In 1839, when Austin became the capital, Texas had won independence from Mexico and was its own country. The city was called Waterloo back then, but the name didn't stick—perhaps because everyone knew that, someday, “Waterloo City Limits” would be a terrible name for a live-music TV show. (Kidding!) Austin is, of course, named after Stephen F. Austin, one of the founding fathers of Texas. We lost our capital-city status temporarily, thanks to some high jinks by Sam Houston, but regained it in 1845. That same year, Texas became part of the United States. Since then, Austin has grown to a city of nearly 900,000—and most people think of the city for its 21st century, hipster culture, rather than its deep and layered past. But having a healthy appreciation for Austin and Texas history is part of what makes living here—or even just visiting here—special. Here are five places in Austin where you can step into the past.
Texas State Capitol
The capitol building was completed in 1888, and Austinites have been pretty darn proud of it ever since. There are even laws on the books to prevent obstructing views of the Capitol. Inside, you will have no trouble remembering you’re in the Lone Star State: Even some light fixtures spell out “TEXAS.”
In 2008, an arson fire severely damaged the mansion, which was first built in 1856. Luckily, because the home was being renovated at the time, no one was hurt and the contents were in storage. After restoration, the mansion reopened for tours in 2012. Thosee tours (which are free) are offered only at certain times, however, and reservations are required.
The South Mall at the University of Texas
This piece of the sprawling campus is one of the most beautiful areas of UT. It’s home to World War I memorial Littlefield Fountain, and the Mall’s “Six Pack”—the red-roofed, Spanish Renaissance-style buildings that helped set the architectural style for the campus. Sadly, this is also where some victims of UT Tower shooter Charles Whitman fell that terrible day in 1966.
French Legation Museum
Back in the days when Texas was its own country, this was the home of France’s diplomatic representative to the Republic. Today, it’s a museum. You can take a 40-minute guided tour, enjoy events such as concerts and kids’ story times, or spend an afternoon picnicking and relaxing on the lawn.
Texas State Cemetery
Less than a mile from the Capitol, the lovely, tree-lined Texas State Cemetery is the final resting place for political figures such as U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan and Texas Govs. John Connally and Ann Richards; author James Michener (who spent his final years in Austin); legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry; and Stephen F. Austin himself.