Heritage, Volume 04, Number 03, Winter 1986

A Mastodon, the Mayors, and Moses

Photo of 100 Congress block in 1888 showing wheelwright and blacksmith shops-an enlarged and
cropped copy of a photo in the Travis County Collection, Austin Public Library. Used with permission.

Austin's First Address
By Henry B. Moncure

C- n 1985 the buildings on the
west side of the 100 block of
North Congress Avenue in Austin were
razed to make room for new construction.
To all appearances, little of historic importance
was being lost. The collection of
commerical brickfronts in Block 5 at the
foot of Austin's main street had done little
to enhance the view up the street to the
Capitol. Before beginning the work the
developer, Lincoln Property Company,
had consulted with the city's Historical
Landmark Commission, which had agreed
that no structure on the block met the
criteria established for preservation. Yet
Block 5 has a historical distinction not
shared by any other location in the city. It
is the site of the first structure in what is
now Austin.
32

In 1837 Mirabeau B. Lamar, tired from
his official duties as president of the new
Republic of Texas, set out with an escort
of rangers on a buffalo hunt. During this
vacation, his party stopped one night at
the homestead of Jacob H. M. Harrell,
which was situated near the juncture of
Shoal Creek and the Colorado River.
Lamar, impressed with the area, set in
motion the process which, following considerable
political maneuvering, resulted
in the selection of the lands around Harrell's
as the site of the capital of Texas.
Harrell, by the time the site selection was
actually made, had moved his homestead
downriver to what is now Block 5. When
his land and that of several others not
resident in the area was condemned for
use as the new capital, Harrell kept right

on living there, accepting three dollars an
acre for his 640-acre parcel.
In 1839 the new town became a reality
with the erection of public buildings at an
auction of lots within the city. Harrell's
Block 5, Lot 2 homestead wasn't sold in
the auction since it was a bit away from
the center of the new town. Harrell didn't
even bother to buy it back himself until
the next year. His cabin faced what is
now the alley, and a garden, not an entrance,
fronted on Congress Avenue. A
year earlier he had had a single neighbor.
Now there were more than twenty public
buildings and about as many private
homes. Austin's first building boom was,
percentagewise, its greatest.
It took nearly a decade for all six of the
Block 5 lots on the avenue to be sold

Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 04, Number 03, Winter 1986. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45440/. Accessed August 22, 2014.