Selling the Austin Dam: A Disastrous Experiment
in Encouraging Growth
EDWARD A. SEVCIK*
In 1888 I originated the idea of the Austin Dam. I was as completely the father
of that project ... as I am the father of any child that I have. That project at
the present time is somewhat discredited but in my opinion it will yet prove a
great boon to our people.
A. P. Wooldridge'
A USTIN WAS A QUIET TOWN AT THE END OF THE 188OS. BY THE STAN-
dards of its day it was also clean, mainly because it had a river
close to hand-the Colorado, which bends around the city to the south
and west. The climate was healthy; the summers hot and dry, the win-
ters mild, with rare snow. In the winter of 1887 a visitor looking from
the south bank of the river towards Austin would have seen a collection
of gray wooden buildings, interspersed with oaks and cedar trees,
crossed by Pecan (now Sixth) Street and Congress Avenue, both lined
with larger structures. The red granite bulk and iron dome of the State
Capitol, then nearing completion, cast its shadow over the town.2
Industry in Austin consisted mainly of icehouses, harness shops, sta-
tionery stores, and so on; almost every business served the needs of
either agriculture or the state government.3 The city government con-
cerned itself mostly with fire prevention and street cleaning, and made
half-hearted attempts to develop a public utility system of water, se-
wage, and lights, all of which were then in private hands. It was an
unlikely setting for a sudden, massive construction of public works, but
*Edward A Sevcik has a B.A. degree in history from the University of Texas at Austin,
where the Austin Dam was the subject of his thesis for the undergraduate honors program. He
currently resides in San Antonio.
'Alexander P. Wooldridge, "Speech by Wooldridge on Public Schools," In A. P. Wooldridge
Papers, Autobiographical Sketches, Eugene C. Barker Texas History Center, University of
Texas at Austin. (The ms. is undated, but presumably dates from the 192os, the last date it
contains is 1919. Wooldridge died in 1930. Austin American, Sept. 9, 1930.)
2Photo No. PICA 0o764, Austin History Center, Austin.
SMormson and Fourmy's General Directory of the City of Austin, Tx., 1887-8 (Galveston: Morrison
and Fourmy, 1887)
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101215/. Accessed March 11, 2014.