151–175

From the construction of the state’s first public university in College Station to the swearing in of Governor Rick Perry for a third full term in Austin

March 2011By Comments

151 | Texas A&M Is Founded

Old Main, northeast of Legett Hall; College Station | October 4, 1876

Prompted by the Morrill Act of 1862, which dedicated proceeds from the sale of public lands to the establishment of agricultural and mechanical colleges, the Legislature authorized the construction of the state’s first public university. A site in Brazos County was chosen, just outside Bryan on the Houston and Texas Central Railroad. The first building constructed at this “college station” was called Old Main. It was erected northeast of present-day Legett Hall, and the opening day was filled with celebrations, including a speech by Governor Richard Coke. Soon forty or so students—all men—listened as six professors—also all men—lectured on engineering, agriculture, and military tactics. The first class of Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (more commonly known today as Texas A&M) was born. —HWB

152 | Aggies light the first Bonfire

Simpson Drill Field, College Station | 1909

Cushing Library/Texas A&M University

Texas A&M’s first on-campus Bonfire was a modest affair: just a small pile of scrap wood and trash. No photographs of the blaze exist (the picture above is from 1925), but David Chapman, the university’s archivist, believes that it was held on or near Simpson Drill Field. “According to Ernest Langford, class of 1913, the Bonfire burned ‘the night before we went to Austin,’ ” Chapman says. “One could logically assume that it was specifically lit for the Texas game.” Not until World War II did the Bonfire grow in stature, both literally and figuratively. It remained at Simpson Drill Field until 1954, when it moved to Duncan Field. In 1992 the Bonfire was relocated once again, to the Polo Fields, where it remained until the campus tradition was ended by the Bonfire collapse of 1999. —PC

153 | Texas declares independence

Along FM 1155, Washington-on-the-Brazos | March 2, 1836

In a rickety house with no doors and only cotton cloths to block the freezing wind, 59 delegates met at Convention Hall in Washington-on-the-Brazos, on present-day FM 1155, seven miles southwest of Navasota, where a replica stands today. The men had gathered to decide the future of Texas. Five delegates—George C. Childress, Edward Conrad, James Gaines, Bailey Hardeman, and Collin McKinney—drafted a Declaration of Independence, and on March 2, it was motioned for adoption by Childress. It was unanimously approved within one hour of its first and only reading, according to the diary of a lawyer named William Fairfax Gray. One hundred and seventy-five miles away, the Alamo was in the eighth day of its siege, so Sam Houston—the newly appointed commander in chief of the military—sent news to William B. Travis that “independence is declared, it must be maintained.” The delegates began drafting a constitution, but on March 6 Santa Anna and his men stormed the Alamo and overwhelmed the remaining forces. Independence may have been declared, but its first battle was lost. —KH

154 | Brenham Creamery Company opens

First and Church, Brenham | August 26, 1907

In the summer of 1907 a group of enterprising boosters in the small town of Brenham struck upon a promising business plan: They would purchase the excess cream that the local dairy farmers were throwing out and use it to make butter, which they would then sell to the community. After setting up shop in a building at the intersection of First and Church streets, the butter business was soon booming, and by 1911 the Brenham Creamery Company had the providential sense to expand its product line to include ice cream. In 1930 the company was renamed the Blue Bell Creamery, after the violet wildflower that blooms at the height of the Texas summer. Though the original building no longer exists, you can tour the Little Creamery, in Brenham’s current facility at 1101 South Blue Bell Road, which comes with an ice cream cone at the end. —JB

155 | The Chicken Ranch opens for business

Rocky Creek Road and Texas Highway 71 Frontage Road, La Grange | 1915

Prostitution was illegal at the time, but that didn’t stop Miss Jessie Williams. In 1915 she bought eleven acres just outside the city limits and set up what would become one of the oldest continuously running brothels in the nation. The Chicken Ranch was notorious to locals well before The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas introduced it to the nation. According to local lore, Miss Jessie stayed friendly with Sheriff Will Lossein—a tradition her successor, Edna Milton, would continue with Sheriff T. J. Flournoy several decades later. But the good times couldn’t last forever, and the house (the rotting remains of which are now on private property) closed in mid-1973 after TV reporter Marvin Zindler, of Houston, ran two weeklong exposés. Today just about all anyone can do is drive northbound on Highway 71, past the turnoff at Rocky Creek Road, and try to imagine a young man’s anticipation. —KV

156 | Charles Whitman’s Day of Terror begins

906 Jewell, Austin | August 1, 1966

The morning begins early for Charles Whitman, a seriously disturbed 25-year-old UT student and former Marine. He murders his mother in her home, then returns to his own house on Jewell Street and stabs his sleeping wife in the heart, killing her too. Late that morning he masquerades as a delivery man to gain entrance to the University of Texas Tower and hauls a crate full of firearms into the elevator, which he rides to the top. He murders one university employee and two visitors in the process of barricading himself on the observation deck, from which he opens fire on the campus below. In the course of 96 minutes, he kills ten and fatally wounds another; dozens more are wounded less grievously. Police officers return his fire; eventually two officers and a civilian make their way to the observation deck, where Whitman is finally shot and killed. The incident is the worst mass shooting in American history at the time. Police follow Whitman’s trail back to the house on Jewell, in South Austin (it has since been replaced with a hulking modern home, but across the street is a small cottage of the right vintage), and discover his murdered wife. A note there leads them to the body of his mother and requests that proceeds from a life insurance policy help fund the study of mental health. “Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type,” it says. —HWB

157 | @Twitter explodes at #SXSW

500 East Cesar Chavez, Austin / March 9—14, 2007

When the founders of Twitter dropped $11,000 on two plasma TVs and prime placement at the South by Southwest Interactive conference, the popular techie gathering held each spring at the Austin Convention Center, they didn’t want a booth on the trade show floor. Instead the Twitter team opted for spots in the main hallway. They flipped on the sixty-inch screens and started beaming a live feed of their users’ “tweets,” or text-based messages of 140 characters or less. Hundreds of curious conference-goers began dashing off haiku-like status updates. Over the course of a few days, the number of tweets sent out each day jumped from 20,000 to more than 60,000. Today that number hovers closer to 65 million—chances are even @yourmother has an account—which leads one to wonder if the next next-big-thing will be unveiled this month at SXSW. —JB

158 | Bush-Cheney campaign strategizes for the recount

301 Congress Avenue, Austin | November 8, 2000

There’s no marker to tip off pedestrians in front of this 22-story office tower, but it’s the spot where presidential politics turned bare-knuckled in 2000. Today on the second floor you will find offices for the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, among other tenants, but back then it served as the headquarters for the Bush-Cheney campaign. “The office space consisted of three huge open spaces loaded up with cubicles,” says Danner Bethel, who worked in the policy shop on the south side (political and press were on the southwest side). “Of the seventy or so staff on the campaign, only a handful had offices: Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Joe Allbaugh, Ari Fleischer, Don Evans, and Dan Bartlett.” After the whole world fell into confusion on election night, it was here that the troops rallied and made a momentous decision that would seal the election: Get James Baker on a plane to Florida to head up the recount strategy! —BDS


159 | O. Henry’s Career Takes a Twist

Northwest corner of Sixth and Congress Avenue, Austin | 1894

William Sydney Porter was a former pharmacist, journalist, and draftsman for the General Land Office when he took a job in 1891 as a bank teller and bookkeeper at the First National Bank. He also worked at writing short stories and was active in local dramatic and musical troupes. Three years after he joined the bank, federal examiners discovered discrepancies in the accounting practices and issued an indictment for embezzlement against Porter. He ultimately fled Texas for Central America, but he returned to Austin to be with his wife, who had fallen gravely ill. Following her death, he was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to five years in prison, where, finally, he began to write more seriously. With plenty of time on his hands, he penned numerous short stories, which were published in some of the nation’s leading magazines, and found a wide audience for their twisting plots and surprise endings. In order to conceal the criminal record that had begun at the First National Bank, he used the pen name O. Henry. —HWB

160 | Karl Rove starts his direct-mail firm

807 Brazos, Austin | October 1981

Bob Daemmrich

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or a Communist. It’s hard to argue with the fact that Karl Rove is a political genius. He helped transform Texas from a blue state to a red one, and he propelled George W. Bush to the Governor’s Mansion and the White House. But his career in Texas truly began in suite 402 of the Vaughn Building in downtown Austin, where Rove + Company changed the way direct mail was used in campaigns and to solicit money. Rove was part of a long tradition. Over the years the Vaughn, built in 1958 by Harry Whittington and his partner, Jack Vaughn, has been home to the offices of a who’s who of politicos: George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, John Sharp, Jake Pickle, Elizabeth Ames Jones, John Cornyn, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Michael Williams, among others. And though Whittington (who found national fame in 2006 as Dick Cheney’s unlucky hunting partner) fondly remembers all of his old tenants, the newer ones are just as special: Today the fourth floor is home to Governor Rick Perry’s political office. —BDS

161 | Whole Foods opens

914 North Lamar Boulevard, Austin | September 20, 1980

Who would have thought that a grocery empire with $9 billion in sales started out in a store where the owners bathed in the back? In 1978, 25-year-old John Mackey and his girlfriend, Rene Lawson Hardy, lived in the stern of their first health-food store, called SaferWay (a play on the name of the supermarket chain Safeway). Two years later, they moved into a new building with a new name, Whole Foods Market. Thirty-one years later, its loyal clientele wouldn’t think of buying their Guayaki Organic Yerba Mate tea anyplace else. Today the original venue is Cheapo Discs, a music store, a few blocks north of the current 80,000-square-foot flagship, complete with a chocolate enrobing station—but no shower in the back. —MG

162 | Richard Linklater films the final scene of Slacker

3800 Mount Bonnell Drive, Austin | 1989

Mount Bonnell was a quintessential Austin spot—a beautiful Hill Country overlook dotted with cedar and large rocks—even before its limestone outcroppings became a popular place for young people to drink beer, smoke weed, and gaze down on the world below. So it’s fitting that the quintessential movie about Austin, Richard Linklater’s Slacker—in which dozens of bohemians, artists, idlers, and misfits drift through the city—came to an end here. In the movie’s final minutes, a convertible screeches to a stop at the base of the peak. Five people race up the rocks, filming themselves with a Super 8 camera, dancing while the jaunty fifties saxophone tune “Skokiaan” plays on the sound track, until the abrupt climax, when one of them simply hurls the camera high in the air toward Lake Austin, 780 feet below. For six seconds we see the spinning world, and then the screen goes black. Slacker went on to become one of the most important indie films of all time and brought even more bohemians, artists, idlers, and misfits to Austin, where they too wound up high on Mount Bonnell. —MH

163 | Armadillo World Headquarters opens

525 1/2 Barton Springs Road, Austin | August 7, 1970

Shiva’s Headband needed a place to play. The psychedelic rock group had been the house band at the Vulcan Gas Company, which was set to close. So with $3,000 of the band’s recording advance—and $1,000 more from writer Bud Shrake and the prankster collective known as Mad Dog Inc.—Shiva’s manager Eddie Wilson rented a cavernous sports hall just south of Town Lake and renamed it the Armadillo World Headquarters. His timing was perfect. Performers like Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm, and Jerry Jeff Walker were relocating to Austin, and they settled in at the ’Dillo, as did just about anybody else who wanted a gig. In 1973 local country fiddler Alvin Crow opened for Bruce Springsteen. The next night Genesis played. The eclectic mix inspired not just musicians but entrepreneurs, who opened their own clubs. By the ’Dillo’s last stand, on New Year’s Eve 1980, the scene that would give rise to SXSW was entrenched. Though the hall was razed for an office building, Wilson would eventually buy the cafeteria next door and rename it Threadgill’s World Headquarters, where today it’s home to one of Austin’s best chicken-fried steaks. —JS

164 | Farrah Fawcett is named one of the ten most beautiful coeds at UT

503 West Twenty-seventh, Austin | 1966

Farrah Fawcett’s inevitable rise to fame began the day the enviably proportioned blonde arrived at the University of Texas. Rumor of her beauty spread quickly, and boys were soon flocking to the Tri Delt house, a stately white-brick building near campus with columns flanking the front door, to catch a glimpse of the long-limbed girl from Corpus Christi. Her reputation as a bona fide head-turner was made official when her fellow Longhorns voted her one of UT’s ten most beautiful women, an unheard-of honor for a freshman. The ladies had their portrait taken for the 1966 Cactus yearbook, and her sly smile and gleaming platinum bouffant instantly draw your eye. It was that image that made its way into the hands of Hollywood publicist David Mirisch, who pestered Farrah (and her parents) for two years until she finally agreed to come to Los Angeles the summer after her junior year. To the disappointment of every man in Austin, the ultimate Texas bombshell would not return for her senior year. —JB

165 | Stevie Ray Vaughan tapes the first “Don’t Mess With Texas” commercial

2504-B Whitis Avenue, Studio 6A; Austin | December 1985

Just a few weeks before the 1986 Cotton Bowl, Austin ad agency GSD&M was under the gun. It had been charged with creating a commercial for its newest client, the State Department of Highways and Public Transportation, that would air during the New Year’s Day showdown between the Texas A&M Aggies and the Auburn Tigers. The spot, which would launch the state’s new anti-littering campaign, needed a riveting face, and exec Tim McClure knew just the one: Stevie Ray Vaughan. And so one evening, on the set of Austin City Limits, Vaughan sat before a fifty-foot Texas flag with his black gaucho hat and yellow Stratocaster, played the most electrifying rendition ever heard of “The Eyes of Texas,” and delivered the words that now embody more than just an edict about trash: “Don’t mess with Texas.” —KR

166 | Ronnie Dugger launches the Texas Observer

504 West twenty-fourth, Austin | December 13, 1954

Ronnie Dugger was just 24 when East Texas lumber heiress Frankie Randolph hired him to edit a new kind of newspaper, a crusading weekly that covered the topics—corruption at the Capitol, race relations, the environment—that the state’s dailies tended to ignore. Dugger set up shop in a rambling two-story converted house one block off UT’s main drag, not far from his old stomping grounds as editor of the Daily Texan. The Observer quickly became indispensable reading for politicos, and the cramped quarters on Twenty-fourth Street became a launching pad for some of the state’s best-known writers, including Willie Morris and Molly Ivins. Even after the Observer moved downtown, where it is now published biweekly, the old headquarters remained hallowed ground, housing such Austin landmarks as Les Amis Cafe, the sidewalk cafe featured in Richard Linklater’s Slacker, and Inner Sanctum Records, an early outlet for Austin’s indigenous Cosmic Cowboy movement. Though much renovated, the building is still there. Sadly, the spirit is long gone: Today it is a Starbucks. —NB


167 | The Humanities Research Center Opens

2400 Inner Campus Drive, Austin | 1957

Long before the bumper sticker slogan, Texas was already sizing itself up to France. In 1956 Harry Huntt Ransom, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, announced his plans to create “the Bibliothèque Nationale of the only state that started out as an independent nation” at the University of Texas at Austin. The next year he dedicated himself to collecting original cultural material for UT, beginning with works by authors such as Samuel Beckett, D. H. Lawrence, and James Joyce. The university’s rapid acquisition of more than 2 million volumes, many housed in the Peter T. Flawn Academic Center, established it as a major player on the academic scene. In 1972 the center moved to its current location, at the corner of Twenty-first and Guadalupe, where it has been renamed the Harry Ransom Center and holds 36 million leaves of manuscripts, 5 million photographs, 1 million rare books, and 100,000 works of art, including the first photograph, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s “View From the Window at Le Gras,” and an original Gutenberg Bible. —MG

168 | Helen Corbitt creates Texas Caviar

2600 San Jacinto Boulevard, Austin | 1940

She couldn’t stand black-eyed peas. So when Helen Corbitt was asked to plan a dinner for a hotel convention featuring all Texas products, she knew she had to spice up the boring legumes somehow. A native New Yorker who had just been hired by the University of Texas to teach catering and restaurant management, she disguised the peas with garlic, onion, oil, and lots of vinegar. The salad was an immediate hit, and Corbitt may have even served it at the Tea House, her popular campus dining hall (now gone, it was at the corner of Twenty-sixth and San Jacinto). The feisty, strong-willed Corbitt went on to direct the Zodiac Room, at the original Neiman Marcus, in Dallas, where she served such innovative dishes as chicken salad with green grapes and baked Alaskas in diminutive flower pots. When Julia Child became a sensation in the early sixties, many a Texan harrumphed, “Why, Helen Corbitt was doing that years ago.” —PS

169 | Michael Dell rebuilds computers in his dorm

2021 Guadalupe, Austin |May 1984

The Harvard dorm room where Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook may be the tech shrine of the moment, but it is only the latest in a tradition of holy dorm rooms. Number one on that list would have to be room 2713 at the Dobie Center, across the street from the University of Texas at Austin. It was here that a premed student named Michael Dell began assembling computers, working on a business venture that would eventually become Dell Inc. What was the room like? Well, twenty years later, a re-creation at “Dell Island” in the computer game Second Life showed a bathtub full of computer parts, which sounds about right. Though Dell quit after his freshman year, the Dobie Center student handbook proudly refers to the famous alumnus. As for the current residents of room 2713, Avanti Sule and Dishajoyti Nath, both of whom are freshmen from Houston studying premed, neither owns a Dell. Still, they think the room could bring them luck. “We hope to become as successful as he is,” Sule says. —KV

170 | Billy Lee Brammer drinks beer at Scholz Garten

1607 San Jacinto, Austin | 1955

Billy Lee Brammer took the title of his one and only novel, published in 1961, from a line in an F. Scott Fitzgerald poem: “I know a gay place / Nobody knows.” That happy and undiscovered place was Austin in the fifties; more specifically, it was Scholz Garten, the German beer garden where Brammer, then an aspiring journalist, whiled away his evenings with the young Turks of Texas letters—Ronnie Dugger, Willie Morris, and Larry L. King, among others—along with the leading liberal politicos from the Capitol. They drank, they talked, they hit on one another’s wives, and in Brammer’s case, they took notes. Austin is not the hideaway it was in 1955, but “the Dearly Beloved Beer and Garden Party”—as Brammer called Scholz’s in his celebrated novel of Texas politics, The Gay Place—is still pouring drinks, as it has in this location since 1866. —NB

171 | Heman Sweat rejects makeshift UT law school

104 East Thirteenth, Austin | 1950

Half a century into the Jim Crow era, a Houston postal worker named Heman Sweatt decides to go to law school. He applies for admission to the University of Texas in 1946 but is denied for a single reason: He is black. He sues the university, contending that his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment is being violated. The university and the State of Texas seek refuge in the “separate but equal” doctrine established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson. The state decrees the founding of a separate law school for blacks; it is hastily established and located in a basement downtown, near the southern entrance of what is today the Sam Houston State Office Building. But by no means are its meager facilities and thin library collection equivalent to those at the law school at the University of Texas, and this discrepancy becomes the crux of the argument that Thurgood Marshall, representing Sweatt for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, makes before the Supreme Court in early 1950. The court rules unanimously in Sweatt v. Painter that the basement law school fails the separate-but-equal test; Sweatt must be admitted to UT. —HWB

172 | Sam Houston wrestles with the future of Texas—and his own

1010 Colorado, Austin | March 15, 1861

The Governor’s Mansion has been the site of many tough decisions but perhaps none so tough as the one Sam Houston wrestled with on March 15, 1861. The former president of the Republic of Texas had nine months left in his term as governor, and the citizenry was in a roil over secession. Houston did not support it, arguing that the resulting bloodshed would be futile against a determined Union force. The Legislature disagreed, and on February 1, 1861, Texas joined the Confederate States of America. The drum beat grew louder for Houston to commit to the cause, until finally, on March 15, lawmakers demanded that he appear the following day and swear an oath of allegiance. Houston spent the night pacing the floor of the upstairs hall of the Governor’s Mansion. In the morning, he told his wife, “Margaret, I will never do it.” As a result, Houston was evicted from office, and Texas plunged headlong into the Civil War. —KV

173 | Arsonist attacks Governor’s Mansion

1010 Colorado, Austin | June 8, 2008

The security camera shows a man wearing a baseball cap and work gloves walking on the sidewalk at Eleventh and Lavaca. At 1:27 a.m., he scales a ten-foot iron fence and lobs a Molotov cocktail onto the porch of the Governor’s Mansion. It takes more than five hours and one hundred firefighters to put out the blaze. The Greek Revival—style landmark, which was already undergoing renovations, is badly damaged, its Ionic columns scorched and its charred roof on the verge of collapse. The $26 million restoration finally began in January, after being stalled by red tape and a controversy over a proposed addition. And while the arsonist may have been captured by video, authorities have had no solid leads. He remains at-large to this day. —JB

174 | The Constitutional Convention Convenes

1100 Congress Avenue, Austin | 1875

Reconstruction is on the wane, and Democrats are preparing to recapture state government from Republicans, who came to power (with the aid of federal troops) following the Civil War. A constitutional convention gathers in the state capitol (a Greek Revival variant built in 1853 that burned to the ground in 1881 and was replaced by the pink-granite structure that occupies the site today). Then, as now, distrust of government is rampant, but in 1875 it’s the Democrats who associate strong government with corruption and high taxes. Thus the new constitution they write restricts nearly everything that governments ordinarily do. Texas voters ratify the charter in 1876—and spend the next 135 years ratifying 467 amendments that the draconian restrictions have made necessary. —HWB

Watch a video about the Capitol.

175 | Governor Rick Perry is sworn in for a historic third full term

1100 Congress Avenue, Austin | January 18, 2011

At 11 O’clock on a cloudy January morning, James Richard Perry stands on the south steps of the Capitol and takes the oath of office for governor for an unprecedented third full term. Standing beneath an enormous maroon tent he jokes, “For one hundred and fifty-four years they kept an Aggie out of the governor’s office. You know, there’s some people out there that think I’m not ever gonna leave.” Presumably he’s not hinting at future plans, but who can say? Perry has held the office longer than anyone in history, having begun his administration on December 21, 2000, when George W. Bush left office to become president. As he speaks, the air is heavy with questions: Will Perry run for president himself? How will the state overcome a daunting budget shortfall? The answers lie in the future, which Perry speaks of with boundless optimism, calling to mind the bullish spirit that has marked the first 175 years of Texas: “This is our time, this is our place in history. We must seize the moment. We must plant the seeds of opportunity that bloom beyond our years. We must show the world the endless possibilities of freedom and free enterprise. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times and will say it a thousand more: There is still a place where opportunity looms large in this country, and that place is called Texas.” —BDS

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To visit every place on our list—or tell us what we missed—go to our Terquasquicentennial Blog.

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