Map of the Capitol Land Reservation

Texas General Land Office
Jun 3 · 5 min read

The various governments of Texas have a long history of utilizing land to entice settlers and soldiers, pay debts, and promote commercial interests in the absence of cash wealth. Spain and Mexico gave generous grants to settle the frontier to generate economic activity and to secure it. The Republic of Texas continued this practice while also paying the soldiers who fought for independence with land. The state of Texas crucially retained its public lands upon annexation. Railroad companies were rewarded with millions of acres for building the iron and steel infrastructure that connected Texas to the rest of the United States. This map documents one of the last land programs of this nature — the financing of the State Capitol in Austin with public lands.

A.B. Langermann and F.G. Blau, Capitol Land Reservation, November 1880, Austin: Texas General Land Office, Map #1751, 10745, 10746 [Digital Composite, Map #10785], Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.
The three sheets of the Capitol Reservation map on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
The Capitol appears complete on an 1887 birds-eye view map of Austin prior to its actual completion. [Detail] Augustus Koch, Austin, State Capital of Texas,1887, Map #89218, Public Domain Image, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

The construction of the current state house was a 13-year project from its inception in 1875, to the official acceptance of the building in late 1888. In November 1875, it was determined that a new building was necessary to house the seat of government. On November 20, 1875, an ordinance was passed stating, “Three million acres of the public domain are hereby appropriated and set apart for the purpose of erecting a new state Capitol.” An additional 50,000 acres were appropriated to provide a fund to pay for surveying said land.

In 1879, the Legislature funded the surveying of the land, which was finished in 1880. The need for a new building was heightened when the old limestone Capitol burned on November 9, 1881. Construction began on the new building at the same site in 1882. Overcoming numerous delays and difficulties, the project was completed in December 1888 at a total cost of nearly $3.8 million. The 3 million acres in the Capitol Reservation, which later became the famous XIT Ranch operated by the Capitol Syndicate, was valued at $1.5 million in 1882. By 1982, this same land had a taxable value of nearly $7 billion.[1]

Certificate #1 for Abner Taylor, 9 April 1883, BEX 1–002110, Land Grant Records, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

In 1950, preservation work caused the map to be cut into three pieces to assist early conservation efforts. When assembled, the three sheets of this map measure over ten feet by three feet, and depict all or parts of seventeen counties in the Panhandle. The Capitol lands were surveyed in ten of these counties, descending south from the Oklahoma border: Dallam, Hartley, Oldham, Deaf Smith, Parmer, Castro, Bailey, Lamb, Cockran [sic], and Hockley.

[left] The Capitol Reservation started with section 1 in northwest Dallam County. [right] In southeast Hockley County, section 736 was the termination of the Capitol Reserve. Many sections in this area are marked “cancelled” due to conflicts with existing surveys.

The map lays out the land grants for the Capitol, which are sequentially numbered beginning in northwest Dallam County and ending at section 736 in southeast Hockley County. Indicative of the trouble often encountered in surveying West Texas and the Panhandle, two columns of sections at the end of the sequence on the Hockley/Lubbock and Lamb/Hale County lines are labeled “cancelled” due to conflict with prior surveys. Elsewhere, some sections are marked “rejected,” and others marked “sold.” The surveys are filed as Bexar District First Class Headrights, and the majority are patented to Abner Taylor of the Capitol Syndicate, although this information is not reflected throughout the map.

[left] In Oldham County, several sections of Capitol land were sold to William McDole Lee, a notable rancher and entrepreneur who eventually partnered with the XIT Ranch.[3] [right] Several sections are labeled “rejected” in Hartley County; however, no explanation is provided.

Interspersed with the Capitol lands are various other types of grants as well as some sections of land that still remained vacant public domain.[2] Large blocks of scrip land were issued to railroad companies for laying track throughout Texas. These blocks also include land reserved for the state’s Permanent School Fund, the sale of which helps fund public education. Similarly, large blocks of County School Land grants represent land reserved to provide additional funds for education in specific counties, and in this case, also in yet-to-be-organized counties. Individual headrights, though much fewer in number, can also be found on the map.

In Castro County, the Capitol lands are comingled with railroad blocks, individual headrights, County School Land, and the vacant public domain.

A bound volume of field notes for the surveys of the Capitol Land Reservation (accessible online here) accompanied this map. The Capitol Land Reservation map represents an important historical moment in Texas history, when the state could leverage otherwise underused lands to build an ambitious, lasting monument to Texas’ growth. Since April 1888, the Texas Capitol has towered over much of the Austin skyline (only eclipsed in height in 1974 within the city with the construction of the Chase Bank Tower). Standing at 308 feet from grade line to the top of the star on the Goddess of Liberty, the Texas Capitol Building is almost fifteen feet taller than the National Capitol in Washington, D.C. Long removed from a humble wood-framed building in remote Columbia, thanks to the disposition of public lands, the seat of Texas’ government finally reflected the character, grandiosity, and growing power of the Lone Star State.

Conservation of this map was funded in 2001 with donations from T. Trigg Lupher and First American Title Insurance.

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[1] H. Allen Anderson, “XIT Ranch,” accessed August 30, 2017, Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on December 9, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Handbook of Texas Online, William Elton Green, “Capitol,” accessed August 30, 2017, Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on April 26, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association. Handbook of Texas Online.

[2] For additional information about the types of land grants that were issued in Texas, click here.

[3] Handbook of Texas Online, Donald F. Schofield, “Lee, William McDole,” accessed August 30, 2017, Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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