The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993 Page: 216
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
at the close of the nineteenth century, Austin bonded itself a million
dollars into debt to pay for a huge public utility system, with a gigantic
dam supposedly able to harness much more river power than the city
could possibly use. This utility proved an abject failure, and stunted
the city's growth for decades. The creation of the project, and its even-
tual financial collapse, are evidence of the divided nature of Austin.
Austin's people are of basically two incompatible minds on the subject
of the city's fate. Some see "growth" in visionary and prophetic terms,
and are prepared to tolerate its consequences, which they suppose will
not be serious. Others, attracted either by the beauty of the site or the
culture of the society, see expansion as, at least, unnecessary, and tend
to oppose it. This dispute probably goes on in all cities, but in Austin it
is particularly serious and of long standing. In the nineteenth century,
the selling and making of the Austin Dam did much to define and
On New Year's Day, I888, the Austin Daily Statesman published a let-
ter from Alexander P. Wooldridge, a local banker who had been think-
ing about the future. Wooldridge's missive was boldly titled "IRRI-
GATION: At This Time the Great Desideratum of Austin-an Open
Business Letter from a Strictly Business Man." In it, he announced that
the Austin Board of Trade (the precursor of the chamber of com-
merce) and the citizens of Austin were "on trial," and predicted that
"Austin will advance or retrograde according to their several and com-
bined wisdom and enterprise."
FIRST-I assume that Austin has approached its limit of development as a
residence and governmental city .... Our artificial and natural advantages must
be supported by.more successful agriculture, commerce, and manufactures.
SECOND-I assume, and assert, experience has proven that in this portion
of western Texas farming is not a reliable industry. . . . fully one-third of the
territory about and tributary to Austin is sterile ... [at present] our manufac-
tories are few and unimportant and our commerce insignificant.
Wooldridge went on to assert that as far as steam power was con-
cerned, Austin has no easy access to coal and no chance to compete
with cities that did.
... What, then, is to be done to establish permanent prosperity in an over-
done and rather poor capital city, without commerce and manufactures, situ-
ated in the midst of a limited and unreliable agricultural region?
... We must manufacture; we must produce: and again you will say, How?
I answer, irrigate the valley below the city, of which I am told 40,000 to 50,000
acres are well adapted to this purpose, and make Shoal Creek, from its mouth
to its source ... the seat of manufactories.
The plan, which Wooldridge elaborated over about half a page of
the Daily Statesman,was to dam the Colorado River upstream from Aus-
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993, periodical, 1993; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101215/m1/260/: accessed September 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.