Our Home Austin, city, capital of Texas, U.S., and seat (1840) of Travis county. It is located at the point at which the Colorado River crosses the Balcones Escarpment in the south-central part of the state, about 80 miles (130 km) northeast of San Antonio. Austin’s metropolitan area encompasses Hays, Williamson, Bastrop, and Caldwell counties, including the cities of Round Rock and San Marcos. Inc. 1874. Pop. (2000) 656,562; Austin–Round Rock Metro Area, 1,249,763; (2010) 790,390; Austin–Round Rock Metro Area, 1,716,289.
The state’s fourth largest city, Austin originated as the riverside village of Waterloo, in a buffalo-hunting region occupied by Tonkawa and Comanche peoples. In 1839 it was selected by scouts as the site for the permanent capital of the Republic of Texas and renamed to honor Stephen F. Austin, father of the republic. By 1840 Austin was incorporated, with 856 residents. When the Mexican invasion threatened Texas in 1842, the government moved to Houston, but the town’s citizens, determined to keep Austin the capital, staged the so-called Archive War, forcibly retaining government records. The government returned to Austin in 1845, the year in which Texas was admitted to the United States. Austin’s pink granite State Capitol (1888), modeled after the U.S. Capitol, succeeded an earlier structure (burned 1881).
The city flourished as a trading centre for ranchers and farmers after the arrival of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad and the construction of a permanent bridge across the Colorado River in 1871. A flood in 1900 caused widespread destruction, including the collapse of the bridge. With the harnessing of the river for flood control and power in the early 20th century, industry began to develop. Austin experienced dramatic growth during the 1990s, fueled mainly by high-technology industries.
Annual festivals celebrate the ethnic groups that have contributed to the city’s culture, such as Mexicans, African Americans, Germans, and French. The Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo is held each spring. Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge is renowned for its population of Mexican free-tailed bats; sightseers are attracted to the hundreds of thousands of bats that fly from their roosts on summer nights. Mount Bonnell, at 785 feet (239 metres), is one of the city’s highest points and features a 99-step climb to the top. Zilker Park extends along the river and is the site of a nature centre, botanical gardens, and Barton Springs, a natural swimming pool. McKinney Falls State Park is in the southern part of the city.
The Hill Country west of Austin, dotted with charming small towns that were originally settled by mostly central European immigrants in the 19th century, is a recreational region with the chain of Highland Lakes (including Town Lake and Lake Austin, which wind through the city) impounded by dams along the Colorado River. Unusual rock outcrops, caverns, and springs are found in the area.