16 Unusual Historical Facts About Austin

Take a ride on the time machine and explore sixteen oddities in Austin's past...


Mural of Texas History on display at the Texas State Library. Flickr Creative Commons.

While many a UT student has fallen asleep in history class, Austin's past is anything but dull. On the contrary, Austin's history is as colorful and vibrant as its present, brimming with interesting and sometimes inexplicable happenings.

These sixteen unusual historical facts show that Austin's "weirdness" isn't just a modern convention. Austin's been funky from the beginning.

16. Up until the late Cretaceous Period, Austin was completely underwater, along with most of the rest of Texas. And so "Austin Chalk," the crumbly whitish rock that makes up many an Austin cliffside was born.

15. The greater Austin area contains at least ten extinct volcanoes. These used to be violent underwater volcanoes dubbed by geologists as "explosion craters."

Pilot Knob volcano from Dee Gabriel Collins Road, Aug 22, 2013. Rebecca Bennett.

14. The founder of Austin, Jacob M. Harrell, was a hunter who lived in a tent pitched on the banks of the Colorado River, aka. Lady Bird Lake. Apparently, Harrell was bffs with the Republic of Texas' VP at the time and often went buffalo hunting. He probably had a mean beard too.

13. Austin was originally called Waterloo. In 1839, the name “Waterloo” got the boot because everyone thought “Father of Texas” Stephen F. Austin was a pretty swell guy.

12. Austin has its own personal bigfoot. The legend goes that a group of settlers was caught in a storm while trying to cross what is known today as Round Rock’s Brushy Creek. A young boy became separated from the group as the waters rose and was presumed dead. The boy learned to live off of the land, grew very hairy, and frightened or killed anyone who dared to venture into his territory, which is now called “Hairy Man Road.”

North Austin hosts an annual Hairy Man Festival. Flickr Creative Commons.

11. Sam Houston didn't take kindly to the state capitol being moved from Houston to Austin, so in 1842, he sent men to steal the state archives. During the raid, boarding house owner Angelina Eberly fired a 6-pound howitzer cannon at the men, alerting the city and ultimately foiling Houston’s plan.

10. In 1861, most of Texas voted to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy, but not Travis County. We voted 704 to 450 against secession and have considered ourselves as the "voice of the people" ever since.

9. Austin, Houston, and Waco duked it out in the polls once and for all to determine which would become Texas’ capital in 1872. We all know who won, but let's not rub it in.

Greetings from Austin mural on S. 1st. Flickr Creative Commons.

8. In 1881, Texas held a national design competition to select an architect to build the Texas State Capitol. After the winner was selected, it took Texans 2 years to finally choose between using granite or limestone. They finally chose “sunset red” granite from Marble Falls.

7. Texans built the Texas State Capitol to be about ten feet taller than the United States Capitol building. In its day, it was also known as the 7th largest building in the world. Apparently, everything really is bigger in Texas.

The Texas State Capitol Building. Flickr Creative Commons.

6. In 1884, three years before Jack the Ripper began terrorizing Whitechapel, London, Austin fell prey to the first known serial killer in the world—the Servant Girl Annihilator. Since the murders happened at around the same time and since both killers targeted prostitutes, some researchers think that they might be one and the same.

5. Austin actually grew during the Depression. During that era, the city’s population increased 66 percent, UT’s enrollment nearly doubled, and the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport (now Austin Bergstrom International) opened for business.

4. In 1956, UT became the first major Southern university to admit black students as undergraduates. The first two black graduate students were accepted in 1949. Segregation was still a major issue, but it was a large stride in the right direction.

UT Tower looms over campus. Flickr Creative Commons.

3. Charles Whitman's shooting rampage from atop UT Tower in 1966 was the nation’s first college mass murder. Whitman killed fourteen people and wounded many others on campus and on nearby Guadalupe Street. Later, an autopsy showed that a brain tumor had driven him mad.

2. The Congress Avenue Bridge bats moved in shortly after the bridge was renovated in 1980. That's because the bridge was redesigned with lots of cozy crevices for roosting.

1. Austin once had a professional minor-league ice hockey team: the Ice Bats. They flew from 1996 to 2008.

Well, there you have it, folks—sixteen historical nuggets to prove that Austin's history is anything but boring. If you'd like to read more about Austin's history, check out the Texas State Historical Association's entry on Austin here.


Know an interesting or unusual historical fact about Austin that we didn't mention here? Let us know by posting a comment below!


Tags: UT, Texas State Capitol Building, congress bridge bats, lady bird lake, University of Texas, hockey, volcano, Angelina Eberly, ice bats, charles whitman, guadalupe street, drag, austin bergstrom international airport, hairy man, waterloo, sam houston, archive war, austin chalk, jacob harrell, colorado river, republic of texas, stephen f. austin

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Comments (2)

That's fantastic! Thank you so much for sharing that and we're so glad your students enjoyed it. :)

by Kevin Sullivan - 4 months, 5 days ago

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As a Texas History teacher I really enjoyed reading this, I shared a few of these facts with my class and they loved it! Thanks for the info!

by rebekahdgomez - 4 months, 5 days ago

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