History of Austin
The first European explorers in the area of present-day Austin were Spanish, who passed through in 1530 in hopes of finding gold. However, instead of gold, they found Native American tribes who were hostile to them, to say the least, and the explorers’ reports of the viciousness they encountered had prevented new expeditions and colonizations, at least for a while. Still, Spain claimed the territory and held onto it until 1821, when Mexico became independent.
The earliest settlement in the area was located on the north bank of the Colorado River. It was called Waterloo and it was founded in 1835. In 1839, Waterloo was considered for the state capital because of its favorable position and good climate, and the same year it was incorporated as Austin, named after “Father of Texas” Stephen F. Austin. Texas was annexed by the USA in 1845 and Austin remained the capital.
In the 1850, when America was divided between Union and Confederate supporters, Texas was polarized between the two but also with a third option- the independent Republic of Texas. Even though Austin residents were generally pro-Union, Texas voted for secession and sided with the South. During the Civil War, Austin provided arms and ammunitions and served as a base for the Austin City Light Infantry and Terry’s Texas Rangers. The Reconstruction period after the war was a period of prosperity for Austin, especially after the completion of Houston and Texas Central Railroad in 1871 and of the International-Great Northern in 1876.
University of Texas at Austin was founded in 1883 and provided additional boost to the city. The university became particularly rich and prestigious after the discovery of oil in 1924 on its grounds. The university also made Austin a bit more cosmopolitan than other cities in Texas, making it a center of tolerance, liberalism and arts and creating a base for the high-tech industry that would later boom in the city.
Austin was hit by the recession in the 2000, especially the technology sector. The recent initiatives are aiming to make Austin rely less on high-tech companies and to diversify its economy.
Geography and Climate
Austin is located in central Texas, along the Balcones Escarpment and I-35. It is situated on the Colorado River and has three artificial lakes: Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin and Lake Walter E. Long. The eastern sections of the city are generally flat, while the ones to the west, at the edge of Texas Hill Country, consist of gently rolling hills. Austin occupies an area of 258.43 square miles. The lowest point in the city is 425 feet above sea level and the highest one is 1,000 feet at the northwestern hills.
The climate is humid subtropical, with an average of 300 days of summer. Summers are hot and humid and winters are generally mild. Snowfall is not frequent.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the racial makeup in Austin is 48.7% non-Hispanic White, 35.1% Hispanic or Latino, 8.1% African American, 6.3% Asian, 0.9% Native American, 0.1% Pacific Islander and 3.4% two or more races.
The median household income is $42,689 and the per capita income for the city is $24,163.
Economy and Business
The largest employers in Austin are Austin Independent School District, the City of Austin, Dell, the federal and state government, Freescale Semiconductor, IBM, St. David’s Healthcare Partnership, Texas State University-San Marcos and University of Texas at Austin.
The city has a very large number of technology companies, most notably Google, Nvidia, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Cisco Systems, Oracle, Xerox, Samsung and many more. Some of the major companies based in Austin include Whole Foods Market, Temple-Inland, Golfsmith, EZCorp and others.
Culture and Attractions
Austin has a very strong music scene, both mainstream and independent. It has more music venues per capita than any other city. It is home of the South by Southwest Festival, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Chaos in Tejas, Fun Fun Fun Fest, Old Settler’s Music Festival, Austin Lyric Opera and Austin Symphony Orchestra. It also hosts the influential Austin Film Festival.
The city also has a thriving theater culture, with venues and companies such as Zachary Scott Theatre Center, Rude Mechanicals’ the Off Center, Salvage Vanguard Theater, Esther’s Follies, Victory Grill, The New Movement Theater, Long Center for Performing Arts and Ballet Austin.
Other points of interest in the city include Texas Memorial Museum, Blanton Museum of Art, Austin Museum of Art, Texas State Capitol, South Austin Museum of Popular Culture, Mexic-Arte Museum, as well as a number of unusual landmarks, such as Daniel Johnston’s frog mural, the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Mangia dinosaur and the Hyde Park Bar and Grill fork.
Austin is famous for its “Violet Crown,” a violet glow over the hills just after sunset.
In 2008, Austin was ranked 16th most literate city in the USA and has been voted “America’s No.1 College Town” by the Travel Channel. The city is home to the University of Texas at Austin, which ranked 13th among public universities in the USA in 2010. Other institutions include Austin Community College, St. Edward’s University, Concordia University, Huston-Tillotson University, the Seminary of the Southwest, The Art Institute of Austin, and others.
Austin is the largest city in the USA without a team in a major professional sports league. However, college sports are big in the city and many residents support the Texas Longhorns of the University of Texas at Austin.
Austin is also the largest city in the USA with only one interstate highway, the I-35. Other major highways in the city area include Mopac Expressway, U.S. Highway 183, U.S. Highway 290, State Highway 71 and the scenic Loop 360 which runs through the hill country and includes the famous Pennybacker Bridge over Lake Austin.
The city is served by Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Intercity bus service is provided by Greyhound and Megabus and passenger rail service is available through Amtrak’s Texas Eagle line.
Capital Metro provides public transportation, mostly by bus, but also, since 2010, by commuter rail system called Capital MetroRail.