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A Town is Born

One hundred eighty-four years ago, hundreds of men converged at a place on the Colorado River that would become the first permanent capitol of the Republic of Texas.

The first to arrive were wood cutters, whose first job was to clear land between two creeks on the north side of the river. The creek to the west was named Shoal, and the other Waller. President Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar, the 2nd elected President, selected the site on a buffalo hunt the previous year.

Workers first cleared the thick growth where the capitol would be built. The site on a hill at W. 8th & Hickory Street was selected. Hickory would be renamed Colorado Street.

The President’s house and 20 federal buildings had to be completed by Oct. when President Lamar and his cabinet were scheduled to arrive. Congress would convene on the 11th of November. They named the new town Austin on December 27, 1839.

Legend says the village of Waterloo was here before Austin. Records show only the Jacob Harrell family lived in the area being cleared for the new town. A recluse named William Barton lived on the other side, up a creek that bears his name. The Hornsby family settled on a bend in the Colorado, 8 miles southeast of the Harrell clan. It’s difficult to imagine 3 families living miles apart could be called a village.

The town grew to 856 by December of 1839. Maybe some called it Waterloo in jest because President Lamar’s middle name was Bonaparte? Referring to Napoleon Bonaparte who was defeated at Waterloo in 1815.

What we do know is President Lamar picked a beautiful site for his new center of government.

*Sketch courtesy of Austin History Center.

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