Texas Governor's Mansion
Free tours of the governor's residence
This beautiful home became the official residence of the state’s governor in 1856. Every governor and their family to follow has lived in this home making it the fourth oldest continuously occupied governor’s residence in the country. They offer free guided tours of the mansion on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 2pm to 4pm. Reservations must be made at least one week in advance for these 30 minute tours. While this house has been home to American politicians for over 150 years, Texas was actually an independent country only a short time before that. In 1836, The Republic of Texas was created when Texas (or Tejas) declared independence from Mexico. In 1838, Mirabeau Lamar took over as president and relocated the capital from Houston to the small village of Waterloo that was set up less than half a mile from here on the north shore of the Colorado River. He renamed the city for the deceased Father of Texas, Stephen F. Austin and set up the new capital city. When the Republic was annexed by the US in 1845, Austin remained the capital of the new state. In addition to flying the Mexican, Republic of Texas, and American flags in the 1800’s, Texas flew the Confederate flag for four years during the Civil War. Before Mexico gained independence in 1821 and claimed Texas as its own, Texas was a Spanish colony for over 300 years with a brief five-year interlude in the late 1600’s as a French colony. If you've lost count, in addition to the countless Native American tribes who lived on this land long before the colonist arrived, the flags of six nations have flown over Texas. In the 1961, a wealthy real estate developer opened a theme park in Arlington, Texas which he named Six Flags Over Texas, a name that was shortened to Six Flags when they started to expand around the country.
Tejano Walking Trails
Self guided walking tour of Tejano landmarks
In 1928, Austin used their City Plan to cut off services to areas of the city that housed Black residents and forced them to relocate to East Austin, an area the plan called the “Negro district.” In 1962, the racial divide was physically cemented when I-35 was constructed over East Avenue to separate the Black and Latino population from the rest of the city. Recent gentrification has led to the rapid disappearance of culturally significant Latino and Tejano landmarks, so a group of dedicated volunteers put together the Tejano Walking Trails to share information about these important landmarks with visitors and locals alike. You can follow the guide (at the info button bellow) yourself or join one of their free walking tours every third Saturday of the month. The tour starts at 10 from the CommUnity Care Center at 211 Comal St.
Tejano Walking Trails
Beautiful building and grounds with free tours available
Stop by the biggest capitol building in the country for handsome architecture, interesting artwork, and beautiful grounds.They offer free tours that depart from the South Foyer about every half hour. The tour guide will take you through the various rooms and sections of the building while sharing some interesting Texas history. They offer a few speciality tours throughout the year including the Women in Texas History Tour on weekdays at 11:15am and the African American Trailblazing Texans Tour in February. As the state’s seat for government, Austin has been home to many influential politicians. And because Austin is often referred to as a dot of blue in a sea of red, it is no surprise that most of them are Democrats. The 36th president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, grew up about an hour outside the city. Most of his and Lady Bird Johnson’s post-White House initiatives were focused on the city, including the beautification of the lakefront (that was renamed in honor of Lady Bird) as well as the presidential museum and library. Austin’s influence in Washington doesn't stop there. Representative Barbara Jordan became known on the Hill for her eloquent opening statements, especially the one she gave during the impeachment trial of Nixon, which is often thought to be one of the best speeches of the 20th century. This led to her being selected as the first African-American and first female keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention. Twelve years later, fellow Texan Ann Richards, the state treasurer at the time, gave her famous speech at the very same convention before going on to become the governor of Texas. The city commemorated the beloved politician by changing the name of one of the cities major bridges to the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge
The Rolling Rooster
Historic music venue turned restaurant
This building used to be home to the Victory Grill, a popular spot that hosted many of the great African-American musical acts of the time. Just like Austin, most of the country was segregated in the 40’s and as a result, a string of venues that accepted African American performers and patrons popped up around the country creating what became known as the Chitlin' Circuit. The Victory Grill was the go to spot in town for many touring Chitlin' Circuit stars as well as local performers with Billie Holiday, B.B. King, James Brown, Chuck Berry, and Etta James all gracing it’s stage. The early roots of rock n roll can be traced back to stages like this as can the blues revival that took hold of the city in the 60’s and 70’s. In fact, Janis Joplin performed at the Victory Grill when she was still in college and Stevie Ray Vaughan spent most of his free time in blues clubs on the East Side just like this one. This building is now home to an outpost of The Rolling Rooster, a chicken and waffles restaurant with another location in North Austin.
The heart of Austin's Black heritage
In the 1920’s the African American population in Austin was thriving in East Austin, as well as in other parts of the city, clustered around churches, Black-owned businesses, and segregated schools. Noticing this, the city council decided to use their 1928 City Plan to solve the “segregation problem.” They had to get creative because a 1917 Supreme Court decision made it unconstitutional to use zoning laws to segregate neighborhoods. Their work around was to cut off city services to all areas of the city that housed Black residents except East Austin, forcing them to relocate to what the city designated the “Negro district.” In 1962, the racial divide was physically cemented when I-35 was constructed over East Avenue to separate the Black and Latino population from the rest of the city. Six Square is the cultural district that flourished as a result and in spite of that forced segregation. While gentrification has claimed many of the cultural landmarks in the neighborhood, some highlights still remain including the George Washington Carver Museum which has a few small exhibits and a genealogy center, the Dedrick-Hamilton House which is a historic home that was built and owned by one of the country's first freed slaves, and Downs Field which was the home of the Austin Black Senators, the first Negro League Baseball team in the city.
UT Tower Tour
Infamous university landmark with a sad past
This tower, that is the one of the most recognizable features of the University of Texas campus has been a place of celebration for the university for many years. It is lit up with burnt orange lights after a sports victory, its windows are used to form the numbers for the year of the graduating class during graduation each year, and most students take pictures in front of it at some point during their time on campus. But unfortunately it was also the site of one of the deadliest mass shootings in US history. On the morning of August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman arrived at the reception area at top of the tower, not too long after fatally stabbing both his wife and mother. He killed three people and gravely injured two more in the before heading out to the observation deck where he opened fire on campus and the nearby commercial district. Over the next 96 minutes he killed 13 people and injured 30 more before being taken out by two officers from the Austin Police Department. This massacre remained the deadliest in the US for twenty-two years and many regard it as the start of this country’s history with mass shootings. There was no trace of the event or its aftermath on campus until 1999 when a memorial garden dedicated to the victims was built near the tower. Former tour coordinator at the Tower, Charles Locke, said “One of the benefits of reopening the Tower is that we can reclaim it as a symbol of academic excellence represented by the university.” So after being closed to the public for 25 years followed by a two year closure after the September 11th attacks, the tower's observation deck is once again open to the public. In order to ascend to the top, you must call the number below to make a reservation and then pick up your tickets and pay for them at the Texas Union Hospitality Desk. While the student guides provide a little information and can answer any questions you have, it is more accurate to say that they are simply escorting groups to the top for them to see the incredible view. No bags are permitted on this 45 minute tour and you cannot leave early. If you want to learn more about the incident and its impact, Pamela Colloff wrote an incredible article on the 40th anniversary of the shooting for Texas Monthly that is linked at the info button below.