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[detail] W.H. Sandusky, City of Austin and Vicinity, Austin, 1839, Map #3149, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

A New Seat of Government — the Original Survey of the City of Austin

On January 14, 1839, the Third Congress of the Republic of Texas passed legislation entitled “an act for the permanent location of the Seat of Government,” to be named Austin in honor of the late empresario, Stephen F. Austin.[1] A panel of five Commissioners was created by the act to select a site at “some point between the rivers Trinidad and Colorado, and above the old San Antonio Road.”[2] They were instructed to locate at least one league (4428.4 acres) but no more than four leagues (17713.6 acres). Within this site, a smaller area of 640 acres was then to be surveyed into town lots for sale by auction. The history of the city of Austin’s establishment and earliest days can be found in maps and documents held in the General Land Office Archives.

William Sandusky’s 1839 map was the first to show the layout of the City of Austin.

By April 1839, the Commissioners had selected a sparsely populated site near a small settlement called Waterloo, which was situated on the north bank of the Colorado River and within the area specified by the act. The site was suggested to the Commissioners by President Mirabeau Lamar who, about a year earlier, had visited this area while on a hunting trip and was impressed by its beauty, the abundance of natural resources, and its central location within the Republic.[3] The Commissioners agreed that this site would make a perfect setting for the new capital.

[left] A note on the map identifies the Government Tract as containing 7,734 acres, and the townsite as containing 640 acres. [right] The town tract is situated fronting the Colorado River roughly bounded by Shoal Creek on the west and Waller Creek on the east.
Waterloo appears across the Colorado River from the grants condemned by eminent domain on this certified copy of an 1838 map that GLO Commissioner Andrew J. Baker declared “the oldest and only Bastrop District Map on file in this office.” [detail] Bartlett Sims, Bastrop District, Austin: Texas General Land Office, 9 March 1838, Map #83006, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

The next step involved the identification of eight existing, contiguous tracts, totaling approximately “five-thirds of leagues of land.” These tracts had all been surveyed in February 1838 by Thomas H. Mays, the Deputy Surveyor of Bastrop County, by virtue of first-class headright certificates granted to immigrants to Texas.[4] The government exercised eminent domain, and a jury of six disinterested parties was convened in Bastrop to set the price per acre for each tract that the original grantees would be compensated. The jury awarded the landowners either $3.00 or $3.50 per acre.[5] Once acquired, this vast tract of land became known as the “Town Tract” or “Government Tract” and totaled over 7700 acres.[6] William Sandusky, a well-known draftsman working in Austin, was contracted to create a map to show this government tract. Sandusky’s rare 1839 map is part of the GLO’s map collection, and a highlight for local Austinites visiting the Archives.

Enlarged portion of original survey map of Travis County, showing the eight original surveys that made up the “Government Tract.” J.L. Woodland, Travis County, Austin, 1936, Map #77438, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Once the government tract was established, Section 9 of the act establishing Austin called for the appointment of an agent who would hire a surveyor and oversee a survey of 640 acres, which would then be parceled into town lots to be sold via public auction. Edwin Waller was hired to serve as this agent and he, in turn, hired L.J. Pilie and Chas. Schoolfield to lay out the new city and survey these town lots.

This map shows the 640-acre townsite of Austin surveyed into lots, known as the “In-Lots.” L.J. Pilie, Plan of the City of Austin, Austin, 1839, TSLAC Map #926d, Map Collection, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, TX. Reproductions of this map (GLO Map #76204) are available for sale at the GLO courtesy of TSLAC.

The town lots were first offered for sale to the public, via auction, in August of 1839 with the unsold balance offered in November 1839 and then again in January 1840. To help facilitate the sale of lots, as part of the contract with the government, Pilie and Schoolfield produced a map of their work and several copies were delivered to the various Republic agencies involved. The original town lots shown on this map became known as the “In-Lots.”[7]

Sam Houston, months before serving his second term as President of the Republic of Texas, purchased Lot 5 in Block 46. Sale certificate for Sam Houston, 8 February 1841, Austin City Lots 000069, Austin City Lots and Outlots Records, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

The survey and sale of the In-Lots covered only 640 acres of the 7700+ acre government tract. In January of 1840, the Texas Legislature passed another act to subdivide and sell the remaining acreage.[8] Within days of passage, a man named S.C. Wiltse submitted a proposal to do the surveying work required to establish the new lots. His proposal was accepted and Wiltse began work at once to resurvey the original 7700+ acre government tract, including the meanders of the Colorado River.[9] By the end of January with the surveying work already well underway, William Sandusky was again hired to create a map showing these new lots.[10] This map, A Topographic Map of the Tract adjoining the City of Austin, became the preeminent map used in the sale of what would become known as the “Out-Lots.”

This map is a 1931 copy of the original 1840 map, which is in very poor condition, showing the extent of the “Out-Lots.” William H. Sandusky, Topographical Map of the Government Tract adjoining the City of Austin, Austin, 1840 (1931), Map #2178, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

The sale of both the In-Lots and Out-Lots of Austin was overseen by the Treasury, but the General Land Office, as the agency charged with managing Texas public lands, maintained records of these sales and issued the patents to the buyers. These records and patents are available within the Archives of the Texas General Land Office along with the original government tract map drawn by William Sandusky and various clerical copies of the In-Lots and Out-Lots maps.

In an interesting twist that took nearly a century to be fully resolved, in January 1840, as the process of surveying the Out-Lots was underway, GLO Commissioner John P. Borden received an eight-league Mexican title for Thomas J. Chambers, a notable land speculator and lawyer, which had not been previously submitted to his office.[11] Since the title was not filed with the GLO until very late, it was considered vacant and unappropriated land, and the headrights covering the Chambers leagues were patented to other settlers. It was not until 1925 when the Texas Legislature appropriated funds in the amount of $20,000 to compensate the Chambers heirs for settlement of their right, title, interest, and claims against the state.

The records and maps detailing the establishment of the city of Austin have been digitized and are available for research online, and reproductions may be purchased through the online map store, or by contacting Archives staff at archives@glo.texas.gov. A portion of the Austin City Lots and Outlots Records are being conserved thanks to generous donations by the Austin Genealogical Society.

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[1] Hans Peter Mareus Neilsen Gammel, The Laws of Texas, 1822–1897, Volume 2, Austin: The Gammel Book Company, 1898, p. 161. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth6726/m1/165/: accessed June 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu.

[2] The Commissioners were: Albert C. Horton, William Menefee, Lewis B. Cooke, Isaac W. Barton, and Isaac Campbell.

[3] Handbook of Texas Online, Claudia Hazlewood, “Waterloo, TX (Travis County),” accessed June 28, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hvw13. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[4] The original grantees making up the “Government Tract” and their GLO file numbers are: Logan Vandever, BAS 1–000001; George J. Neill, BAS 1–000067; Aaron Burleson, BAS 1–000339; George D. Hancock, BAS 1–000338; Samuel Goocher, BAS 1–000329; Jacob Harrell, BAS 1–000340; Josiah G. Dunn, BAS 1–000459; and James Rogers, BAS 1–000121.

[5] The jury members were: Bartlett Sims, B.M. Clopton, John Brown, James Standiford, Jeptha Boyce and James Lynn. “Proceedings of the Court in the Town of Bastrop Concerning the Permanent Seat of Government-Republic of Texas,” Book not numbered, pp. 51–53, County Clerk Minutes, Bastrop County, Texas.

[6]Sherriff’s deed from Sheriff of Bastrop County, Texas to Republic of Texas, Lands selected for a permanent Seat of Government”, April 3, 1839, Vol. B, Page 419, Deed Records of Bastrop County.

[7] The Lamar Papers 1839–1840: The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, Nos. 1320, 1363, 1402, 1430, Texas State Library and Archives, Austin.

[8] Gammel, Volume 2, p. 377 (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth6726/m1/381/: accessed June 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu.

[9] A clerical copy of these field notes can be reviewed in the archives of the General Land Office. Travis County Sketch File 71, ca. 1840, Austin, Map #38456, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

[10] The Lamar Papers 1839–1840: The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, Nos. 1716, 1717, 1718, 1734, Texas State Library and Archives, Austin. John Nathan Cravens, James Harper Starr, Financier of the Republic of Texas, (Austin: The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, 1950). Texas Treasury Papers, Letters Received in the Treasury Department of the Republic of Texas 1836–1846 Vol. I-IV, Texas State Library, Austin, 1956.

[11] Under the Mexican government, Chambers served as assessor general (state attorney) for Texas and was named the first chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. For his service as chief justice, he was to receive a $3,000 annual salary, payable in land at the rate of $100 per league. The grant that Borden received in 1840 was part of this compensatory land. Thomas J. Chambers title, 26 October 1834, Box 130, Folder 16, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX. Handbook of Texas Online, Margaret Swett Henson, “Chambers, Thomas Jefferson [1802–1865],” accessed June 28, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fch08. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on March 4, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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