The Road to the Texas Capital: How Austin Became the State Capital

By  | 
Tony Maples Photography


Though Austinites might be loath to admit it Austin has not always been the Texas capital. The state’s legislature heart has migrated around, depending on the government. Even when it was its own nation, the Texas capital wasn’t in Austin the entire time. Where was it? Why was it moved? And most importantly, why was Austin selected for the new site?

Six Flags of Texas

The Six Flags of Texas

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

To understand how Austin became the capital, you need to understand the history of Texas. Since its creation by Europeans, Texas has had six nations rule over it, and each of these nations had its own capital. Under European powers, Spain and France, the Texas capital was in the old world. After Mexico won its independence, the capital of Texas moved to Mexico City. Things get confusing after that. During and after the Texas Revolution, the state capital moved around to eight different cities.

A Roving Capital During the Revolution

Independence Hall in Washington on the Brazos was one of the Texas capitals.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

While still under Mexican rule, the Texas colony’s conventions met at San Felipe de Austin, until March 1, 1836. Signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence met at Washington on the Brazos, which acted as the temporary capital during the early days of the revolution. At the time, Texans considered the capital wherever President David Burnet was. Due to fears from Santa Anna’s troops’ nearing them, the Texas government moved to Harrisburg for two short weeks in April 1836. There, the president waited out the revolution on a boat, which eventually landed at Galveston Island, making that the capital. Velasco became the next capital until October of that year. And after October, the capital migrated to West Columbia. In December, the newly-elected President Sam Houston moved the capital to Houston.

Houston as the Capital

Sam Houston moved the Texas capital to Houston during his first term as president.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Compared to the other cities that served as the capital of Texas during the revolution, Houston lasted the longest. Starting on April 19, 1837, until 1839, Houston served as the capital of Texas. But several things made the Bayou City less than ideal for the government seat. First, this town existed near the coast, but many of the larger settlements in Texas clustered in the Hill Country. Secondly, its remoteness made it a target for attacks from Native Americans. Additionally, its low-lying location and numerous slow-moving bayous made it a perfect breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Move to Austin

Texas Capital in Austin in 1890

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The new president Mirabeau B. Lamar wanted to encourage westward expansion in the state and pushed for the capital to move to the then town of Waterloo. Named in honor of the Father of Texas Stephen F. Austin, the town had enough open space to plan a street design which remains largely intact today. Though President Houston resisted the new capital after the people re-elected him in 1841, it remained in Austin, where Texas’ legislature still operates today.