in the area. In the 1830s the first permanent Anglo settlers arrived and called their village Waterloo.”
In 1839, it was decided that Waterloo would be the capital of the new Republic of Texas. With Stephen F. Austin, “the father of Texas” and Judge Edwin Waller, the city’s first mayor at the helm street plans were developed, which included a hilltop capitol building. By January 1840, the town’s population was a sprawling 856 people and by 1888 the capitol was tagged “7th largest building in the world”.
“Efforts to place the new University of Texas in Austin faced some opposition, however. Parents were warned that sending their sons to school so close to lawmakers would be a terrible influence on their morals,” explains Kearl.
In 1939, Austin’s public works were shaped by a then young congressman Lyndon Baines Johnson, who kicked off his career in government work, in Austin.
By the 1950s, brought research laboratories and think tanks had been founded, which attracted innovative thinkers, establishing the foundation for Austin’s technological future. The 1970s brought local grassroots political campaigns, focused on strong neighborhood initiatives, environmental issues, and historic community preservation. At this time diverse cultural groups including immigrants from Europe, Africa, Mexico, and Asia began to flock to the city. Austin’s musical prominence began in the 1970s, with artists such as David Rodriguez and Willie Nelson bringing Austin to the national stage.
“Today, Austin is known as much for its cultural life and high-tech innovations as it is for the senators and schoolteachers who shaped its beginnings.” – Austin History Center