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How Austin neighborhoods got their names

From Mueller to Montopolis

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Most Austin residents know that the city was originally called Waterloo, but not everyone knows why or how various Austin neighborhoods got their names. Some of them are straightforward, while the stories behind others remain obscure. But even if we can’t always trace their specific origins, the names of some of Austin’s most well known neighborhoods allow us to trace their layered histories—stories often embedded in slavery, racism, segregation and displacement—and invite further investigation of Austin’s past.


Bouldin Creek

This neighborhood, spanning from South First Street to South Lamar Boulevard, was named after Confederate Col. James Bouldin. He arrived in 1852 and bought up huge swaths of land comprising South Austin. Upon emancipation, he gave many parcels of land to those people he’d formerly enslaved. This is why there are still old black churches in the Bouldin neighborhood, along with former antebellum mansions such as the iconic Green Pastures, home to the recently renovated and upgraded Mattie’s restaurant.

South Manchaca

Stories about how Manchaca, a white and Hispanic working-class neighborhood in southwest Austin, got its name are wildly divergent. Some say that the name is a derivation of the Choctaw word “imashaka,” meaning “to the rear,” an extension of some similar naming conventions in Louisiana. Others argue that the area is named after José Antonio Menchaca, a Tejano soldier who fought in the Texas Revolution. The city recently passed an ordinance to rename Menchaca Road—or, rather, correct its spelling; it will be interesting to see if the same transformation occurs neighborhood-wide.

Victory Grill
The Victory Grill in Robertson HIll
Creative Commons licencse

Robertson Hill

There’s a gorgeous little pocket neighborhood east of I-35, stretching from about East Seventh to East 12th streets, named after Texas Ranger, secessionist, and plantation owner Elijah Sterling Clack Robertson. Within that little pocket is the historic French Legation Museum; Austin’s own HBCU, Huston-Tillotson University; and the Texas State Cemetery, where titans of Texas history have been laid to rest. It also was the home of the original Anderson High School, which was the cornerstone of East Austin’s black community until it was shuttered and relocated to the tonier, whiter Northwest Hills in 1973. Today, the neighborhood is a diverse, vibrant community populated with historic homes and new builds, many with an unobstructed view of the state Capitol.

Mueller

Home to the city’s Robert Mueller Municipal Airport from 1930 to 1999, named after a city commissioner who died in office in 1927, Mueller is now a relatively diverse, mixed-use community anchored by a huge green space, retail and restaurants, and a mixture of affordable housing and three-story mansions with elevators.

Hyde Park

Austin’s original suburb was platted in 1891 and developed by Martin Shipe as a whites-only area. It takes its name from the tony London neighborhood, further helping it stake its claim to exclusivity. This remains somewhat true today, although its million-dollar Craftsman and Queen Anne-style bungalows and minimansions are interspersed with rental homes and apartments, primarily marketed to students and faculty at the University of Texas at Austin to its south.

Windsor Park

Another whites-only—sorry, “highly restricted” — neighborhood that cropped up in the 1950s, Windsor Park got its name from developers who wanted to bestow an air of exclusivity by gesturing to the Windsor Great Park in London. There’s a house on the corner of Berkman Drive and Rogge Lane with a hitching post in the front yard, a vestige of the tract’s farming past. Long a relatively depressed neighborhood due to it being in the flight path of the Mueller airport, Windsor Park has been revitalized and is now home to Instagram-friendly restaurants and cool neighborhood bars. While it’s most recently known as its role in Friday Night Lights as part of the fictional Dillon, Texas, the neighborhood’s proximity to Austin Studios makes it a hotspot for film, television, and commercial production.

Metal truss bridge over a river
Montopolis Bridge
Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Montopolis

Situated near a tall bluff in southeast Austin at the intersection of US Highway 183 and state Highway 71, this “city on a hill” existed nine years before Austin did, established in 1830 by Jesse Tannehill, an early settler from Kentucky, who participated in the development of Travis County. Due to its plum location along the Colorado River, Montopolis was expected to boom, but it never really took off, probably due to its proximity to the recently established Waterloo (later Austin), the capital of the Republic of Texas.

After the Civil War, Montopolis was briefly a freedmen’s town, occupied by formerly enslaved people who worked as sharecroppers. At the beginning of the 20th century, Montopolis became home to a large population of Mexican immigrants, and it has remained a primarily Latino area ever since.

Montopolis was fully annexed by the city of Austin in the 1970s, and developers inevitably turned their eyes toward the previously ignored, working-class neighborhood. Condos started cropping up after 2014, among affordable housing developments dating back to the 1960s. The Montopolis Bridge, a truss bridge that used to connect Montopolis to downtown, was converted to pedestrian use in 2018 as part of the US 183 South Project.

Travis Heights

Established in 1913, Travis Heights was an early exclusive neighborhood for South Austin’s genteel and well-heeled. It was founded by banker Charles Newning General William Harwood Stacy and his sons. Newning, from New York, was inspired by Frederick Law Olmstead’s design of Central Park and much of Travis Heights iincorporates the natural rolling hills and trees into its layout. Travis Heights is named after Alamo hero Lt. Col. William B. Travis, a true giant of Texas history.

Clarksville

Founded by freedman Charles Clark (who changed his name from Charles Griffin after emancipation), Clarksville rests on land once owned by Texas governor Elisha Pease. In 1871, Clark purchased two acres at the 1700 block of West 10th Street from Confederate general Nathen G. Shelley, then split that land with other emancipated people.

One of six vibrant communities of emancipated people established after the Civil War, Clarksville eventually stretched from Lamar to West Lynn. However, its location on the west side of the city, particularly its proximity to the burgeoning downtown, made it desirable to prospectors and developers. This led to a campaign on city officials to push African American residents to the east side of the city. In the early 1900s, the school board closed the Clarksville school and the city cut off basic services. The 1928 City Plan cemented the segregation of Austin, concentrating all municipal, educational, and recreational services for black residents to the east side.

Allandale

What’s now known as Allandale was a 3,100-acre land grant from Republic of Texas president Mirabeau B. Lamar to George B. Davis for Davis’s service in the battle of San Jacinto. Until around World War II, it was primarily farm land; developers began platting Allandale as we know it around 1946. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Allandale’s history is that it helped pioneer central air conditioning in the mid-1950s. In 1954, the National Association of Home Builders and UT Austin partnered up to see whether the central air systems used for commercial and industrial structures could work in residential ones. A few contractors built homes in what became known as the “Air Conditioned Village” on Park View Drive, Twin Oaks Drive, Nasco Drive, and Daugherty Street, all west of Burnet Road.

While the exact origins of its name are unclear, it’s possible that the neighborhood’s namesake was John T. Allan, a bachelor Confederate officer once considered the father of industrial education in Texas. When he died in the late 1800s, he bequeathed his estate to the city, with the request that it be used to form a school for the practical instruction of using tools and scientific principles. The John T. Allan High School (and then middle school) opened in 1900 and operated until it burned down in the 1950s.

French Legation Museum

802 San Marcos Street, , TX 78702 (512) 472-8180 Visit Website

South Lamar Boulevard

South Lamar Boulevard, , TX

Huston-Tillotson University

900 Chicon Street, , TX 78702 Visit Website

Clarksville

, , TX 78703

Texas State Cemetery

909 Navasota Street, , TX 78702 Visit Website