When historian Lew Carlson was asked to update the chronicles of Lakeway, he balked.
“I can’t write a history of a community that is 29 years younger than I am,” he thought. “That’s current events! My wife suggested I get off my high horse and start researching.”
For a spot that’s celebrating its 50th birthday — not exactly antediluvian for a city — Lakeway is fixated on history. That’s why Peggy Point — who helped transform the neophyte Lakeway Historical Society into the city-backed Lakeway Historical Commission, housed at the apt-looking Lakeway Heritage Center — urged Carlson, professor emeritus from Western Michigan University, to write “Lakeway: A Hill Country Community.”
Yet Carlson’s handsome hardback, published in 2011, was not even the first attempt at a comprehensive history of the area. Point credits late Navy veteran Byron Varner, author of an earlier book, “Lakeway: The First 25 Years,” with the city’s first wave of historical enthusiasm.
“He was intensely interested in Lakeway becoming what it could become,” says Point, originally from West Texas. “He was the driving force behind saving the history.”
Longtime Central Texans might be aware that, in 1963, Lakeway was born as an isolated resort and inn among the sparsely populated brush country above Lake Travis. It grew gently into a retirement colony centered on golf and tennis.
More recently — and not without social friction — Lakeway has become an Austin suburb and home to families who fill up its highly rated schools. Intense retail expansion, a new hospital and more dense residential development now fringe RM 620.
Mike Boston, part-time archivist at the Lakeway Heritage Center, fears that newcomers and casual visitors don’t realize the cultural heart of Lakeway is not along that busy highway, but rather can be found among the winding lanes below the original resort on the Hurst Creek inlet.
“People don’t take the time to stop,” Boston says. “It’s a really quiet residential community that I wouldn’t trade for the world.”
Carlson suggests several reasons that the “chronologically advantaged” citizens of Lakeway tend to put so much more energy into history than do other Texans.
“They’ve seen it,” he says. “Including the Korean War and World War II.”
Also, the Lakeway residents who retired from the oil business, the military or other fields came from places where history in general was celebrated regularly.
Carlson, for instance, was interested in the German immigrants who settled the Hudson Bend area on the Colorado River, in particular John Henry Lohman — the family’s last name is sometimes spelled with two “n’s” — whose low-water crossing of the river provided a vital link to northern amenities such as Anderson Mill.
Lohman was among the pioneers who, in the 1860s, cleared the land and blazed the trails that many current Lakeway roads still follow.
Back then, Tonkawas and Comanches still hunted and raided among the steep hills and hidden ravines, where today’s residents continue to uncover artifacts.
The names of the pioneer families — Hudsons, Lohmans, Stewarts, Bohlses, Johnsons — echo among the area landmarks. Some early hamlets, such as Teck and Flint Rock, are gone. Nearby Bee Cave survived, greatly altered.
One of Carlson’s favorite stories involves a grisly 1882 murder related to an accident.
“They called it the ‘Assassination in Flint Rock,’” Carlson says with glee. “On the Fourth of July, the postmaster at the Lohman family ranch offered libations. One man dipped too deeply and tipped his buggy on the way home and died. His wife blamed the postmaster and hired a hitman, whom the newspaper described as ‘a German with thick lips.’ The murderer served time in prison before dying in the 1900 Galveston flood.”
Former Lake Travis View editor Charles McClure, quoted in Carlson’s book, recalled the few old-timers who lived here before the impounding of the river and the subsequent rural electrification in the 1930 and ’40s. In 2006, for instance, Marie Maul and Ozell Phillips, direct descendants of John Henry Lohman, shared their memories on those days.
“My father gave $120 for 120 acres,” Maul said. “We lived there 18 years and nearly starved to death.”
“I was born and raised on Hudson Bend before Mansfield Dam was built,” Ozell related. “I used to walk four miles each way to school every day in Teck. Eight miles is a pretty good walk. The area just had plain dirt roads those days.”
Anna Reinke — a Lohman descendant known as “Lakeway Anna” — kept a diary for 25 years on land she first called “The Rockies.” Her jottings became a vital resource for Carlson’s history.
The entry for April 10, 1940, includes an unusual purchase in Austin: “An old streetcar for which I paid 30 dollars and 17 dollars and fifty cents for moving it to the Rockies.”
Entry for Oct. 31, 1942: “I moved from 4410 Ave. C, Austin, Texas, to the Rockies to live in my streetcar. And renamed the place Flint Rock, which was the name of this place 70 years ago.”
Reinke lived in the streetcar until shortly before her death in 1971.
Boston moved to Lakeway in 1997 after he and his wife spent their entire careers in the Navy. He relates the popular story of how the rugged area was scouted for its current incarnation.
“A military pilot was flying over and said: What a great place to start a community,” he says. “He later became a mayor.”
The early resort was cooked up by businessmen with backgrounds in oil and real estate at the old Commodore Perry Hotel in downtown Austin. Agents were set up around the state to sell lots on land that, in 1963, this newspaper declared too remote to be easily accessed from Austin.
Great debates accompanied each step in Lakeway’s evolution. Many residents opposed incorporation. Others fought against the Lakeway City Park, which they feared would become a second Hippie Hollow. The debut of schools was not well received by some retirees who had moved to the area in part to escape the attendant taxes.
Boston, Point and Carlson agree, however, that many changes have enhanced an historically rich place where any sort of social pretension is frowned upon.
“So many people outside of Lakeway think it’s a bunch of rich, retired people who don’t do anything,” Point says. “The volunteerism and community involvement is more here than I’ve ever seen anywhere else.”
Michael Barnes writes about Austin’s people, places, culture and history.