AUSTIN -- A day spent in Austin’s Barton Springs Pool is arguably as close to heaven as you’ll get in the sweltering summer heat of Texas. But the man-made recreational pool isn’t all Austin has to offer.
Austin is special, no doubt about that. Most locals can name off several places they consider gems in the Capital City. Some more well-known than others. Staples of Austin culture are everywhere from the Bull Creek Greenbelt to the state Capitol, South Congress (SoCo), Deep Eddy Pool, Hamilton Pool Preserve, Mount Bonnell and Zilker Park. You may not know the history behind these places but as with anything in Austin, history is woven into every fabric of this great city.
One popular place, Barton Springs Pool, was originally just that, natural springs. In 1837 soon after the city of Austin was incorporated, William Barton settled in the area naming the three springs after his daughters. The last owner of the property, Andrew Jackson Zilker, deeded the property to the city in 1918. Barton and Zilker realized the value of the area as a tourist attraction and to this day it has had a lasting popularity. The pool is also home to the Barton Springs salamander which is a federally listed endangered species. The current bathhouse was constructed in 1940 and modeled after the design at Deep Eddy Pool.
Speaking of Deep Eddy, it is the oldest swimming pool in Texas and is also man-made. It was originally a swimming hole in the Colorado River. The bathhouse was built during the Great Depression and became a resort in the 1920s. The property was purchased in 1915 by A.J. Eilers and built the current concrete pool which served as the centerpiece for the resort. At one time the pool had a zip line and tall slide. The City of Austin purchased the property for $10,000 in 1935 and opened it as a park in 1936. Cottonwood trees; dating back 70 years, that surrounded the pool were removed in 2004 for safety reasons. Water in the pool is fed from a hand dug, 35 foot well. The water temperature in the pool is a varying 65 – 70degrees. The pool was renovated in 2012 to fix leaks in the concrete as well as replace pumps and replace a storage building east of the Deep Eddy Pool.
South Congress was designed by Edwin Waller as Austin’s most prominent thoroughfare in the 1830s. A concrete bridge was built in 1910 and it was at-the-time the main highway to San Antonio. Since then it has become a popular attraction in Austin as a hub for restaurants, shops and food trailers. Many of the businesses on South Congress opened up between 1930 and 1960. The Austin Motel opened in 1938 and Hotel San Jose shortly after. The Armadillo Headquarters opened in 1970. As Austin grows the community has also had to change. The popularity of food trailer vendors in Austin got it’s kick-start on South Congress. The food trucks that occupied space there celebrated with their last customers this past Memorial Day weekend. The lot of trucks will soon be replaced with a new mixed-use development including hotels and condos.
Mount Bonnell is a great spot to take in the beautiful Central Texas terrain with a nice high vantage point. It’s a place where romance and nature meet. The highest peak is 780 feet above sea-level. While many consider Mount Bonnell the highest point in Austin -- the Jollyville Plateau actually takes that honor at 1,100 feet above sea level. The true origins behind its name are not known though many speculate it was named after either George W. Bonnell or Joseph Bonnell a West Point graduate who served as a captain in the Texas Army during the War for independence.
A short drive from Austin and you’ll find another piece of Austin history, Hamilton Pool Preserve. The preserve was inhabited by Tonkawa and Lipan Apaches until the mid 1860s when it was owned by Morgan C. Hamilton, his brother Andrew Jackson Hamilton was said to frequent the grotto during his tenure as Texas Governor from 1865 to 1866. The natural pool was created when the dome of an underground river collapsed due to massive erosion thousands of years ago. The pool, surrounded by limestone features a 50-foot waterfall. Located about 23 miles from Austin, it has been a popular attraction since the 1960s.
The Pennybacker Bridge, known by many as the 360 bridge is a nice vantage point overlooking Lake Austin. The through-arch bridge the northern and southern sections of Loop 360, known as the Capital of Texas highway. The bridge was constructed in 1982 and was named after Percy Pennybacker who designed bridges for the Texas Highway Department and pioneered welded structures technology.
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