How Austin's Neighborhoods Got Their Names
When Austin was chosen as the capital of Texas, it wasn’t called Austin at all—it was a small village called Waterloo until its name was changed to honor Stephen F. Austin, the colonist known as the “Father of Texas,” in 1839. Many of its neighborhoods also have colorful histories. Here’s how seven of them got their names.
You can thank Andrew Jackson Zilker, a bootstrapping Texas politician and philanthropist, for the name of this south central Austin neighborhood. Zilker was the ice king of Austin, making his fortune with the chilly stuff before beginning to buy up land around the area. In 1917, he sold a 350-acre tract of land to the city of Austin and gave the proceeds to the Austin public schools. Now the park—and the neighborhood that adjoins it—is named in his honor.
2. JUDGES HILL
Now a residential neighborhood in the heart of Austin, Judges Hill has been associated with the judiciary since before the city had its current name—and before Texas was part of the United States. One early resident was Thomas Jefferson Chambers, an American speculator and attorney who bought much of his land in shady deals, then became a naturalized Mexican citizen with the intention of practicing law—the only foreigner to be granted a law license. He was later named chief justice of the newly formed Texas Supreme Court, but never presided over a case. Nevertheless, for his service he was given land in the Austin area. After the annexation of Texas, Elijah Sterling Clark Robertson—also a judge—bought property there, and other judges and attorneys followed. Voila: Judges Hill.
3. BREMOND BLOCK
Speaking of Victorian-era luxury, the Bremond Block Historic District provides a rare glimpse of what Austin looked like back in the day. The neighborhood was named after the Bremond family, merchants and bankers who constructed or modified fancy houses there beginning in the 1870s. Today, the Bremonds are known mainly for the block they created—a magnet for wealthy Austinites and family members that’s now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Unlike the Bremond Block, Clarksville was not known for its wealth. The land was granted and sold to the former slaves of Texas's own governor, Elisha M. Pease, in 1865. Charles Clark, a freed slave, also bought some of the land that's now Clarksville from another former Confederate officer, Nathan G. Shelley, and it became one of the four freedmen’s towns in Austin. Most of the neighborhood’s small, wood-framed houses are now gone, and as Kristie Cantou of Hatch + Ulland Owen Architects writes, “most African-American residents have been driven out of the neighborhood by decades of land speculation, gentrification, construction of Mopac [the Missouri Pacific Railroad] and rising property taxes.”
You might think things are pretty jovial in Jollyville, but stop right there: The north Austin neighborhood got its name from a person, not a state of mind. Jollyville was named after John G. Jolly, a blacksmith who lived in the once-tiny town that is now a neighborhood in north Austin.
6. MOORE’S CROSSING
Like many Austin neighborhoods, this historic district owes its name to one of the area’s many creeks. The airport area got its name from a man named John B. Moore’s store that, you guessed it, was near a creek crossing. In this case the creek was Onion Creek, which also lent its name to a ritzy country club neighborhood south of downtown. Onion Creek, it’s safe to assume, got its name from onions, though it’s impossible to track the name’s origin.
7. SWEDE HILL
When it comes to obvious names, Swede or Swedish Hill may have Onion Creek beat. It was settled by Swedish people in the 1870s. At the time, there were more Swedish people in Texas than in any other Southern state, perhaps because Swedish immigrants weren't intimidated by the harsh, arid climate. Many Texas Swedes hailed from the exact same county in Sweden, and in Austin the community flocked to a place they called Svenska Kullen, or Swedish Hill. There are other reminders of Sweden in Austin, like the Govalle neighborhood, which is named after a ranch that immigrant Swen Magnus Swenson named “Ga Valla,” or “good pastures.”