View of 19th Century West Campus

West Walk / Guadalupe Street circa 1900

West Walk / Guadalupe Street / View from Old Main circa 1895
Collection of the author.

When I first saw this photograph I didn’t recognize the location in spite of having walked through the area innumerable times over the years.  The wide path across the field, originally known as the West Walk, is now long gone, paved and landscaped.  It is now the West Mall at the University of Texas; one of the busiest places on campus with thousands of students and pedestrians walking through it every day.  The particular stretch of Guadalupe Street seen in the photo is now commonly known as The Drag and its history as the epicenter of celebrations, performances, protests, demonstrations and even tragedy, is intertwined with the history of the Univeristy and its students.

Old Main Building circa 1898

Old Main – University of Texas
Cactus Yearbook 1898

The photograph was taken from one of the upper windows on the west side of the Old Main Building.  For whatever reason the photographer decided to capture what was at the time an unremarkable view — a few footpaths crisscross the walk leading toward Guadalupe Street and the residential area just west of the University.

Guadalupe Street Austin 1895

Guadalupe Street Austin 1895

A moonlight tower (still standing at 22nd & Nueces) is visible on the left.  A few residences on Guadalupe are visible; R.V. Dixon & Co., a feed and grain dealer is on the right near the corner of 23rd Street, which is just visible through the trees.  The Wesleyan Presbyterian Church on San Antonio Street is visible in the background and in the distance, the hills west of the city are on the horizon.  The Vance/Washington murders happened two block to the north on the same street.

Guadalupe Street Austin 1910

Guadalupe Street
Cactus Yearbook 1910

The above photograph from the 1910 Cactus Yearbook shows the same location with significantly more construction and traffic on Guadalupe Street.  Battle Hall was constructed a year later in 1911, Goldsmith Hall followed in 1932, and the Student Union in 1933.

Old Main, arched, spired, and grandiose in the grass lasted until 1934 when it was demolished to make way for a new library.  Meredith Posey, an English instructor, memorialized the end of Old Main with a poem that could have applied to much of 19th Century Austin:

Lone Goth, stalwart, crowded, towering, still in mellow strength undaunted,
Giant of earlier days, strong in thew and sinew,
Age creeps on you, ivy-tendrilled,
Age your headsman’s axe.
Dust of ages long ago clings about you now at last.
You have marched thus far with time, but-
Death awaits you!

Tall-spired buildings snatched from a fire-doomed fall,
Silent–no bells ring, wires are dumb, the steam is off, the rooms are cold,
not a window blinks with light.
You were not made for pavements, patches, and parterres.
Vastness and bluebonnet vista were yours.
The past you served, your vision ever forward.
You die and serve the future so; your death —
A birth and a memory!

Killers come to you with bars and hammers;
They pry, loosen, and throw.
Soon half will be gone, soon all.
Do you hear them changing their Greek and Latin lore?
Are you mourners only the ghosts of ages gone?
That steam shovel shrieking and grunting is digging your grave —
Proudly descend! *

 

West Mall UT

West Mall UT
Google Maps

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Note on dating the photograph: A  label adhered to the back identifies the original photograph as “Austin”.   The moonlight towers were erected in 1895 so the photograph could not be dated earlier than that.  The original photographic print is consistent with those produced by cameras at the turn of the century.  The buildings in the photograph correspond to the 1900 Sanborn map drawings of the same location.  The names of the residences are derived from the 1900 Austin City Directory.

*The Destruction of Old Main http://www.utexas.edu/tours/mainbuilding/old-new/poem.html

 

Robinson Residence. Scene of West Austin Crime Spree. May 1, 1885

Robinson Residence 700 Rio Grande Street Austin, Texas

The Robinson Residence
Courtesy DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, Ag2008.0005.

 

Many people must have been aroused between one and two o’clock by a rapid discharge of fire arms on Rio Grande street, near its intersection with Pecan.  This time it was at the residence of Mr. J. H. Robinson.  Some outhouses occupied by colored women were visited, window panes broken in, and the inmates frightened nearly to death.  Their screams aroused the family.  Mr. James D. Sheeks fired a couple of times at the retreating form of a man, and “Red,” a hackman who lived nearby emptied his pistol at another one.  Neither of his shots took effect.  Mr. Sheeks thinks the man fired back once as he ran off.  (Austin Daily Statesman. 2 May 1885)

On May 1, 1885, old west Austin was beset by an all-night crime spree that included numerous attempted burglaries and assaults — so many that the Austin Daily Statesman commented it would be “monotonous to recount them all.”  The incidents that night were characterized by an almost juvenile or drunken recklessness, with the perpetrators trying to enter servant’s quarters, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, banging on doors and windows, throwing rocks, frightening women and leaving a trail of screams, shouts and gunfire behind them. They quickly dispersed when confronted but would often return to rile everyone up all over again.

In spite of all that, no one was seriously injured that night, and the troublemakers were lucky to escape more than once.  When a man entered the room of an “elderly colored woman” employed at the home of J. M. Brackenridge and threatened her, the feisty woman instead grabbed him, threw him out of the house and continued to wallop the would-be ruffian who only managed to escape her tenacious grasp by extricating himself from his coat and hat.

The home of John H. Robinson, located at 700 Rio Grande Street, as noted above, was one of the locations where the perpetrators were lucky to escape gunfire.  James D. Sheeks, as mentioned above, was a local attorney who boarded at the Robinson home.  A neighborhood hackman (cab driver) called Red is also mentioned along with Sheeks as having fired shots at a fleeing suspect.

The Robinson house still exists, although in a slightly different location and with some notable architectural modifications:  http://beta.austinhistoricalsurvey.org/node/184752

The photograph above by Austin photographer S. B. Hill, shows the Robinson house as it originally looked in the 1880s. In the photograph the house appears to have gabled roofs, a detail that corresponds to the house as it was drawn in 1887 by Augustus Koch for the Austin birds-eye view map.  The railing around the upper floor is also visible in the photo and is clearly present in the illustration.

Robinson House 1887 Illustration

Robinson House 1887 Illustration

The house was moved 50 feet north from its original location in 1909.  It is currently located at 702 Rio Grande Street.