Residents of Austin proudly wear T-shirts proclaiming “Keep Austin Weird.” Do these same residents know the weird history behind how their neighborhoods were named? Read on to discover the “who” and the “what” behind some of Austin’s most iconic neighborhoods.
Located north of downtown Austin and the University of Texas, Hancock was settled by Susanna Dickinson, one of the few survivors of the Battle of the Alamo. So why is this area called Hancock and not Dickinson after this brave woman? Apparently, members of the country club were on the naming board. They chose to name Hancock after Lewis Hancock. Hancock was not only the mayor of Austin from 1895 to 1897, but he then also founded the Austin Country Club and Golf Course.
Travis Heights was named after Lt. Col William Barret Travis, who was a defender of the Alamo. Susanna Dickinson didn’t have the honor of having a town named after her for surviving the battle, while Travis did receive the honor for having fought in the battle.
In the early 1900s, Frank Ramsey, a florist, and arborist purchased several plots of land in what is now the Rosedale neighborhood. His business and his flowers flourished, and the area earned its name from the Rosedale Arborvitae, Ramsey’s hybrid of the Golden Arborvitae and the Japanese Cedar.
There are small towns and neighborhoods named in homage to Washington Irving all over the country. Austin residents chose a clever way to give a nod to the author. Tarrytown is the setting of Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the story that features the headless horseman.
Named after the affluent area of Central London, Hyde Park has an embarrassing history. First marketed to Austin’s elite as a “white only” neighborhood, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for the Victorian architecture, Tudor Revival architecture, and bungalows that were built in the 1920s and 1930s.
Near the Hancock neighborhood, Cherrywood was once an area covered with cotton fields, pastures, and hopefully, cherry trees. Whether or not cherry trees covered the area, Cherrywood is still a great name for a neighborhood that is filled with parks named to commemorate early Texas settlers.
Windsor Park is another nod to the affluent area near London. Nash Phillips Copus, built the subdivision in the 1950s. Windsor Park is also the setting of Friday Night Lights.
The central city neighborhood, Bryker Woods is said to get its name from the two developers. J.C. Bryant and McFall Kerby joined together to develop the area, and Bryker Woods was born.
Another area named for a previous resident is Mueller. Robert Mueller was an Austin city council member who died in 1926. Mueller was originally home to Austin’s first airstrip. It is now one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the Austin area.
Old West Austin
Home to some of the city’s oldest colonial-style homes, Old West Austin names the area that covers three neighborhoods: Old Enfield, Pemberton Heights, and the previously mentioned Bryker Woods.
The founders named Pemberton Heights, part of Old West Austin, after James Pemberton who inherited enough money to establish the Austin Land Company.
The Old Enfield neighborhood was originally part of a large plantation. Enfield Realty and Home Building Company developed the land. It now is home to some of the oldest colonial-style homes in Austin.
James Bouldin was a plantation owner who emancipated his slaves after the end of the Civil War. Interestingly enough, many of the freed slaves remained in the area and established their own communities.
While many neighborhoods are named after slave owners, the founders named Clarksville after a former slave. Charles Griffin Clark moved to the area in 1871 and established one of the first freedman’s towns west of the Mississippi.
Home to the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Zilker Park is named after Andrew Jackson Zilker. Zilker donated 35 acres of land to the city in 1918.
Barton Park is built near a system of natural springs on the banks of the Colorado River. The founders named it after pioneer William Barton.
Balcones is named after the Balcones Fault Zone, a tensional structural system that runs from the southwest part of the state to the north central region near Dallas. Now, the fault is inactive.
Austin has a Brentwood too, and O.J. Simpson never lived there. The neighborhood was once a cotton farm, but the area became developed after American GIs returned home after WWII. It is not clear how this Brentwood earned its name.
When your husband is a real estate developer, you, as a result, get to have an opinion on the naming of the neighborhood. A.B. Beddow built Crestview on the site of an old dairy farm, and his wife, who loved the town with the same name in Florida, so, she, chose to pay homage to it in Texas.
There were Swedish immigrants in Texas? Apparently so. Swen Magnus, an immigrant who when he first came to Texas admired the area as good grazing land, or “Ga Valla,” named the area Govalle.
Guess who lived on Judges’ Hill? Chances are, your guess was accurate. Thomas Jefferson Chambers was a land surveyor and also a judge. As a thank you for his services, the people gave him this area. Other judges including Elijah Sterling Clack Robertson also built homes in the neighborhood.
And where did the city of Austin get its name? Apparently, Stephen F. Austin, the “father of Texas” negotiated a boundary treaty with Native Americans after settlers were killed in raids. Austin got its name in 1839 after the Republic of Texas purchased several hundred acres to establish the town.
An interesting side note . . . White settlers arriving on the banks of the Colorado River in 1830 initially called the city Austin. As you meander through the city, you will most likely see several nods to the earlier name – such as Waterloo Records and Waterloo Park.