The story of how a little town named Waterloo became the Capitol of Texas begins with a buffalo hunting trip. In 1835 Jacob Harrell and his family were one of the first settlers along the north bank of the Colorado River. They lived approximately where the Congress Avenue Bridge is located today in Austin. Mirabeau B. Lamar visited Jacob sometime between 1837 and 1838. One Texas Story claims that Mirabeau shot a magnificent buffalo at the corner of what is today’s Congress Avenue and 8th Street. Mr. Lamar must have been impressed with the tranquility of the peaceful town and great location for hunting because in 1839 when Mirabeau B. Lamar became the newly elected President of the Republic of Texas he suggested that Waterloo would make a better location for the capitol instead of Houston where the climate was hot and muggy.
In January 1839 Lamar appointed a special five-man commission to select a new site for the capital, stipulating that the location be somewhere between the Trinity and Colorado Rivers. The commission was instructed by President Lamar to visit Harrell's split-log stockade. They found four families living near the stockade and agreed that the town should be chosen as the capital site. Congress designated changed the name of Waterloo to Austin in honor of Stephen F. Austin, who is known as the father of Texas because of his great achievements in bringing anglos to Texas. The highest point and most desirable spot in the 7,735-acre site was chosen for the capitol building.
Once the location for the State Capitol had been selected Judge Edwin Waller was chosen by President Lamar to supervise the surveying and to sell various parcels of land in the center of the town. Judge Waller established the original boundaries between two creeks which were named Shoal Creek and Waller Creek. The total size of the city was 640 acres. Occupying the center of the original map drawn of the town was the site for the Capitol building and grounds that stood on the highest elevation overlooking the beautiful views of the hill country and shores of the Colorado River. The major street that ran up to the Capitol was named Congress Avenue. Just north of the Capitol grounds was a designated site named College Hill, which eventually became the home to the University of Texas. The first auction was held in August 1839 under the huge oak trees located at Republic State Park on 4th Street. Early settlers who relinquished their land for the capitol were Logan Vandeveer, James Rogers, J. D. Hancock, J. W. Harrell, and Aaron B. Burleson.
On January 13, 1840 Edwin Waller was elected Austin's first mayor. On August 12 of 1840 Waller participated in the battle of Plum Creek. Afterward he left Austin and moved to Austin County where he engaged in farming and merchandising. A small creek that feeds into the town lake is named "Waller Creek" in honor of Austin's first mayor.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Mary Starr Barkley, History of Travis County and Austin, 1839–1899 (Waco: Texian Press, 1963). Sam A. Suhler, “Stephen F. Austin and the City of Austin: An Anomaly,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 69 (January 1966).
Evidence of prehistoric habitation at the "Balconies Escarpment"
The historic oak tree at Republic Park, Mirabeau B. Lamar, Stephen F. Austin, Edwin Waller and more Austin history.
Portrait of Mirabeau B. Lamar, Courtesy Texas State Library and Archives