Austin is a city seeing growth as the economics of the area continue to see growth. This is not the first time that Austin has been in a period of growth. The city saw steady growth during the first half of the 20th century, which resulted in those with means moving outward from the city’s center.
Old West Austin Historical District
Suburbs of Austin were originally connected to the city via the streetcar transportation system. Over time, the development of the automobile meant that families could move further out, while still maintaining their employment opportunities. Three smaller neighborhoods combine to define the Old West Historical District: Enfield, Pemberton Heights and Bryker Woods. Each of these neighborhoods is primarily residential, but close to retail, restaurants and entertainment options. This is due to their ties to Austin’s public transportation system, as well as connections to the highway system surrounding the city.
Over the years, this area of Austin has moved from being a suburb to a district within the city itself. Yet, these neighborhoods represent a slice of measured development, with tree lined streets and mature family oriented communities. The district is full of multiple examples of early 20th century architecture, including the large homes in the Victorian and Greek revival styles, as well as many that reflect the old colonial architecture.
The story of this district begins with Woodlawn, a Greek revival house built for Irish immigrant James B. Shaw. This gentlemen purchased several hundred acres outside of Austin in 1846. He built his home there, but due to family tragedies, the property ended up in the hands of Texas Governor Peace in 1856. The land would eventually become part of Old Enfield. Peace Park was developed during the 1870s to define the eastern edge of the district with Shoal Creek as the centerpiece. This waterway was a source of outdoor entertainment for many Austin residents in the beginning of the 20th century. Today, the park and many of the islands within the waterway have been deemed historical landmarks.
One half mile away from Woodlawn was the town of Clarksville, which was created as a town devoted to freed black slaves after the Civil War. Yet over time, it too would be encompassed by Austin. Pemberton Heights, another area that developed during the 1930s and 1940s, included a main access point to downtown Austin known as the Windsor Road Bridge. This bridge was constructed in 1928. Along with the State Street Bridge, Windsor Road Bridge gave residents two options entrance to downtown. State Street Bridge has been converted to a pedestrian bridge.
One highway, Loop 1, has a limited right of way through the district. Attempts to expand this expressway have been thwarted by its historical designation, which increases the required costs to access Federal funds. As a result, the highway expansion appears to be on a long-term hold.
Austin has maintained this district as a reflection of its history, not only in terms of architecture, but also as an example how the city has grown and changed from the beginning of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st century.