Press Releases / Austonian Updates
14 Blocks of History | 173 Years of Downtown Austin
For 173 years, the city of Austin has flourished on the banks of the Colorado River. What began as a one-square-mile, 14-block city has grown into thriving technology, arts and education hub. The corner of 2nd Street and Congress Avenue where The Austonian stands today is one of the original 14 blocks outlined by Austin's first mayor, Edwin Waller in 1839.
Under the leadership of President Mirabeau Lamar, the new Republic of Texas capital was relocated from Houston to Austin in 1839. President Lamar appointed entrepreneur Edwin Waller, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, to design the city's layout, sell lots and oversee the construction of public buildings. Mr. Waller outlined a city that today forms downtown Austin. Edwin Waller was appointed the city's first mayor in 1840.
Mr. Waller outlined a city grid of 14 blocks comprising one square mile on the north bank of the Colorado River between two creeks. Congress Avenue divided the city in half, with a wide boulevard leading to Capitol Square, the future site of the Texas State Capitol. North- and south-running streets were named for Texas rivers and mirrored the geographical location of the waterways. East- and west-running streets were named for indigenous trees. The city was bordered by Water Avenue (now Cesar Chavez St.), West Avenue, North Avenue (now W. 15th St.) and East Avenue (now Interstate 35). East- and west-running streets were eventually renamed using numbers, as Mr. Waller had originally requested.
Edwin Waller also reserved four corners of the city for city parks and social gathering places. Three parks still survive today: Brush Square and Woolridge Park are two existing parks that were built into Mr. Waller's original city plot, and Republic Square Park, just a half mile northwest of The Austonian at 5th St. and Guadalupe, continues to provide downtown Austinites with urban green space.
Austin's growth sprang from Congress Avenue, designed to be the heart of activity and business. Government offices, hotels, theatres, restaurants and businesses sprang up along the avenue. The focal point of Congress (and the city) was planned to be Capitol Square, and not much has changed. The Texas State Capitol can be viewed from many points in downtown Austin and beyond. It serves a landmark, point of reference and infamous symbol of Texas pride.
Austin is recognized as the only remaining city in the world to operate moonlight towers, installed in 1894. Often a more economical solution to city lighting than the traditional method of placing smaller lamps closer together, moonlight towers stood 165 feet tall with a 15-foot base. The City of Austin purchased 31 towers and placed them at different points throughout city proper. Throughout the city's history, efforts to preserve the moonlight towers have been great, including restoration of the towers in 1993. Only 15 of the 31 original towers remain.
At the base of The Austonian, the Brown-Dumas Blacksmith Shop is now home to the popular frozen yogurt shop, Berry Austin. Built in 1905, the Brown-Dumas Blacksmith Shop was an integral part of a society that traveled by horse and buggy. Developers of The Austonian understood the importance of preserving a piece of Texas history, and resolved to restore the structure in 2006. Progress was stalled after the collapse of the structure during a severe wind storm later that year. Fortunately, thanks to the team's efforts to document the historical components of the building, the façade was recreated with original materials.
While Austin, Texas is recognized as one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., the city moves forward with keepsakes of the past fondly preserved. Austin's history shapes its future and nowhere is that more evident than at the corner of 2nd and Congress Avenue where past mixes seamlessly with present – where one of the newest 56-story high-rises shares a wall with a historical blacksmith shop, and where residents of The Austonian can watch history in the making from one of the original corners sketched into the plot of a new city in 1839.