[Editors note: I’ve always wanted to know the story behind the ubiquitous “Maufrais” stamped into the sidewalks of downtown Austin. Rob Hafernik wondered the same back in 2008. Below we’re reposting Rob’s article, originally published at Texas Escapes, and reveals some history about one of Austin’s most long-lived and mysterious brands… a legacy that began over a century ago.]
I’m a curious kind of guy. When I walk the dog, I wonder about the things I see along the way. Everyone in Austin is familiar with the word “Maufrais”, but almost no one knows what it means. There are poems about it, and blog entries wondering about it. There are even people who think “Maufrais” is as mysterious as crop circles.
The reason for this mystery is that the word is stamped into half of the concrete in Austin. Just in the space of one good dog walk, I see the word a dozen times or more. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that it must be the name of a concrete company, but enquiring minds want to know more. These days, enquiring minds are as addicted to search engines as Wimpy is addicted to hamburgers.
Enquiring minds, however, find zilch when they search for “maufrais” or “maufrais concrete company” or “maufrais austin history” or any of about a hundred other search strings. Nothing is quite as frustrating, in these modern times, as an informational itch that cannot be scratched (actually, one small item turns up: the State Supreme Court of Texas sued C. A. Maufrais, et al, in 1944 over some work they were doing along the river in Austin, but that’s not much). When all else fails, the truly curious must be prepared to do the unthinkable: resort to a library. And no ordinary library, either, in the case at hand the only thing that will do is the Austin History Center, which is a part of the Austin library system. Actually, I love the place, except for the somewhat draconian rules: no pens, no notebooks, pretty much no nothing can be taken inside. If you want to take notes, they’ll provide you with a pencil and a sheet of blank paper. Most written material may be photocopied, but pictures may not be photographed, even ones not under copyright. Instead, they would prefer that you pay them $12.60 to have a duplicate made and even that may not be displayed publicly. Considering that some of the photographs, such as old police photographs, are public property, this seems just plain wrong. Still, it’s a great place.
All you have to do is ask and the nice librarians will bring you anything you need. I asked for info about the Maufrias Concrete Company and they brought out a whole box full of stuff. One folder contained a whole box of photos dealing with the construction industry. Only one of them involved Maufrais, however, and I couldn’t reproduce that here because I don’t want jack-booted library cops breaking my door down in the middle of the night.
Next, there was a biography for Chuck Maufrais, from an article in the American-Statesman of 12 Nov, 1981. Now we’re getting down to it. It seems that the Maufrais Brothers Concrete Contractors got their start in 1893. His grandfather and great grandfather started the business out behind their house, before the idea of ready-mix had started. Also, we learn the real reason that you can’t swing a dead cat in Austin without hitting a Maufrais stamp is that “In the early days of Austin sidewalks, the city required the concrete contractor to sign his product, a rule that was recently reinstated.”
Many of the sidewalks on Congress Avenue were apparently poured by the company shortly after 1900 and are still being walked on today. Maufrais’ uncle, Jack Ferguson said, “One time a guy came into town and wanted to know why all the streets were named ‘Maufrais.'” They poured concrete all over town and all over the UT campus. Maufrais recounts the time he was working at the entrance to the KTBC radio station. One of his trucks plowed through some azaleas on the lawn and Lady Bird herself came out to yell at him. “She was running things,” Ferguson said. The dynasty has died out, however, Chuck reports that none of his sons are interested in the concrete business. “this is the end of it,” says Maufrais. “That’s life. We’re just going to leave it.”
The next thing in the file was the grandfather’s obituary. The obit ran in the Aug 8, 1948 American Statesman. He was only 55 years old. More of the story is here, however. C.A. Maufrais‘ father, William, came to Austin in 1892 with the intention of starting a concrete business. Probably, he learned the trade elsewhere and moved to Austin to bring the trade to a small town where there would be no competition for years. William died in 1919 and his son C.A. took over.
Also in the obit, we find that C.A. belonged to most of the civic organizations in town, as befitting a solid businessman: Travis Post No. 76 of the American Legion, Austin Lodge No 12, AF & AM, Scottish Rite Bodies and the Shrine (I list these for the benefit of future googlers).
When C.A. became the manager, in 1919, the business had a “few” gasoline concrete mixers. By the time of his death in 1948, they had seventy trucks, “all with the latest equipment”. Apparently, the Chuck Maufrais whose bio is above was one of his brother’s sons, because his only son was named Jack and lived in Oklahoma. The company apparently moved all around town. Early addresses were on first street, this obit lists an address on Barton Springs Road and the ad below lists an address on Lamar. I guess they had to move along as they grew.
There is a Maufrais street in the Clarksville area. Also, on the regular old internet, further search (with benefit of some additional keywords) reveals that Maufrias helped to build the Lamar Street bridge over the Colorado river. It’s one of our nicer bridges.
So, the mystery is mostly solved. The Maufrais family brought concrete to Austin and poured it for about ninety years, but eventually the sons moved on to newer things. Not many businesses can leave a legacy like theirs, however. For at least a hundred more years (and probably a lot more), people will walk over their name and wonder. As that guy says on the radio, “and now you know the rest of the story.”
I’ll leave this off with one last image, an ad for the company from the 1940s:
Now, all you Austinites with an itch to google have a place to go. Please leave a comment by clicking the link below, I’d love to hear people’s Maufrais stories.
Copyright Rob Hafernik