AUSTIN ANSWERED: What are the oldest buildings downtown?

Sept 30, 2017
The French Legation, finished in 1841, is practically downtown. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

A reader asks via Austin Answered, the American-Statesman’s new portal to all things Austin, which buildings are the oldest in downtown?

As with other such questions, it depends on one’s definitions.

If by downtown you mean central Austin, then the clear answers are the French Legation and Boggy Creek Farm, completed almost simultaneously in 1841, only two years after Austin’s founding in 1839.

Other Central Austin structures not technically in the downtown grid date to the 1840s or ’50s as well.

Yet if your definition of downtown instead is confined to the central business district, loosely encompassed by Lady Bird Lake on the south, 15th Street on the north, Interstate 35 on the east and, say, North Lamar Boulevard on the west, you can count on several candidates, all younger than the French Legation or Boggy Creek Farm.

Then one must ask: Do we date a building from the start of construction or its completion? Scholars and preservationists don’t agree. And substantial projects took a long time back then, especially before the arrival of railroads and better access to materials and labor in the 1870s.

For these purposes, let’s stick with finished projects.

Any short downtown list must take into account some private residences on or near West Avenue, Neches Street and Guadalupe Street in what is now called the Old Austin neighborhood. Public structures include the St. David’s Episcopal Church (1855) on East Seventh Street, the Governor’s Mansion (1856) on Colorado Street, the General Land Office, now home to the Texas Capitol Visitors Center (1857) on East 11th Street, and the German Free School (1857) on East 10th Street. Residential and commercial functions were blended at the 1850s Waterloo Compound at Red River and East Third streets.

Which came first? Depends on definitions.