Austin Views: The State Capitol Like You've Never Seen It Before

Austin Views: The State Capitol Like You've Never Seen It Before

This week’s Austin Views features HDR photographs of the state capitol. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, HDR means “High Dynamic Range” and is the result combining several exposures of the same scene to create a final photograph with a greater range of luminance levels. The results are impressionistic photographs with brilliant colors and spectacular details.

For those of you interested in experimenting with this technique, I highly recommend using a tripod and the software program Photomatix Pro, which makes the process of blending exposures far less cumbersome.

As always, please feel free to post your own HDR shots, discuss this topic, or post any other shots of the capitol.


Photographs by Benjamin Gustafsson

The History of Barton Springs

Photograph by Benjamin Gustafsson

If you’ve read Monday’s post, then you know about Sam Houston’s feud with Mirabeau B. Lamar over the location of Texas capital. One can easily understand why Houston wanted the capital to be located in the city that bore his name, but why did Lamar insist that it be moved to the little-known frontier town of Waterloo that would one day become Austin?

Apparently, Lamar had fallen in love with an area near Waterloo, owned by a friend of his named ‘Uncle’ Billy Barton, where he would hunt for buffalo and rejuvenate himself in the refreshingly icy pools of water created by springs from an underground aquifer. When Lamar was missing, his staffers would travel to this area and follow herds of buffalo to find him.

When Austin became the capital of the young republic, Lamar moved into a residence only two miles away from the site that would later become known as Barton Springs.

Arguably the crown jewel of city, one can easily understand that the Barton Springs—the source of the largest metropolitan swimming pool in the country at 900 feet—had something to do with Austin’s emergence as an urban center.

The Edwards aquifer, which provides the icy water of the springs—and much of Austin’s drinking water—was created millions of years ago during the tectonic shift that created the Balcones Fault.

During its prehistory, the Native American tribes in the region knew the springs as a sacred place where they could heal their wounds. Yet, the springs did not become a public swimming facility for the residents of Austin until the 20th century.

In 1901 A.J. Zilker, the first Coca-Cola Bottler in Austin, bought the land and developed one of the springs into an amphitheatre style swimming pool (modeled after a roman bath) for the local Elk Lodge. Eliza Springs, as the amazing, archaic looking pool is now known, is again closed to the public due to alleged dangers in its construction and because it has become a preserve for the endangered Barton Springs Salamander.

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In 1917 Zilker began donating his land along the south bank of the Colorado River to the Public Free Schools of Austin on the condition that the city of Austin would buy the land. That same year the area became a public park, and Austinites began flocking to the springs.

Between 1929 and 1932 the pool was extended to its current size and shape with the addition of concrete dams on the lower and upper ends and given sidewalks along its banks. The pool, including its smaller offshoots, was now approximately a thousand feet long.

Located near the center of Austin in Zilker Park, Barton Springs is the undeniable heart of the city. In the summer, when temperatures consistently rise over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the whole city gathers at the shores of the great, old pool, where the water remains a chilly and perpetual 68 degrees.

The Woman Who Saved Austin: How Austin Became The Capital of Texas

The Woman Who Saved Austin: How Austin Became The Capital of Texas

Angelina Eberly Statue

Photo by Alan P. Van Dyke

As you walk between Sixth and Seventh Street you might notice the bronze statue of a woman getting ready to fire a six-pound cannonball across Congress Avenue. If you’re anything like me, you’ve asked yourself where that cannonball is headed. The answer is into the side of the General Land Office Building that stood in its way in 1842. The woman is Angelina Eberly, known as “The Savior of Austin.” This statue marks the exact spot where she fired a cannon shot that once preserved Austin as the state capital.

So why did Eberly want to blow a giant hole in the General Land Office Building?

Apparently, in the America of the late 19th century, the primary symbol of political authority lay in government archives carefully maintained in the capital of each state. Similarly, the Republic of Texas archives had been kept since 1839 at the General Land Office building in the small frontier town of Austin, after Stephan F. Austin—which had recently changed it’s name from Waterloo to reflect its new status as the republic’s capital.

From the first days of the Republic, the Texas congress had favored a plan to build a planned city as its capital somewhere in the strategic center of Texas. However, Sam Houston—who will from here on be considered the villain of this story for the purposes of our narrative, in spite of his patriotic service at the Battle of San Jacinto—had hatched an ego-maniacal plan to move the capital to his precious namesake city of Houston. Using his authority as President, Sam Houston blocked congress plans and had the archive moved to Houston.

Yet, with the ascension of Mirabeau B. Lamar to the Presidency in 1839, the Central Texas plan was revitalized. Lamar chose an area near the village of Waterloo, which lay between Shoal and Waller Creeks on the banks of the Colorado River. Edwin Waller, whom the creek was named after, was then selected to draw up a plan for the city. He designed a fourteen-block grid with a broad north-south main street that would run from the river to the State Capitol. It later became known as Congress Avenue.

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But despite these developments, Sam Houston refused to give up his plan. During the intervening years he railed against Austin, calling it “the most unfortunate site on earth for a seat of government.” Then in 1941 1841, Houston again became President of the Republic.

During the first year of his Presidency, Houston expressed his distaste for the new capital by refusing to stay in the official residence of the president. Ironically, during his visits to Austin he stayed at a room in the boarding home of his future nemesis: Mrs. Angelina Eberly.

In her time as his host, Mrs. Eberly grew suspicious of Houston.

In 1842, when the Mexican army took control of San Antonio, Goliad and Victoria, the president called for a meeting of the congress in Houston where he argued that Austin was too vulnerable against a Mexican attack and ordered that the precious archives be returned to his beloved Houston.

Ready for such a move, the residents of Austin formed a vigilante group to protect the archives, which they named “The Committee of Safety,” and threatened to defend the official papers with armed resistance if necessary. In response, Houston ordered that the papers be stolen in the dead of night.

The stage was set.

On a cold December night, Houston declared that Austin was no longer the state capital. That night twenty men, led by Colonel Thomas I. Smith and Captain Eli Chandler, arrived in Austin and began loading the archives into their wagons. Awoken by the sounds, Mrs. Eberly spotted the men, ran to a cannon lying in wait and lit the fuselage. A six-pound cannonball exploded into the night and crashed into the side wall of the Land Office Building, frightening the soldiers and awakening Austin’s residents.

Smith and Chandler fled into the night with two wagons filled with archives—the vigilantes followed them. At Brushy Creek, in what is today known as Williamson County, the soldiers were forced to return the documents at gunpoint. To his credit, Houston had ordered the men to avoid bloodshed at all costs.

By the next morning the archives were returned to Austin where the citizens celebrated with a raucous New Years Eve Party.

For a number of years Sam Houston was able to keep the government located further north out of fear of further Mexican incursions. But in late summer of 1846 the seat of government was returned to Austin where Mrs. Eberly and the archives awaited.

In the late summer of 2004 the city erected the statue in her honor.

Austin Views: Mount Bonnell

Austin Views: Mount Bonnell

In recognition of Valentine’s day, today’s Austin Views features one of the most romantic places in the city. With a panoramic view of Downtown Austin and Lady Bird Lake from Tom Miller Dam to the 360 Bridge, Mount Bonnell is one of Austin’s greatest vantage points.

Please, feel free to post your own images of or from Mount Bonnell.

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Photographs by Benjamin Gustafsson

Austin Views: The City At Night

Austin Views: The City At Night

This week’s installment of Austin Views features images of Austin’s changing skyline after nightfall. I tried to emphasize familiar viewpoints, such as Congress and Lamar Bridge, while emphasizing the dramatic transformations that the city has undergone in the past decade.

Feel free to post your own images of the night skyline, the city at night, or older shots that show how much the city has changed.

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Photographs by Benjamin Gustafsson