Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Austin's Hyde Park... the First 50 Years: 1891-1941 (1991)

I've lived in an apartment in the Hyde Park neighborhood in Austin for over seven years, and now (thanks to the lovely Choo) I finally have a detailed picture of its history. Sarah and Thad Sitton's Austin's Hyde Park... the First 50 Years: 1891-1941 might have a relatively limited audience, but it is well-researched and nicely written and should be required reading for all residents of the neighborhood.

The Hyde Park neighborhood was originally conceived by M. M. Shipe as one of the first elegant suburbs of Austin, complete with a streetcar that would take you to and from town, two miles south. The neighborhood was ultimately more working class than high class (although it is now pretty damn expensive to live in), housing many people who worked at the near by State Hospital and Ramsey's Nursery to the north, but the streetcar service did materialize and I wish that it was still here today as that would make my commute way more fun.

Here is a tidbit: before Hyde Park was a neighborhood, it was the home of a very popular horse racing track and, a little bit later, the official Texas State Fair. A few years of rainy weather ultimately hurt the fair's profits and it regrouped up in Dallas, but the imprint of the race track is still on the neighborhood. In the map on the right you will notice that Shipe laid Hyde Park out in a nice and neat system of grids. Except for where 39th street goes all curvy. He decided to keep the curve of the race track between Avenue H and G, and then serpentine it over to Avenue F. All this exciting curve action conveniently happens right by the Shipe home, which is one of many buildings mentioned in the book that are still in the neighborhood today (including the state hospital and the Elizabet Ney house).

The Sittons base their history of the neighborhood on archival research (yay!) and an extensive series of oral history interviews with original residents of the neighborhood. The book provides a nice social history of Austin in the early 20th century, and some context of the greater city and state are included in the narrative. The text sometimes gets bogged down in names and addresses, and some of the anecdotes are a little goofy, but this is ultimately a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the history of Austin and the Hyde Park neighborhood.


jlowe said...

I have lived here 16 years now and I never knew that Hyde Park once had a race track, or was the fairgrounds. I bet people dig up some really cool things in their backyard in that area.

m_bey said...

i've only ever skimmed through that book when i was in the elizabet ney museum. it's essentially the only thing on the "gift shop" shelf.