Streets Named for Rivers

Plan of Austin, 1839

Among the many reasons Austin is a unique city, its street-naming pattern seems especially remarkable. Laid out by Edwin Waller in 1839, the new capital of the Texas Republic edged the largely unknown frontier. Residents understood the region’s basic layout well enough by its rivers, most of which had had titles since the days of Spanish exploration.

So, similar to what other towns had done, Waller named the north-south streets here for major Texas rivers, but he did so geographically. West Avenue marked the western boundary of the 640 acres, and East Avenue (now IH-35) contained the other side. Between, except for Congress, the streets literally map the state’s great streams.

Flanking Congress are the two big Central Texas waterways, the Colorado and Brazos. Driving east or west offers a geography quiz: if you just crossed Trinity, what would be the next river? Notice one mistake: in reality, the Red River flows east of the Sabine.

Using minor streams, this naming convention continued into new areas as the city grew, but with only general geographic correlation. In East Austin, you’ll find Brushy, San Marcos, Medina, Waller, Onion, Attayak, Navasota, Angelina, Comal, Concho, Leona, and San Saba. West of Lamar is Blanco and Pecos. Shoal Creek gets a boulevard, and Bull Creek a road.

Whereas, after a big rain, streets seem to turn into rivers, this is how the opposite happened.

Next time, we’ll learn the secrets of Austin’s east-west streets.

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