Originally known as “Waterloo,” Austin replaced Houston as the capital of Texas in 1839, renamed for the new republic’s first secretary of state, Stephen F. Austin. As the city grew, many of its neighborhoods gained geographical, self-explanatory names such as Balcones (named for the Balcones Fault Zone on which it lies) or Northwest Hills, while others earned monikers in homage to local legends and pioneers. If you’ve ever wondered about some of the city’s unique suburban names, Culture Trip has laid out a brief history below.
Both this South Austin suburb and the surrounding county commemorate Lt. Col William Barret Travis, defender of the Alamo and a true Texas hero. At the turn of the 20th century, the humble neighborhood was designed with curving streets and deed restrictions that banned commercial use. With the rising popularity of the nearby South Congress tourist district, today’s Travis Heights is home to some of Austin’s most stylish houses and remains one of its most desirable neighborhoods.
Christened after another colonel, Bouldin Creek bears the name of James Bouldin, who settled in Austin in the 1850s, making it one of the capital’s oldest neighborhoods. Little is known about the colonel except that his plantation eventually expanded from the Colorado River to as far south as today’s William Cannon Drive. After emancipation and the end of the American Civil War, many of Bouldin’s freed slaves remained in the area and established their own communities.
Almost a decade before Col. Bouldin arrived, pioneer William “Uncle Billy” Barton settled near a system of natural springs on the southern bank of the Colorado River. Barton originally named the springs after his three daughters, but only his name stuck; today, the springs, Greenbelt, pool, and surrounding neighborhood all venerate the homesteader’s legacy.
Zilker Park became Austin’s largest green space in 1918 when Andrew Jackson Zilker—a politician and philanthropist—donated 35 acres to the City of Austin. The first homes were built in the late 1920s, and the area is home to many of Austin’s most famous events and landmarks, including the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, Barton Springs Pool, Austin City Limits Music Festival, and the Zilker Trail of Lights.
After the end of the Civil War, Texas Governor Elisha Pease donated parts of his plantation at Woodlawn to his favorite former slaves, selling portions of it to others. The area became known as Clarksville in 1871 when former slave Charles Griffin Clark moved to the area and established one of the first freedman’s towns west of the Mississippi River.
Old West Austin
Some of the city’s oldest settlements are in Old West Austin, west of downtown and east of Mopac. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, the area comprises three neighborhoods in one: Old Enfield, Pemberton Heights, and Bryker Woods. The first area, named for the Enfield Realty and Home Building Company, which subdivided the neighborhood in 1910, contains some of the city’s oldest colonial-style homes.
Pemberton Heights was originally a farm named for James Pemberton, an ancestor of the Fisher family, who inherited the farm and went on to establish the Austin Land Company. The company built a bridge across Shoal Creek in 1927, which eventually led to further development of the Bryker Woods area. The first record of a “Bryker Woods” neighborhood dates from 1936, thought to be a portmanteau from the first three letters of the developers’ last names, Bryan and Kerbey.
This central Austin neighborhood has one of the more romantic origin stories in the city: between 1902 and 1905, florist and arborist Frank Ramsey purchased several plots of land in the area, planting flowers, vines, fruit trees, and more. He was the second in what became a multi-generational nursery business, started in 1858 by his father’s pioneer shipment of peach seeds from Mississippi to Texas. The famous nursery sold trees all over central Texas, and today’s neighborhood gets its name from the Rosedale Arborvitae, the family’s hybrid of the Golden Arborvitae and a Japanese Cedar.
Across Mopac from Old West Austin lies quaint little Tarrytown, named for a village about an hour north of New York City. American literature fans know Tarrytown, New York, as the setting of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a short story about the hamlet’s headless horse-riding specter. This West Austin neighborhood pays homage to another American short story writer and Austinite, O. Henry, with the district’s O. Henry Middle School.
Another Austin area borrowing its name from an urban predecessor, Hyde Park is a nod to Central London’s affluent, aristocratic community. One of the city’s first suburbs, the area was originally marketed to Austin’s elite citizens as a “white only” neighborhood in 1891, featuring large residences in the Queen Anne style. The suburb retains much of its original character, including its unique roundabouts as a further nod to its London counterpart.
One of the suburb’s first settlers was a survivor of the Battle of the Alamo; Susanna Dickinson lived at 32nd Street and Duval in what was then called the North University area. Thanks to the introduction of an electric streetcar system in the adjacent Hyde Park area, the Hancock neighborhood began to take root at the turn of the 20th century. The city renamed the neighborhood in honor of Lewis Hancock, Jr, whose father was the mayor of Austin from 1895 to 1897 and who founded the nearby Hancock Golf Course in 1899.
Directly across I-35 from the Hancock settlement, the Cherrywood neighborhood was once a wooded space with cotton fields and pastures. While today’s street names and parks commemorate early settlers, including Doris and J.H. French, Bascom and Rogan Giles, Walter Schieffer, Nye Patterson and others, the neighborhood takes its name from the major road that bisects the area, Cherrywood Road.
North of Cherrywood, both Airport Boulevard and the Mueller neighborhood get their names from the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport—Austin’s first airstrip. Mueller was an Austin City Council member who passed away in 1926, and the airport’s closure in 1999 led to the development of a mixed-use urban village of retail, restaurant space, and a sprawling residential area. Today, it is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the country, with plenty to see and do.
Like Hyde Park, Mueller’s older neighborhood sibling to the north borrows its name from a gentrified area near London. The subdivision was born in the 1950s thanks to home building company Nash Phillips Copus, and it is perhaps best known as the setting of Friday Night Lights’ fictional Dillon, Texas.