How long have people lived in Austin? How did “Keep Austin Weird” become the Texas capital’s slogan? And just how exceptional is the city’s live music scene? In today’s post, we share the answers to these questions and other fascinating facts about Austin.
1. The Austin area was inhabited at least as early as 9200 BC
Stone tools and other artifacts from the late Pleistocene era have been found in present-day Austin. Archaeologists consider this proof of prehistoric Paleo-Indian Clovis culture in the area.
2. Before Austin, it was Waterloo
When present-day Austin was incorporated into the Republic of Texas in 1836, it was named Waterloo. But after Texas Vice President Mirabeau B. Lamar proposed moving the capital to the Village of Waterloo in 1839, it was renamed for Stephen F. Austin.
3. Austin is Texas’s seventh capital
Austin was the young republic’s seventh and final capital city. Its status simply changed from Republic capital to state capital after the United States annexed Texas in 1848. Previous Texas capitals include Washington-on-the-Brazos, Harrisburg, Galveston, Velasco, Columbia, and Houston.
4. And its designation as Texas capital was controversial
Numerous influential voices opposed Lamar’s decision, citing Austin’s vulnerability to attack from both Mexican forces and indigenous tribes. Following the 1842 siege of San Antonio, Sam Houston ordered rangers to move the national archives from Austin to Houston. After retrieving the documents, the officers were overtaken by Austinites who reclaimed the archives. This incident is known as the Texas Archive War of 1842.
5. Austin attracts 20 million visitors per year
Since 2012, Austin has received more than 20 million out-of-town visitors each year. In 2017, 25.6 million people visited the Texas capital. That’s more far-flung visitors than either Rome or Hawaii received. The reputation of Austin’s unparalleled live music scene is responsible for much of the city’s tourism.
6. The Barton Springs salamander lives only in Austin
Eurycea sosorum, affectionately called the Barton Springs salamander, is unique to the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. Unlike most salamanders, this endangered species retains gills throughout its adult life.
7. Austin hosts the nation’s only Formula One racing championship
Circuit of the Americas hosts Formula One’s United States Grand Prix, the only F1 racing championship held stateside. The racing facility, just southeast of Austin’s city limits in Elroy, has a capacity of 120,000.
8. Yet Austin is the largest U.S. city without a pro sports team
Even though it is the only American city to host a major international racing championship, Austin is the largest city in the U.S. without a professional sports team. For many Austinites, the hometown university’s Longhorns more than make up for this. Darryl K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, with a capacity greater than 100,000, is larger than any NFL team’s home stadium.
9. Eeyore’s birthday is cause for a community party in Austin
For more than 50 years, Austinites have gathered on the last Saturday of April to celebrate Eeyore’s birthday. The Winnie-the-Pooh inspired celebration draws thousands of costumed merrymakers, many of whom are musically inclined.
10. It’s not just you…Austinites drink a lot
If your impression of Austinites is that they drink a lot or drink recklessly, you’re right on both counts. Austin ranked #5 on a 2015 Men’s Health list of America’s Drunkest Cities. When you drink, drink responsibly and do not get behind the wheel.
11. Austin’s food truck scene was born on South Lamar Street
A handful of family-owned taco carts set up shop on South Lamar in the early 1990s. Their target market was construction workers with a paucity of nearby lunch options. The carts proved successful, and the craze that followed historic. Between 2010 and 2016, the number of food trucks in Austin quadrupled. The Texas capital is now home to some 2,000 food carts. Some think the city has reached peak food truck, but the latest statistics reveal that Austin still has the fastest-growing food truck industry in the country.
12. An oft-homeless man contested Austin’s mayoral seat
Albert Leslie Cochran, a homeless man with a penchant for dressing in drag, ran for mayor of Austin three times. The last time, in 2003, Cochran placed second with nearly eight percent of the vote. Cochran was an avid advocate and campaigner for homeless rights who is said to have inspired and embodied the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. Austinites celebrate Cochran’s life and legacy each year on March 8, designated “Leslie Day” by Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell after Cochran’s death in 2012.
13. Austin is home to the last remaining moonlight towers
A once-common source of illumination in the dark, moonlight towers have all but fallen to the wayside. Austin is the exception. The city purchased 31 used moonlight towers from Detroit in 1894, and they still light up the sky today. In 1993, the city spent .3 million replacing bolts and wires in the hope that the towers will operate for another 100 years. The towers are recognizable as in the scene of a kegger in Dazed and Confused.
14. Threadgill’s was one of Austin’s earliest live-music venues
The South Austin filling station where Janis Joplin was discovered is one of Austin’s most popular live music venues. And that’s been the case pretty much since Kenneth Threadgill opened his filling station’s doors in 1933. The West Riverside venue is a five-minute drive from AMLI South Shore and a 15-minutes walk from AMLI’s downtown Austin apartment rentals.
15. And Armadillo World Headquarters’ influence remains strong
Unlike Threadgill’s and Victory Grill, AWHQ’s doors are closed for good. But the legendary converted armory deserves credit for making Austin’s modern-day music scene what it is today. Between 1970 and 1980, AWHQ was at the “center of the musical universe.”
16. Willie Nelson retired before moving to Austin
One of country music’s biggest names, Willie Nelson retired prior to moving to Austin in 1972. It might be more accurate to say Nelson “tried to retire.” Not only was Nelson’s departure from the music scene short-lived. The musician, songwriter, and producer is still active today, and far more closely associated with Austin than with Nashville.
17. 700 people attended the first SXSW festival
The brainchild of three Austin Chronicle staffers, South by Southwest kicked off as a local music festival in 1987. 700 people attended. 30 years later, people around the world think of SXSW when they hear “Austin.” More than 30,000 people attended the 2017 festival, which now celebrates film and digital media in addition to music.
18. Austin’s secondary nickname is “Violet Crown City”
The “Keep Austin Weird” slogan and “Live Music Capital of the World” nickname are well-known. But Austin has another nickname that pre-dates this one: “Violet Crown City.” The nickname was inspired by the purplish light visible over Austin’s hills in wintertime.
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