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Austin Beginnings: An Exhibit of Memorable Austin Firsts
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First Year Firsts: 1839
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Photo: William Sydney Porter
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bullet: next itemShort story author O. Henry spent the formative years of his career in Austin as William Sydney Porter, laboring at jobs such as a draftsman at the State Land Office, office clerk for the Maddox Bros. land agency, and a bank teller for a local bank. But it was also while in Austin that O. Henry wrote his first story for national publication. "The Miracle of Lava Canyon," written in 1897, was syndicated by S.S. McClure. The story was written at a Larkin drop front desk which is now a part of the Austin History Center's O. Henry Collection. The story was also the only one which O. Henry ever sold using his real name.

Photo: First sewing machine
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bullet: next itemThe first sewing machine in Travis County was purchased by Hugh and Helen Mary Tinnin. Arriving in Texas in 1850, the Tinnins acquired approximately 500 acres on the southern bank of the Colorado River in the area which is now Travis Heights. In the 1850s female slaves used the machine to produce all of the clothes worn by the plantation's slaves. By 1860 the local newspaper advertised the opening of a "sewing machine establishment" on the corner of Mulberry (10th) and San Jacinto, but the first sewing machines were most commonly found among general hardware store merchandise.

Photo: ice cream parlor
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bullet: next itemOnce ice was available in Austin, Austinites could experience their first taste of ice cream. On June 15, 1869, the Daily Austin Republican announced the opening of Charles W. Ohrndorf's Ice Cream Saloon on Congress Avenue, where ice cream and lemonade would be available "at all hours of the day." Indulging in the delectable sweet was not, however, a routine event. It was usually reserved for memorable social outings to be shared with friends, or a drawing card for celebrations such as the grand opening of Buaas Hall in 1871, where those who attended were promised "ice creams of the most delicious flavors." Fultons Ice Cream and Glass-O-Reen Parlor, shown in this 1897 photograph, was located at 1608 Lavaca.

"Two young men from the hill regions above Austin came out of a certain fashionable hotel when one remarked: 'That was the best cold soup I ever tasted,' when his companion, better heeled in city life, remarked that it was ice cream." Daily Statesman, March 17, 1881.

"Who of our ancestors would have dreamed of a man in his shirt sleeves, puffing and sweating like a good fellow, running a steam engine in a room, the temperature of which is one hundred degrees above zero, grinding out solid bars of cold and crystal ice every ten or fifteen minutes? Yet this can be seen by anyone who will take the trouble to walk down to the foot of Congress Avenue any time. Verily, extremes meet when a temperature of 100 degrees above is chemically squeezed down to 32 below in so short a time. What will we do next? State Journal, July 29, 1871.

Photo: Austin Baseball Club
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bullet: next itemProfessional baseball came to Austin in 1888. The Austin Baseball Club--later renamed the Austin Senators--consisted of the entire team of professional players brought to Texas as the Joplin Independents by John McCloskey. In the fall of 1887 McCloskey's team defeated the New York Giants team which was touring Texas at that time. Originally scheduled as a three-game series, the twice-defeated Giants left town before the third game could be played. Baseball enthusiasts who witnessed the victory in Austin joined with McCloskey in organizing the Texas Baseball League and McCloskey's team became the Austin Club.

Photo: UT football team
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bullet: next itemThe University of Texas football team played its first game on Thanksgiving Day, 1893 at Fairground Park in Dallas. With no organized athletic program, the earliest competitions were held only when someone heard of another team who was willing to play. The Dallas Football Club players were known as the "champions of Texas" and were also reputed to be "such a rough gang that none of the other town teams of the state were able to stand up to them." U.T., however, won the game 18-16. By 1900, U.T had a band, the newly selected school colors were orange and white, and the football team was restricted to playing collegiate teams.

Photo: early golf in Austin
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bullet: next itemThe first golf club in Austin, later known as the Austin Country Club, was organized on November 13, 1899. Lewis Hancock, mayor from 1895 to 1897, is thought to have introduced the sport to Austinites. Hancock learned the game in New England where he vacationed with his family during the summer months in the 1890s.

Photo: Satex Film Company
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bullet: next itemIn 1913, long before the production crews of "Outlaw Blues" or "Lonesome Dove" arrived on the scene, Austinites W. Hope and Paul Tilley were busy trying to put Austin on the map as a major motion picture production location. The Tilley brothers' locally-based Satex Film Company produced several features in Texas and Mexico, including "Their Lives by a Thread." This film, probably the first motion picture produced locally, was shot at the Austin Dam.

Photo: bathtubs on wagon
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bullet: next itemThe first porcelain bathtub thought to have been brought to Austin was the one installed in the West Sixth Street home of lumberman Edgar Nalle. The home was known for its elegant features, such as French chandeliers, which Nalle imported from throughout the world. On a trip to New York in the 1890s Nalle is said to have seen the bathtub, then in fashion, and had one sent by boat to Galveston. From Galveston, the bathtub completed its journey by train. When the house was demolished in the 1930s the tub was relocated in the nearby Smoot House.

"When the Nalle house was being torn down in the thirties, all of it was sold...well this bathtub was something no modern person wanted so the poor thing was thrown out into the weeds and was collecting mother looked at the poor bathtub and said what a pity such a handsome tub should not be taken and Mr. Edgar [Nalle] insisted that nobody wanted anything like that and mother said, 'Oh, what a shame. It certainly ought to have a home.' So Mr. Edgar begged her to take it but she wouldn't take it without paying him...and finally, just to settle things Mr. Edgar said, 'Well, if you'll just give me a dollar for each man it takes to lift it, I'll accept that." It took ten men. Actually they needed more men but only ten could get around it to get a handhold on it and they had to strain and struggle because it is so heavy. But mother insisted on making it twenty dollars for the ten men and we have enjoyed it very much because, really, on a hot day, filling that with tap water, it's almost as good as Deep Eddy..." Jane Smoot, in an interview with the Assistance League.

Painting: Zilker Park and Barton Springs
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bullet: next itemAustinites' long-term love affair with Barton Springs probably began with the area's first settlers--Native Americans who were attracted to the natural springs during the area's pre-history. A.M. Rumsey's 1882 depiction of Barton Springs colorfully illustrates Austinites enjoying the natural beauty of the picnicking and swimming spot. But it was not until 1917 that Barton Springs became city property, when A.J. Zilker, the owner at that time, officially offered fifty acres of land to the City of Austin. In return, the City was to pay the Austin School District $10,000 per year for ten years, to benefit children through an endowment fund for manual training and domestic science. A similar transaction in 1931 added another 250 acres; Zilker's final donation of twenty-five acres was made shortly before his death in 1934. In 1933, the area became Zilker Park when the City Council officially voted to name the park after Zilker and to keep the name Barton Springs for the swimming pool because that name had "become widely known in Texas and the Southwest."

"Barton Springs, some two miles west of the courthouse, burst forth in and near the creek of that name, about three-quarters of a mile above its mouth. There are three main springs...Ever since civilized men first saw this country and fell in love with its witching streams, they have attempted to conjecture their probable sources." Annals of Travis County, Frank Brown [1875]

Photo: Deep Eddy
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bullet: next itemAlthough Barton Springs had enjoyed a longer tradition as a recreational area, many early twentieth-century Austinites discovered that the amenities offered by Deep Eddy were more readily accessible: one could take the street car to Deep Eddy, but Barton Springs was "way out in the country." In 1916, owner A.J. Eilers developed the Deep Eddy area into a tourist resort which boasted the first open air concrete swimming pool in Texas. Visitors enjoyed water shows such as the one featuring the Great Lorena and her diving horses. In 1935, the City of Austin purchased Deep Eddy from Eilers. During that same year, a $25,000 construction project to erect a bath house began--the first WPA project to be started in Austin.

"In addition to the Colorado River, there is a large concrete natatorium, one hundred feet wide and two hundred feet long. This pool varies from a wading depth of one foot for the little folks to ten feet of water for the more expert swimmers and divers. Around the pool there are constructed various devices; such as slides, spring-boards, trapezes, flying rings, horizontal bars, diving towers, etc...The temperature of this water is about sixty-eight degrees, winter and summer, and is so clear that the bottom of the pool is easily seen at a depth of ten feet...A group of summer cottages had been erected on the high bluff overlooking the pool and the river. These houses are floored, screened, and equipped with electric lights and running water, affording the occupants all the pleasures of camping with none of it hardships. These camps are rented at reasonable rates." Deep Eddy Bathing Beach brochure, 1916.

Photo: UT women's basketball team
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bullet: next itemIn 1902, the first University of Texas women's basketball game was played. The "Young Ladies' Basketball Team" beat the "Town Girls" 7-4. The early women athletes did not, however, enjoy the enthusiastic support that today's Lady Longhorns receive. Even in 1916 the Cactus yearbook observed, "Through some unaccountable agency, news at last managed to leak out that the Texas girls defeated the Southwestern basketball tossers by the close score of 24 to 22, how it all happened, only the select few will know."

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