Austin History


How Texas history became one woman’s life passion

If you stop by the side of the road in Texas to check out historical markers regularly, you likely read her words. If you attend lifetime learning clubs in the Austin area, you likely hear her speak. And if you browse the Texana section of any decent-size bookstore, at some point you’ll run across the name “Myra McIlvain” on the spines of histories, historical novels and nonfiction...

Cedar chopper killed 2 on West Monroe Street

Tales of historical murder and mayhem mean a lot more when they happened on your street. We’re still reading Ken Roberts’ excellent “The Cedar Choppers: Life on the Edge of Nothing” (Texas A&M University Press), an account of the clans who lived mostly isolated lives in the Hill Country west and north of Austin. One incident of violence concerning a Teague clan member near...

Austin learns a lot from Larry Wright, Evan Smith and Amy Mills

The Library was the place to be. Not the Central Public Library. But the blue-and-red rectangular meeting room at  Hotel van Zandt. It was the location for a  Toast of the Town salon to support the  Neal Kocurek Scholarship Fund for health sciences careers, operated by the  St. David’s Foundation. Thirty...
Pinpointing a 1940s Bluff Springs baptism

Pinpointing a 1940s Bluff Springs baptism

Reader Craig Scott contacted our Austin Answered project: “I recently saw a photo of people getting baptized in the springs at Bluff Springs dated back in the 1940s,” he writes. “It had a concrete enclosure. Can you run a story on where the actual springs were or are?” The compelling image, shared on the Facebook page of the Manchaca-Onion Creek Historical Association by Joy...
Travis commissioners appoint first Palm School advisory board member

Travis commissioners appoint first Palm School advisory board member

The Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday nominated the first member to a three-person advisory board that will make recommendations regarding how the county’s historic Palm School property ought to be preserved and redeveloped. Commissioner Margaret Gómez nominated Anita Quintanilla, a former student of the school, and the court approved her nomination unanimously with Commissioner...
Best Austin coffee shops near Airport Boulevard

Best Austin coffee shops near Airport Boulevard

Airport Boulevard is fast changing into a cultural magnet. Austin Community College anchors a remake of Highland Mall and numerous new hot spots pop up on the boulevard. Yet some of the nearby coffee shops not far away are among Austin’s oldest and most revered. Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery. 411 E. 43rd St. 512-453-3399. quacksbakery.com. 6:30 a...
I’m from Oatmeal or Nameless or Radiance or Mud City, Texas

I’m from Oatmeal or Nameless or Radiance or Mud City, Texas

The Lone Star Library has released a second edition in paperback of “Texas Towns: From Abner to Zipperlandville,” revised by Paris Parmenter and John Bigley from the late Don Blevins’ nifty thematic guide to name origins, settlement dates and driving directions for hamlets, villages and towns all over the state. Here are some choice, out-of-the-way spots in the greater Austin area...
The Continental Club in the 1960s had a different dress code

The Continental Club in the 1960s had a different dress code

A reader asks our Austin Answered project: “Was the Continental Club a sleazy topless bar back in the early 1960s? I remember having a roommate in 1963 who danced there.” Yes. What was founded by Morin Scott in 1957 on South Congress Avenue as a swanky jazz supper club became by the early ’60s what has been variously described as a “burlesque,” “strip club&rdquo...
Family and politics linked first lady Barbara Bush to Austin

Family and politics linked first lady Barbara Bush to Austin

Although recently deceased first lady Barbara Bush never lived in Austin, she forged ties here during her husband’s two unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Senate (1964 and 1970) and during her son’s two terms as Texas governor (1995-2000). In keeping with White House tradition, Bush kept in touch with former presidents and their families, and her long-standing relationship with President Lyndon...
Phillips: Billy Harden opened doors and brought passion to the stage

Phillips: Billy Harden opened doors and brought passion to the stage

Billy Harden was an Austin treasure. Not just because he was a towering figure in the African-American community, but because Billy — who I knew for over 25 years — was a mover and shaker in Austin’s arts and education communities. Austin School Independent School trustees plan to pay tribute to Harden on April 30 for his efforts helping students succeed. The Austin native died last...
Why all those names on Austin dedication plaques?

Why all those names on Austin dedication plaques?

A reader asks our Austin Answered project: “Why do politicians and construction companies place their names on public property? These places are for people. They are not billboards.” We asked him to clarify: “Do you mean the cornerstones and dedication plaques that go onto structures honoring the folks who authorized them, or paid for them, or built them?” The reader sent a...
Grasping Manos de Cristo and Ballet Austin

Grasping Manos de Cristo and Ballet Austin

The invocation at the Manos de Cristo gala snuck up on me. My mind wandered a bit — in a good way — during a biblical reading from Luke. Then it closed with a punch: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Carlos and Sara Galindo at Manos de Cristo 30th Anniversary Gala. Michael...
Austin has more to say about the Stallion Drive Inn

Austin has more to say about the Stallion Drive Inn

Our story about the Stallion Drive Inn, a comfort food spot on North Lamar Boulevard, stirred strong memories among our readers. Steve Hamlett remembers cheap, good food — and lots of it. He describes a sign on the side of the building that read: “Flash Your Lights.” “Were diners supposed to flash their car lights to let the people inside know that more customers were arriving?&rdquo...
Briscoe Center offers a staggering look at civil rights movement

Briscoe Center offers a staggering look at civil rights movement

Look intently at the images. Think about what they mean. Then consider that these images of the civil rights movement — some of them disturbing — reflect what actually happened in this country within the lifetimes of many readers of this newspaper, including this reporter. It’s impossible to walk away without feeling that this period of intense activism that peaked roughly 50 years...
When Billy Graham preached at the Texas Capitol

When Billy Graham preached at the Texas Capitol

Reader Joan Johnson Culver writes to our Austin Answered project: “I have exhausted research looking for the visit that Billy Graham paid to Austin in the late ’40s or very early ’50s. He preached on the southwest corner of the Capitol grounds across from the governor’s mansion and what was then the old Cook Funeral Home. I was a very young teenager and attended the service...
Mixed memories of the Stallion Drive Inn eatery on North Lamar

Mixed memories of the Stallion Drive Inn eatery on North Lamar

Reader Gary Vliet asks of our Answered Answered project: “In the 1970s there was a great restaurant on North Lamar, the Stallion. Could you give a little history and when and why it closed?” The Stallion Drive Inn Restaurant was located at 5534 Dallas Highway — now North Lamar Boulevard. We know that the Stallion, which served comfort food such as chicken fried steak, veal cutlets...
Before the bombs, Austin area produced plenty of sensational crimes

Before the bombs, Austin area produced plenty of sensational crimes

For a place with a reasonably good reputation for public safety, the Austin area has produced some of the most traumatic and sensationally reported crimes in American history. Consider that Central Texas witnessed the first modern serial murders (unsolved, Austin, 1884-1885); the first serious convictions during a bloody national revival of the Ku Klux Klan (prosecutor Dan Moody, Georgetown...
Discover the Statesman’s various homes after 1900

Discover the Statesman’s various homes after 1900

Part 2 of a two-part series on the many homes of the American-Statesman. Last week, we shared a half-dozen 19th-century addresses for the Democratic Statesman and its offspring, the more plainly named Statesman, dating back to 1871. At one time, it was located above a saloon on Congress Avenue, at another point in an opera house on East Ninth Street, then later at two different offices inside the...
Austin bomb victims’ families united by one church

Austin bomb victims’ families united by one church

A single church unites the families of two victims of the recent package bombs in East Austin. Since 1929, Wesley United Methodist Church has stood like a beacon on the corner of San Bernard and Hackberry streets in the Sugar Hill district of East Austin. From the beginning, churchgoers have figured prominently in education, philanthropy and civil rights activism. Founded in 1865 during a time of...
Five Texas books we love in early 2018

Five Texas books we love in early 2018

These new Texas books — plus one minor classic — reminds us how much is worth reading about our state in early 2018. “Myself and Strangers: A Memoir of Apprenticeship.” John Graves. University of Texas Press. One can make the argument that John Graves is among the finest authors Texas ever produced. Yet few readers venture beyond his masterpiece, “Goodbye...
The Statesman has had more than a dozen homes

The Statesman has had more than a dozen homes

This is Part 1 of a two-part column on this newspaper’s many homes. Ben Sargent, political cartoonist, printer and history advocate, asks: “Has anyone ever listed all the various places from which the Statesman has been published in its nearly 150 years?” “My curiosity was prompted while looking at a 1900 Sanborn (fire insurance) map of downtown Austin, and I noticed that in...
Five things to know about the Texas Film Awards

Five things to know about the Texas Film Awards

Preposterously charming  Armie Hammer and  Timothée Chalamet — greeted by squeals of joy on the red carpet — were the big draws at the split-screen 2018  Texas Film Awards. Yet there was so much more to observe and savor before, during and after the inevitable celebrity highlights. Honorees Armie Hammer poses with presenter...
PolitiFact: These two Texas heroes had ties to slavery

PolitiFact: These two Texas heroes had ties to slavery

An Austin school board member hinted at the stain of slavery in the Old South when she warned that changing the names of schools named after Texans with Confederate roles makes it logical to change the names of even more schools. Austin school Trustee Ann Teich said at the school board’s Feb. 26 meeting that if the board was set on keeping the names of people who supported slavery from tainting...
Hobgoblin consistency helped name Austin’s ‘half’ streets

Hobgoblin consistency helped name Austin’s ‘half’ streets

Recently for our Austin Answered project, we responded to reader Sue Fawcett‘s question: “Whose idea was it to create ‘½’ streets, such as 38th ½ Street, instead of creating a different street name?” City archivist Mike Miller at the Austin History Center told us: “Nothing in old city codes. In looking at old maps and comparing to today, it looks like...
Rodeo Austin’s core remains true over time

Rodeo Austin’s core remains true over time

In its public pronouncements, Rodeo Austin casts itself as a fundamental part of Austin right now and well into the future.  Led by its ambitious CEO, Rob Golding, the venerable group plans to become even more crucial to city culture, including plans for a new arena and stadium to replace its current outdated home at the old Travis County Expo Center. But in a real sense, the rodeo will always...
Five things to know as Texas celebrates its 182nd anniversary

Five things to know as Texas celebrates its 182nd anniversary

Friday marks the 182nd anniversary of when Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836. Here are five things to know about the festivities: 1. Time to march: Celebrate Texas is hosting several events this weekend, including its annual Texas Independence Day parade, which starts at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Riverside Drive and Congress Avenue. Check out other events at celebratetexas.org. 2. You&rsquo...
At age 10, the Long Center opens its doors wider

At age 10, the Long Center opens its doors wider

If you lived in Austin during the 1960s and ’70s, you called the oddly shaped domed structure on the shores of Town Lake the Municipal Auditorium. Austin’s Municipal Auditorium under construction in 1958 and photographed by Rockdale Works. Contributed by Austin History Center PICA 26945 If you arrived in the 1980s, it was then known as  ...
Austin Answered: What was Dirty Sixth before it was Dirty Sixth?

Austin Answered: What was Dirty Sixth before it was Dirty Sixth?

Reader Cody Russell asks of our Austin Answered project: “What was Dirty Sixth before it was Dirty Sixth?” We’ll break down the most common answers. • The road east. Called Pecan Street for its first 50 years, East Sixth Street was the dirt road to Bastrop, hence the principal route toward the most-settled parts of Texas since the 1830s. This roadway stood generally above the...
Early Austin minority neighborhood remembered

Early Austin minority neighborhood remembered

Tucked behind a burgeoning commercial district off of West Sixth Street near Lamar Boulevard sits a little-known part of Austin history. After the Civil War, a community of formerly enslaved African-Americans settled on the northern half of Wood Street near the west bank of Shoal Creek. Over the decades, the enclave experienced a cultural shift as a 1928 city master plan began pushing African-Americans...
Historical marker honors story of formerly enslaved Austin residents

Historical marker honors story of formerly enslaved Austin residents

The Texas Historical Commission on Friday designated a historical marker for the Wood Street Settlement in downtown Austin. The designation, part of the commission’s Undertold Markers Program, aims to address historical gaps and document underrepresented people and untold stories. The Wood Street Settlement, near the west bank of Shoal Creek, was once home to a distinct enclave of African Americans...
Randy Wicker roared as UT student activist in the 1950s

Randy Wicker roared as UT student activist in the 1950s

Randy Wicker, a nationally recognized gay journalist and businessman who had been a radical student activist on the University of Texas campus during the 1950s, was having no luck in his quest to share his singular life story with current LGBT student groups in Austin. Then came a minor miracle. After a good deal of missed chances during a recent visit to Austin, he spied an electronic notice for...
Manchaca vs. Menchaca: Step closer to renaming South Austin road

Manchaca vs. Menchaca: Step closer to renaming South Austin road

It’s always been a head-scratcher for outsiders — Austinites pronouncing Manchaca Road as “MAN-shack.” But after decades of confusion, will Austin finally get it right? After six years and more than $24,000 raised, retired Judge Bob Perkins certainly hopes so. Since 2011, he’s been a champion for Texas Revolutionary captain José Antonio Menchaca, who Perkins...
Austin Answered: How did Austin come up with half streets?

Austin Answered: How did Austin come up with half streets?

Reader Sue Fawcett queried our Austin Answered project: “Whose idea was it to create ‘½’ streets, such as 38th ½ Street, instead of creating a different street name? I grew up in the Northeast, and never encountered a street designated as a ½ street.” I’ve always imagined that this fractioning came about because subdivisions bumped into one another...
North Austin Lions Little League team was a hit at 1951 World Series

North Austin Lions Little League team was a hit at 1951 World Series

Last year, our big profile of the Rosedale neighborhood lit up some athletic memories. “I knew and went to school with many from the Rosedale area in the ’40s and ’50s,” writes John Watson of Johnson City. “The relatively newly arrived Little League had the North Austin Lions team make it to the Little World Series in 1951. Many on the roster lived in Rosedale including...

Glimpse inside Austin parties for history and the arts

Two subjects galvanized this year’s  Angelina Eberly Luncheon, which benefits the  Austin History Center Association, the nonprofit ally of the  Austin History Center. One was the Driskill Hotel, traditional site of the always gratifying midday event. Leading the public chat about the venue’s past was  ...
Austin’s Sam the Space Monkey starred in kids’ books

Austin’s Sam the Space Monkey starred in kids’ books

We didn’t know that Austin’s own Sam the Space Monkey, who took flight Dec. 4, 1959, was also a star of children’s books. Fans have not forgotten this little pioneer, the subject of the 1962 Wonder Books Easy Reader edition, “The Monkey in the Rocket.” A few weeks ago, we profiled the Indian rhesus monkey, a native of Austin’s Balcones Research Center. He was sent...
Two tip-top Austin parties side-by-side

Two tip-top Austin parties side-by-side

Not often that two tip-top Austin parties take place atop two downtown buildings. Even less often when those buildings rise side-by-side across a narrow alley. Luci Johnson, Amiko Kauderer and Capt. Scott Kelly at the Johnson penthouse for Paramount Theatre party. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman First off was a salute to Capt.  Scott Kelly, the retired astronaut who...
Long before ABIA, the first coast-to-coast flight landed in Austin

Long before ABIA, the first coast-to-coast flight landed in Austin

Sometimes, the tales just drop from the sky. Mike Lentes, a pilot and aviation historian, shared this story about Austin’s brief role in very early aviation history. “In 1911, Cal Rodgers decided to accept Randolph Hearst’s offer to pay $50,000 to the first person to fly coast-to-coast — an impossible dream back then,” Lentes wrote recently. “In short, Rodgers completed...
Replica of Aztec manuscript at UT provides a window to ancient world

Replica of Aztec manuscript at UT provides a window to ancient world

What would an ancient manuscript of the Aztecs look like after it was freshly painted? You can see for yourself at the exhibition of a painstakingly accurate replica of the Codex Borgia, one of the few surviving books of the Aztecs, at the Visual Arts Center of the University of Texas at Austin. The Codex Borgia is a series of painted panels on bark from the Puebla-Tlaxcala region in the central highlands...
Austin parties we love: Early 2018

Austin parties we love: Early 2018

After a holiday break, the Austin social scene warms up rapidly. Peek at some parties we eagerly anticipate. Jan. 27:  Opening night of Austin Opera’s “Ariadne auf Naxos.” Long Center. Jan. 27:  Dell Children’s Gala. Austin Convention Center. Jan. 27:  Human Rights Campaign Austin Gala. JW Marriott. Jan. 31:  ...
The short suborbital career of Austin native Sam the Space Monkey

The short suborbital career of Austin native Sam the Space Monkey

Little-known fact: One of the earliest space travelers from Earth was an Austin native. Sam the Space Monkey was born in 1957 at the Balcones Research Center near what is now the intersection of U.S. 183 and MoPac. He was an Indian rhesus and part of a long-term, secret program of behavioral and biological research started by the University of Texas in 1951. Sam was picked from 15 candidates who lived...
Texas books that tell us unexpected things about us

Texas books that tell us unexpected things about us

Here’s a look at some recently released Texas-themed books plus some older titles we think should be celebrated. “J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind.” Steven L. Davis. University of Texas Press. What is left to say about “Mr. Texas”? For decades, I’ve dodged folklorist and author J. Frank Dobie, who remains to many people just a third of the “Philosopher&rsquo...
One Austin art puzzle leads to another

One Austin art puzzle leads to another

This is Part 2 in a two-part Austin art puzzle. To recap, World War II veteran Alvino Mendoza, 91, contacted us because he owns two signed and numbered prints by deceased artist Gerald Harvey Jones, who signed his pictures “G. Harvey.” Mendoza wanted to preserve them. We confirmed that there’s an active market for G. Harvey prints online. As we were leaving Mendoza’s house...
AUSTIN FOUND: Solving a two-part Austin art puzzle

AUSTIN FOUND: Solving a two-part Austin art puzzle

This is Part 1 of a two-part Austin art puzzle. It encompasses one modest collector, two artists and a chunk of shared East Austin history. On Dec. 4, 2017, the American-Statesman published an obituary of Gerald Harvey Jones, who signed his popular expressions of nostalgic Americana “G. Harvey.” He died on Nov. 13, 2017, at age 84. Not long after that article ran, we heard from Alvino...
Herman: How come there’s a cross on your Austin city utility bills?

Herman: How come there’s a cross on your Austin city utility bills?

American-Statesman reader James Jackson recently had a suggestion for me. Unlike some readers’ suggestions, this one is physically possible. His hit my inbox after my recent column complaining about the two crosses hanging in in the Caldwell County District Clerk’s Office in Lockhart. “I don’t understand why you had to leave Austin to find a cross in an ‘inappropriate&rsquo...
They didn’t know that they were great shepherds of Austin’s lake

They didn’t know that they were great shepherds of Austin’s lake

Imagine Lady Bird Lake without a mantle of green wrapped around its shores. Austinites whose memories reach back to the early 1960s — when the newly impounded body of water on the Colorado River was dubbed Town Lake by an American-Statesman reporter because nobody else bothered to name it — can envision such a treeless state. “They removed all the trees in 1958 to reduce flooding...
Candlelight Ranch is best use of brothers’ Hill Country land

Candlelight Ranch is best use of brothers’ Hill Country land

The land waited for them. A rugged former family ranch in far northwestern Travis County tumbled down a creased hillside through weedy pastures, steep ravines, bounteous springs, a collapsed cave and trails that led to a protected cove on Lake Travis. How it became Candlelight Ranch, which today provides outdoor experiences for at-risk youth as well as children with disabilities and their families...
Austin Answered: The mystery of the murals in the medical tower

Austin Answered: The mystery of the murals in the medical tower

A reader asks of our Austin Answered project: What’s the story behind the murals in the lobby of the Medical Park Tower next to the Seton Medical Center on West 38th Street? The swooshing, busy murals are thick with scientific and humanistic imagery, some of it borrowed from the ancient Greeks. We knew exactly where to turn for the provenance: Carl McQueary, historian and archivist for Ascension...
Behold: Marfa’s new, light-up stonehenge-type thing!

Behold: Marfa’s new, light-up stonehenge-type thing!

OK, Marfa, Texas, doesn’t take much more than a long weekend to look around and maybe eat a taco or something.  But we are always here for some good ol’ Marfa weirdness, including this story reported by the fine people at Wired about, well, “one man's mysterious vision.” Artist Haroon Mirza trucked in “nine massive chunks of quarried black marble&rdquo...
Here’s what Austin looked like in 1906, when Richard Overton was born

Here’s what Austin looked like in 1906, when Richard Overton was born

Richard Overton, the nation’s oldest living man and oldest surviving U.S. war veteran, turns 112 on Friday. He was born in Bastrop County on May 11, 1906, and currently lives in Austin. He spends many of his days perched on the front porch of his East Austin home, smoking cigars and drinking whiskey. RELATED: Richard Overton, nation’s oldest WWII vet, shows off home...
Lawrence Wright: Eight things the other 49 states need to understand about Texas

Lawrence Wright: Eight things the other 49 states need to understand about Texas

As we who live here are painfully aware, Texas can seem absolutely baffling to outsiders. In his latest book, “God Save Texas,” Lawrence Wright takes the myth and truth of the Lone Star State head-on in a series of essays that, the more one reads them, feel like a Texas 101 primer, the sort of thing to hand your relatives back east to explain How We in Texas Live Now.  Here are eight...
Classic Texas Monthly stories now available on audio

Classic Texas Monthly stories now available on audio

Now you can listen to classic stories from Texas Monthly while you are stuck on 35. Or walking the Hike and Bike trail. Or raking leaves. Penguin Random House Audio has partnered with Texas Monthly and offered more than 20 features from the magazine’s archive on audio for the first time. Stories range from true crime narratives to dramatic profiles. Each story, narrated by a native Texan...
Attention Austin hoarders: ‘American Pickers’ is coming to Texas

Attention Austin hoarders: ‘American Pickers’ is coming to Texas

     You know it, I know it, your neighbors know it: Austin is lousy with folks who just will not throw away their stuff. Austin’s garages, its sheds and its crawl spaces are filled with plenty of objects from the good old days, be those the 90s rock/tech boom, the 80s oil boom and bust, the cosmic cowboy 1970s, the ‘60s and earlier. (See also our fair city’s pawn...
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