A Field Guide to the Origins of Austin's Most Recognized Names
Austinites may love their city, but that doesn’t mean anyone knows the reason why we can even be called Austinites. There is a hefty transplant population here, plus there are those of us lifers who were very busy flicking paper footballs in seventh grade Texas History (Hi, Mrs. Johnson!). It’s also not practical to expect us all to memorize the names of this fine city’s original settlers and political figures. So, we did some digging and found the origins of the names we see every day in Austin. Drop us a line in the comments if you have something to add.
Austin is the name of our city, a fine hotel downtown, a university somewhere in the sticks, and Stone Cold Steve’s surname. We owe our name and much more to Stephen F. Austin aka “The Father of Texas.” As a young man, he was responsible for colonizing the first Anglo-American colony in what was then the Tejas region of Mexico. The first settlers were known as the “Old Three Hundred.” His relationship with the Mexican government was complex and even more so when the Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna passed a law against further immigration and refused Texas’ grant for statehood. He was left with little choice but to drive for separation from Mexico. Austin led an attack on Mexican troops at the Alamo and later defeated them at the Battle of San Jacinto, winning the Texas War for Independence. He passed shortly after in 1836 and is currently buried in the Texas State Cemetery in East Austin where his grave is topped by a life-size monument of, obviously, himself. Fun fact: he organized the armed group which later became known as the Texas Rangers (shout out to my boy, Chuck Norris!).
William (“Uncle Billy”) Barton, the Springs’ namesake and for whom Uncle Billy’s Brewery & Smokehouse is named, settled the spring area in 1837. He initially named the three springs after his daughters Parthenia, Eliza, and Zenobia. Luckily those names didn’t stick, and we don’t have to Instagram our hangouts at “Zenobia Springs” or get wasted on BBQ at “Parthenia’s Catfish Hut.”
If you don’t know who Martin Luther King is, you’ve got larger problems than we can help you with.
When we think of Zilker, we imagine the Trail of Lights and ACL and cute girls with dogs, but before all of that, Zilker was the name of a pretty interesting guy who deeded 35 acres surrounding Barton Springs to the City of Austin. Andrew “the Colonel” Zilker came to Austin at 18 with no money, and after working a string of blue collar jobs decided that the ice business was his real ticket. He purchased 350 acres of land, which included Barton Springs to pasture his horses and mules and made ice from the water of the Springs. He also built the original concrete pool and amphitheater at the springs.
In addition to Lamar Blvd, the road which connects North and South Austin, the name “Lamar” has also lent itself to a bevy of fine local businesses including apartment complexes, a mixed-use development, a middle school, and a pawn shop. Exactly who was Lamar? Mirabeau Lamar served as a secretary to a Georgia Governor, a newspaper publisher, a slave trader, an attorney, and also fought in the Battle of San Jacinto, all prior to being elected first as vice president of the Republic of Texas and then succeeded Sam Houston as the second president. He also, sadly, pushed a very uncool campaign -- attacking, driving out, and destroying the homes of the Indian tribes in Texas in order to make lands available to settlers. On the flip side, he allotted land for development of Texas A&M and the University of Texas. Go Longhorns!
Waterloo Ice House has some bomb drink specials and Waterloo Records is an analog-media lover’s wet dream, but long before they existed, it was simply the village of “Waterloo.” Waterloo, centered in our current downtown, was founded in 1837 as the first documented permanent settlement in the area. After Texas’s proposed capital was switched between 6 towns, including Houston, Waterloo was chosen as the republic’s new (and final) capital in 1839. The name was later changed to Austin in honor of Stephen F. Austin, the republic’s first secretary of state. Let’s all toast to that with a shot of Austin’s own Waterloo Gin!
Waller is often used in reference to a creek with awe-inspiring light installations, Waller Ballroom, Waller Creek Pub House and the Waller Creek Boathouse where Austin’s fit population goes to kayak, row, and basically make the rest of us look like slovenly pieces of human crap, Waller referred to Austin’s first mayor, Edwin Waller, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, and the designer of downtown’s grid plan. Austin’s original layout consisted of a fourteen-block grid with streets named after Texas rivers and native trees (the “trees” were changed to numbered streets in 1884).
Before lending the term to the shopping center where one of Dazed and Confused’s most famous scenes were shot, “Violet Crown” was first used to reference Austin’s iconic sunsets by Texas journalist, William Cowper Brann in this description: “... Austin’s violet crown bathed in the radiance of the morning or arched with twilight’s dome of fretted gold.”
More than just the name of a wonderful piñata and burgeoning bar district, Cesar Chavez was a man who made a huge impact on civil rights for Hispanic farm workers in the 1970s.
The name “Mueller” evokes visions of a glorious HEB as well as the Mueller neighborhood that consists of rows and rows and rows of seemingly identical structures. Robert Mueller, one of four Mueller brothers, was a City Council member for only a few months in 1926. Mueller died in office blood poisoning brought on by hay fever -- which is how most Austinites feel they may die during heavy pollen seasons. The story is that officials named Austin’s first civilian airport, Mueller Airport in his name simply because he was a well-liked man who deserved to be honored.
Not to be confused with the world famous Uncle Ben of Uncle Ben’s rice... or Spider-Man’s father figure, the boulevard is named to commemorate Ben White ("Uncle Ben") who served 16 years on the Austin City Council.
We all know Hancock as the HEB where UT students and seniors (as in citizens) shop in harmony because, hey, we all need our HEB fresh, in-house baked butter tortillas and Topo Chico. Also, lots of beer. So, who the heck is Hancock? The ‘hood is named for Lewis Hancock Jr., a decorated Naval Submariner and, later, Aviator, who had an early 20th century destroyer ship named after him. Don’t confuse him with Papa Hancock Sr. who served as mayor of Austin from 1895 to 1897.
Named by Governor Elisha Pease after the town in Connecticut where he was born. Fun fact: Governor Pease has a West Austin park named after him, which annually hosts Eeyore’s Birthday -- my favorite event.
Pronounced, “Kay-Nig,” this road was named after the North Austin developer, Adolph Koenig.
The suburb with the funny name was founded in 1860, and named after Henry Pfluger. Pfluger arrived in the area in 1849 from Germany and purchased 160 acres of land and later exchanged the land for a larger farm further from present day Pflugerville to raise cattle and grow crops.
There is actually a nonprofit group whose goal is to rename Manchaca Rd, affectionately known to its South Austin residents as ”Man-Chack,” to Menchaca Road, after Jose Antonio Menchaca who fought in the Texas Revolution because, well, the current name is basically a typo.
Named after a mill and its owner, Thomas Anderson, who lived in the vicinity in the 1850s. Well, that was literal.
These days, Manor is, well, a small city. Named Manor. But back in the 1830s, it was a large area of fertile soil that was attracting farmers like James Manor. The towns of Webberville and Manor were rivals when it came time for the railroads to determine where to lay tracks. A lifelong friend of Sam Houston, James Manor offered up his own land and helped grow Manor into a bustling trade center.
You know you’ve officially returned to city limits when you hit Slaughter Lane after a road trip to SA. But, why the gruesome name? Fortunately, it has nothing to do with murderous urban legends you assume. Stephen F. Slaughter received the original grant of land in the area in 1835, and was one of the first settlers in the current Travis County area. He acted as a delegate alongside Sam Houston in many matters: the Texas fight for independence, better judicial systems, and (thankfully) opposed slave trafficking into Texas. So, there you go. No crazy story that will get made into a horror classic, then remade into a shitty, straight-to-Redbox movie.
Bee Cave Rd is named after a single cave that once held a large bee colony. We’re still frightened of bees after the (spoiler alert!) scene in the 1991 hit film, My Girl, in which Macaulay Culkin’s character is stung by bees until he’s dead.
The expressway you creep along for most of your morning and afternoon is named after the Missouri Pacific railroad. Why it’s also referred to as “Loop 1” when there is no loop, is another issue.
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Anastacia Uriegas is an Austin writer, whose favorite pastimes include shoutouts to elementary school teachers and martial artists turned actors. Follow her at @AnaUrie.