Other Views of Austin

Other Views from 1887

Where is Austin?

Above: Augustus Koch (1840–?). Austin, State Capital of Texas, 1887. Lithograph, 28 x 41 in. Lithographer unknown. Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.

Austin in 1887

Koch paid a return visit to Austin in 1887. The city was much larger by then—in the ensuing fourteen years, the population almost doubled to well over 11,000—and Koch reflected that in a print even larger than the one he had made of San Antonio. The eye easily traces the new growth in a diagonal line from lower left to upper right: from the reconstructed bridge over the Colorado River at the foot of Congress Avenue (a portion of it had collapsed from the weight of a herd of cattle in 1883), to the almost finished State Capitol (it opened the following year), to the first building of the new University of Texas (“Old Main”), and finally, on the northern horizon, to the majestic State Insane Asylum, which was never as grand as Koch depicted it.[1] The arrival of a second railroad, the International and Great Northern, had turned the city into a regional trading and transportation center because, for a few years, it was the westernmost terminal for scores of miles in most directions.[2] This was news that the citizens of Austin were eager to share with others in an effort to increase the business underpinning for what was already becoming a city based on government and education.

Austin is one of several instances in which Koch depicted a city two times (Brenham and San Antonio are other Texas cities), presenting an interesting study in both the city’s development as well as the artist’s. Looking toward the northeast, Koch’ 1887 view is in many ways an improvement over the 1873 image. His representation of the terrain was reasonable, although he seemed to flatten out the hilly streets on the west side of town (see the intersection of Rio Grande and Seventh streets, for example) and exaggerate the hills around Shoal Creek and East Avenue. A tiny train in the upper left-hand corner of the print approximates the location of the present-day Loop 1 and the Missouri Pacific tracks, and he has accurately documented such key buildings as the Capitol (1 on map) and the General Land Office building (17), the Driskill Hotel (18), the University (5), St. Mary’s Academy (16), the temporary Capitol (2), and the Travis County Courthouse (3). This is a much larger and more accomplished image than Koch produced in 1873.

While Koch’s 1873 view is a fairly accurate reproduction of the street grid, his 1887 layout contains some flaws, for he shows the streets north of Magnolia Avenue (today’s Martin Luther King) continuing a northeastern trajectory, parallel to the older streets, rather than angling about 15 degrees to the north. He also misidentified “The Drag” west of the University as San Marcos Street rather than Guadalupe. Koch also continued to omit sidewalks, telegraph and electrical poles, fences, large trees, cisterns, drainage ditches along the sides of streets, and other features that would have cluttered the views or obscured buildings. Still, the view was popular enough that the Board of Trade, an organization of businessmen, and the Austin Rapid Transit Company copied and published it in 1890 to promote the city.