At the edge of Circle C, three steep hills surface above a creek. Around them winds a five-mile trail. Obeying signs and avoiding collisions, hikers go one way, bikers the other.
The Slaughter Creek Preserve Trail, with its rough-hewn 1860s Trautwein Homestead, popped up during 12 months exploring Central Texas for the American-Statesman’s monthly Real magazine. Friday, a 12th issue marked Real’s first full year in existence.
Each edition of Real includes a neighborhood profile with photographs, a map and key facts. The reporting on each story begins with a scouting trip around the area’s contours and boundaries, usually accompanied by our dogs. Next come hours poring over maps, histories and material from the Austin History Center. The reporting usually wraps with a tour led by a local leader and interviews with residents, business owners and just plain characters.
Though I’ve lived in Central Texas for almost 30 years, surprises wait around every corner lot.
For instance, Mueller, though half-complete, already has generated an amazingly tight-knit social scene, in part because its New Urbanist design encourages personal interplay across front porches, shallow yards, back alleys and parks.
Carefully documented and fiercely preserved, Hyde Park contains a thousand treasures from its Victorian past and more recent eras. Yet the out-of-time Avenue B Grocery is the one gem I won’t forget. Lunch there should be required of every new Austin citizen.
Hippies did much to preserve the eccentric buildings in neighborhoods like Hyde Park, but in Buda? That’s right. The former railroad stop and current freeway suburb can thank counterculturalists for fixing up much of the old town that now forms a natural hub for Budan life.
In Sun City, I was taken aback by the endless, energetic activities embraced by the seniors who live in modest houses, play on multiple golf courses and gather enthusiastically in group centers. They also cultivate what might be the most extensive and productive community garden in Central Texas.
Travis Heights lies across South Congress Avenue from our home base in Bouldin Creek. Yet it was neat to confirm that the flat grid of its Swisher Addition is older than its grander Fairview Park. What exactly was the relationship to the rest of the addition on the west side of Congress, which included the blacks-only Brackenridge, alternately called Southside? We’ll keep asking.
For previous stories, I’d thoroughly explored the East Austin splendors of Guadalupe, named after the Catholic Church that moved to the area in the 1920s. Yet who knew that, by 2010, this former hub for African-Americans and Latinos was already half Anglo? And it continues to evolve.
Mostly flat Crestview actually comes with a crest and a view — a modest look at the western hills — but what’s incredible is the midcentury subdivision’s Welcome Wall. It encapsulates the area’s history, complemented by “Voices of the Violet Crown,” a website that collects area oral history.
Finding out that Lakeway had virtually no sidewalks wasn’t earth-shattering. But to follow its crisp, well-tended nature trails, thick with wildlife, and to learn about its years as a resort spot with a statewide following was a delight.
I had spent time in the solid ranch houses along the wide, arcing streets of Windsor Park, but didn’t absorb before how quickly it, too, is changing. With the addition of a giant H-E-B market center to next-door Mueller, the once sleepy, midcentury Windsor Park is surely going to alter rapidly.
Aside from the Nature Preserve, Circle C is also home to extensive regional parks as well as the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. For a development once on the front lines of Austin’s environmental wars, the mellow, maturing hood ended up with a big, green slice of nature.
Old West Austin and Clarksville are so packed with eye-openers — alley gardens, back streets, hidden arroyos — one could say the whole district is a series of surprises. One that stayed with me, however, is the divisive debate about which streets constitute Clarksville and which Old West Austin. (They overlap happily in the minds of most Austinites.)
The folks in Block House Creek carefully tend the past and the future of their tidy Cedar Park subdivision. Yet the area’s miracle is its namesake stream that is deep, sparkling and full of bass and perch even during a bad drought.
On to the next 12 Real neighborhoods!
Michael Barnes writes about Austin’s people, places and history