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Austin Treasures: Online Exhibits from the Austin History Center
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Home Congress Ave Lamar Blvd Guadalupe St East Ave 1st St 6th St 19th St Street Name Origins Quiz
Congress Avenue
c. 1875 Photograph of Congress Avenue with 1853 Capitol Building in distance
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In the early 1870s, the limestone Capitol (built in 1853) sat proudly at the head of Congress at 11th Street, while government buildings and private businesses with stone and brick facades fronted the street. Telegraph poles, limestone sidewalks, small trees, and gas lamps were also present, as were a number of saloons like the "Iron Front" and the "Crystal." While horse-drawn buggies had replaced covered wagons, cattle roamed the street on occasion.
c. 1895 Photograph of Congress Avenue circa 1895
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Although still unpaved, the appearance and pace of Congress Avenue had changed dramatically by the mid-1890s with the addition of a new capitol building (1888), a depot at Third Street (rotunda at left) for the International and Great Northern Railroad (1888), and an electric streetcar line (1891) which was powered by an overhead system of cables attached to telegraph poles.
c. 1900 Photograph of Congress Avenue circa 1900
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The mid-day bustle along Congress Avenue in the early 1900s was often accompanied by a sense of chaos as horse-drawn buggies, supply wagons, electric streetcars, and pedestrians struggled to avoid each other.
c. 1908 Photograph looking north on Congress Avenue from a few blocks south of the Colorado River
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In this view looking north from South Congress, a temporary bridge across the Colorado River may be seen while construction is underway on a concrete bridge. Prior to the completion of the concrete bridge (1910), development along the southern end of Congress Avenue remained fairly sparse.
c. 1911 Photograph on the Congress Avenue Bridge looking north toward the Capitol
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Whether traveling by streetcar, horse-drawn buggy, or perhaps on foot, the task of crossing the river was made considerably easier with the construction of the concrete Congress Avenue Bridge in 1910.
c. 1915 Photograph showing businesses along South Congress
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The South Congress area became much more accessible and steadily began to grow following the construction of the 1910 bridge and the extension of the electric trolley line over the river into South Austin in 1911.
c. 1918 Photograph of Congress Avenue looking north showing automobiles and the streetcar line
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Automobiles and horse-drawn carriages rolled easily over "The Avenue's" brick pavement, while trolleys continued to follow the tracks in the center lane.
1920 Photograph looking north on Congress Avenue from Second Street
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Although automobiles had been on the road for more than a decade, horse-drawn carriages continued to move about the city.
late 1940s Photograph of a busy Congress Avenue circa late 1940s
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The additions of the Littlefield Building in 1910 and the Norwood Tower in 1929 brought a modern yet elegant touch to Congress Avenue, and by the end of the 1940s "The Avenue" had truly developed a sophisticated look. Modern buses were common at this point, having replaced the electric streetcars in 1940.
1998 Photograph of Congress Avenue showing modern office buildings
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A stately capitol building still serves as the focal point of Congress Avenue, although from a distance, it appears a bit sandwiched and dwarfed by the city's high-rise buildings. Interestingly enough, a "hot spot" along The Avenue for residents and tourists alike is the Congress Avenue Bridge which, during the warmer months of the year, offers a display each dusk of the nation's largest urban bat colony launching from its habitat beneath the bridge, taking off in flight over the city.
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Congress Avenue Lamar Blvd 6th Street Guadalupe Street East Avenue 1st Street 19th Street Street Name Origins Quiz