Brush Square

Brush

Brush Square has been an afterthought for most of its history. Our Austin Story is going to help transform Brush from obscure to obvious.

Brush Square, like Republic and Wooldridge, struggled in its early years to find a purpose. During the Civil War, Seba Bogart Brush stored cotton and other merchandise on the property. Brush traded in cotton, and during the Civil War he made a small fortune shipping cotton to the Union. The city named the square for Brush after his untimely death at the age of 47.

The Houston and Texas Central Railroad came to Austin in 1871,...Read more

Brush Square has been an afterthought for most of its history. Our Austin Story is going to help transform Brush from obscure to obvious.

Brush Square, like Republic and Wooldridge, struggled in its early years to find a purpose. During the Civil War, Seba Bogart Brush stored cotton and other merchandise on the property. Brush traded in cotton, and during the Civil War he made a small fortune shipping cotton to the Union. The city named the square for Brush after his untimely death at the age of 47.

The Houston and Texas Central Railroad came to Austin in 1871, with its main tracks running on Pine (now Fifth) Street directly in front of the square. Little remains of the rail line, although the Railroad House still stands on West 5th Street, now as Carmelo’s Italian Restaurant.

The dramatic increase in demand for beef and hides followed the Civil War, bringing Austin's next economic boom. Tens of thousands of longhorns were driven annually through Austin and across the Colorado River at crossings such as Montopolis (now Longhorn Dam) and Shoal Creek on their way to the Chisholm Trail.

The era of the trail ride lasted only a few decades, but for that period few places better fit the description of a cowtown than Austin. The cowboys brought more than longhorns; they brought a uniquely American culture.

We see the influence of the cowboy culture today in our food (barbeque), clothing (boots, jeans, hats), music, and the arts. As for the cattle business, Texas produces about 20% of the nation's beef cattle and ranks #1 in the country in the value of cattle raised.

Brush Square is connected to the longhorn legacy through the writer O. Henry. He lived and worked in Austin in the late 1800s, and a number of his short stories (such as “The Last of the Troubadours”) were set in the region and dealt with the cowboy and with western culture. O. Henry lived in the William Sidney Porter House, or O. Henry House, between 1893 and 1895. The City of Austin had the house moved from its original location at East 4th Street to its current location at Brush Square in 1934. The house is now home to the O. Henry Museum, operated by Austin's Parks and Recreation Department.

The influence of the Great Plains and cowboy culture is also seen in the works of Austin writers and academicians such as Andy Adams, Elmer Kelton, J. Frank Dobie, and Walter Prescott Webb. And what about the music? Austin is home to Asleep at the Wheel, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, and the Dixie Chicks, to name a few. Did you know that Hank Williams made his last public appearance at Austin's Skyline Club on December 19, 1952? He would die less than two weeks later, at the age of 29.

Austin remained a cowtown well into the 20th Century. With The Great Depression and The New Deal came a whirlwind of public works projects including dams, streets, bridges, and parks. Austin Fire Station #1, at the northwest corner of Brush Square, is one of those New Deal projects. Still a working first station, the Austin Fire Museum is also located within this building.

Speaking of culture, do you remember John Wayne's 1960 film The Alamo? Do you recall that final dramatic scene of a woman walking away from the fort and into the sunset with her young daughter on the back of a mule? The woman who survived the Battle of the Alamo, Susanna Dickinson, carried the news of the Alamo’s fall to Sam Houston. With Houston's defeat of Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto less than two months later, Texas would win its independence. The new Republic of Texas would need a new capital, thus the birth of Austin.

We would love to have your share your stories of Brush Square with us. No square is exposed to more people than Brush. The square is adjacent to the Austin Convention Center, and no square is closer to I-35. Brush Square should be a portal or gateway into Austin's unique heritage, and with your help, we can elevate Brush Square to the stature it deserves!

Discussions: All (4) Open (4)
  • Carmelossunset

    Brush Square spent its first decades as a void. No one came, and nothing happened until Seba Bogart Brush took advantage of this empty public space to store cotton and other merchandise. Brush, like many Texans, traded in cotton during the Civil War. Steamship owners Mifflin Kenedy and Richard King are examples of Texans who greatly profited from the trade.

    Brush made a small fortune shipping cotton to foreign markets (and even the Union) by first moving the cotton through Mexico. The city named the square for Brush after his untimely death at the age of...Read more

    Brush Square spent its first decades as a void. No one came, and nothing happened until Seba Bogart Brush took advantage of this empty public space to store cotton and other merchandise. Brush, like many Texans, traded in cotton during the Civil War. Steamship owners Mifflin Kenedy and Richard King are examples of Texans who greatly profited from the trade.

    Brush made a small fortune shipping cotton to foreign markets (and even the Union) by first moving the cotton through Mexico. The city named the square for Brush after his untimely death at the age of 47.

    Commerce remained the main theme for Brush Square with the arrival of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad in 1871. The line's main tracks ran down the center of Pine (now Fifth) Street directly in front of the square. Maps show the square continuing to be used for freight in those years. 

    Little remains of the Houston and Texas Central. However, one of the buildings that serviced the rail line still exists. The Old Depot Hotel was Austin’s first railroad station and was operational from 1871 to 1872. Known as the Railroad House, it still stands on East 5th Street and houses Carmelo’s Italian Restaurant. At the time it was built, it accommodated passengers traveling to other railroads and four stagecoach lines. 

    Please share your stories about these early days of Brush Square. We appreciate all that you are willing to share!

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  • Hats

    The words "Cowboy" and "Texas" are synonymous. The American cowboy began in Texas, and the influence of the culture remains with us today. However, the American cowboy has a decidedly Hispanic origin. The American cowboy, truth be told, is TexMex.

    Cortez brought cattle to the New World, and American-style ranching evolved from these beginnings in Mexico.  Cattle originally brought to Texas by the Spanish often escaped into the thick brush of South Texas. Over time, a feral breed of cattle, the longhorn, proliferated in the thornscrub between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers.

    Longhorns were
    ...Read more

    The words "Cowboy" and "Texas" are synonymous. The American cowboy began in Texas, and the influence of the culture remains with us today. However, the American cowboy has a decidedly Hispanic origin. The American cowboy, truth be told, is TexMex.

    Cortez brought cattle to the New World, and American-style ranching evolved from these beginnings in Mexico.  Cattle originally brought to Texas by the Spanish often escaped into the thick brush of South Texas. Over time, a feral breed of cattle, the longhorn, proliferated in the thornscrub between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers.

    Longhorns were free for the taking. However, cowboys still needed to drive these "free" cattle north to markets. After the Civil War, the increased demand for beef in the East enticed men to gather herds and push them north to the railheads in Kansas.

    Herds of longhorns often passed through and by Austin after the Civil War. Drovers needed to push the herds across the Colorado River, and popular crossings in Austin included the mouth of Shoal Creek (Waterloo) and Montopolis (the current location of the Longhorn Dam). Townspeople would interact with these cowboys as they came to town to buy supplies or visit the bars.

    With the invention of barbed wire and the American wind mill, trail riding came to an end. Ranching, the large-scale raising of beef cattle within the confines of private land, unknown in America prior to the Civil War, dominates the Texas landscape still. 

    Texas cowboys shaped the cowboy culture. Texas cowboys were Mexican, Mexican-American, African-American, and Anglo. Each ethnic group brought its own influences. The hardships of the lifestyle eventually bled these influences into one.

    Writers such as O. Henry popularized this culture, and American television and movies helped spread the Texas cowboy culture around the world. People visiting Texas for the first time arrive with the expectation that they will see cowboys riding on horseback down Congress Avenue! We still see the cowboy culture in our food, music, art, literature, clothing (boots, jeans, hats), and celebrations, such as the rodeo. Consider Austin music (Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel), dance (the Two Step at the Broken Spoke), food (Stubb's), clothing (boots by Charlie Dunn), and literature (J. Frank Dobie, Stephen Harrigan). 

    Share with us your stories of Austin's cowboy culture. What about the ways in which the cowboy culture has influenced Austin? How did Austin's Latinos and African Americans contribute to this culture? We want to hear everything you are willing to share!

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  • 3e3e5f14375220df815f09503d207442

    Austin remained a cowtown well into the 20th Century. Austin needed the Great Depression to finally get beyond its hardscrabble beginnings. The Great Depression brought the New Deal, and the New Deal brought Austin a whirlwind of public works projects including dams, streets, bridges, and parks. 

    Austin benefited from a team of powerful politicians that ensured that the city benefited from the New Deal programs. The city was represented in the United States House of Representatives by Congressman James P. "Buck" Buchanan of Brenham until 1937. Buchanan served as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, through which every spending...Read more

    Austin remained a cowtown well into the 20th Century. Austin needed the Great Depression to finally get beyond its hardscrabble beginnings. The Great Depression brought the New Deal, and the New Deal brought Austin a whirlwind of public works projects including dams, streets, bridges, and parks. 

    Austin benefited from a team of powerful politicians that ensured that the city benefited from the New Deal programs. The city was represented in the United States House of Representatives by Congressman James P. "Buck" Buchanan of Brenham until 1937. Buchanan served as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, through which every spending bill had to pass. 

    When Buchanan died of a heart attack in early 1937, he was replaced by freshman Lyndon B. Johnson. Tom Miller, the pro-New Deal mayor of Austin, served the city through the Depression. Walter E. Long, head of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, worked closely with Mayor Miller and Congressman Johnson during those years. 

    The result? Consider this one example. By 1936, Austin had received over $6 million in PWA (Public Works Administration) funds, more than any city in Texas. Before the New Deal came to an end, the federal government would spend a total of $1.4 billion in the state of Texas, more than all but three states. Texas and Austin today would be hard to imagine without the public works investments made during the years of the Great Depression.

    Here are a few of the better known New Deal projects from Austin. 

    • Deep Eddy, Emma Long, Big and Little Stacy, and Zilker parks
    • Tom Miller, Buchanan, and Mansfield dams
    • House Park Football Stadium and gymnasium
    • Dormitories at UT, as well as the UT Tower
    • Several bridges over Shoal and Waller creeks
    • Schools such as Mathews Elementary and Zavala Elementary
    • U.S. Federal Courthouse
    • Rosewood and Santa Rita Courts

    Tens of thousands of Texas men and women were employed by New Deal programs such as the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), or worked for local businesses on projects funded by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), and the PWA (Public Works Administration). 

    Some of those men and women are still alive, as are their children who heard their stories about working for the CCC or WPA during the Great Depression. Please, share your stories of the Great Depression and the New Deal with us! We would love to receive copies of any photographs as well. Time is slipping away, and we don’t want the remarkable accomplishments of these men and women to be forgotten.
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  • Did we miss something about Brush Square? Share your idea for a new storyline here.

    Did we miss something about Brush Square? Share your idea for a new storyline here.

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