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Austin's Turning Points - 1839 to the Present


Today I attended a Rotary luncheon where the speaker was City Councilman Brewster McCracken. He talked about Austin , a little about its past, and more about its future. Transportation was his primary subject.

Made me think about talks that I used to give to civic clubs about Austin . When I was not “pushing” a certain topic, I often talked about what I called “The Four Turning Points in Austin ’s History.” I have no idea if anyone agreed with my choices, but here is what I told them…

First was the permanent selection of Austin as the capital of the State of Texas . This took place in 1872, although Austin had been selected as the capital of the Republic of Texas in 1839. It was on shaky grounds for a long time though with Sam Houston wanting it to be in Houston . There was even the incident when a group tried to steal all of the official papers and take them to Houston . They almost got away with it until a lady heard the noise and fired her always ready cannon down Congress Avenue . But the vote of 1872 settled all that, and Austin became the capital of Texas for good.

The next biggie came not too much later when the legislature decided that Texas needed “a university of the first class”, but left its location “up to a vote of the people.” Well, in 1881 the people voted, and Austin beat out Tyler , and Austin became the center of education for Texas —another turning point that is very evident today.

Then came the third major happening that has made Austin what it is today. In the middle of the “great depression” of the 1930’s, a private company was building a dam on the Colorado River upstream from Marble Falls . It failed, but Congressman Buchanan, who represented this area, got some federal funds to continue the project, and the state legislature formed the Lower Colorado River Authority to operate it. Its primary purposes were to control floods and provide water for agricultural purposes. Austin has reaped some great by products: a water supply and wonderful recreation.

Number four, in my opinion, was the coming of the high tech industry to Austin . This was very much a planned effort in that many in Austin thought that they didn’t want any industry to locate here. A community-wide educational effort pointed out that Austin’s dependence on the Capitol and the University, both non tax paying entities, was rapidly leading to problems, and that some tax paying employers would really help. Success in this effort, started in 1957, finally came in 1967 when IBM announced a major facility for Austin .

All four of these “turning points” still have a great impact on Austin , and will continue to do so. I had nothing to do with the first three, but was an instigator of the fourth and am happy to see the economic strength and stability it has brought to Austin, and perhaps made it possible for my kids to stay here.

Vic Mathias – June 17, 2008