Zilker Neighborhood Association
Austin, Texas 78704

Zilker Neighborhood History

In 1826, Benjamin Rush Milam obtained an empresario contract to settle 300 families between the Guadalupe and Colorado Rivers north of San Antonio Road. The government issued 53 land titles to settlers in the original Milam Colony in 1835. The area of Zilker neighborhood is part of two of these original land grants obtained from Mexico just before the Texas Revolution, the one on the east (League No. 20) belonging to Issac Decker (title date 17 Mar 1835) and the one to the west (League No. 21) belonging to Henry P. Hill (title date 14 Jul 1835), with the north-south dividing line between the two grants running along the location of Bluebonnet Lane today. These two tracts (a league or 4428.4 acres each) encompassed much of the land in South Austin with the boundaries roughly from the Colorado River to Ben White Blvd (Hwy 290/71) and IH35 to Walsh-Tarlton Ln. Neither Henry P. Hill nor Issac Decker stayed in the area very long.

The Issac Decker Grant

Issac Decker, a shoemaker from Canada, moved from Travis County to Montgomery County Texas, reportedly because of hostile Indians in the area. He sold his land to David Browning and Daniel Browning on June 18, 1838. The original Issac Decker land was sold and resold several times. In mid-1850 Sterling Washington (S.W.) Goodrich bought a large part of the Decker tract and established a plantation with about 30 slaves. He came with his large family from Tennessee. His plantation home is what is now Paggi House on Lee Barton Road. Goodrich’s land extended into present day Barton Heights. He died in 1868 and his wife Mary died several years later. Land and financial settlements among their children resulted in land sales and redistribution of the plantation lands. Most of the first homes in the Zilker area were constructed in the late 1920s.

The Henry P. Hill Grant

Henry P. Hill was a lawyer and native of Georgia. It is speculated that Henry P. Hill may have returned to Georgia because of the pending hostilities associated with the war for Texas Independence, but he did not sell his land. Following the war, there was considerable chaos within the land grant system and verifying land records was a problem. It took years to convert the Mexican land grant records to a new and usable system. It was under these circumstances that William Barton settled on a labor of land at the mouth of Spring Creek (now Barton Creek) around 1837. In 1838, Barton applied for a patent, but it was never actually granted by the General Land Office, because it was later determined that the land selected by Barton was on the tract already patented to Henry P. Hill. In April 1840, William Barton died. Due to the confusion over the actual ownership of the labor of land, it would take fifteen years before the will was finally settled. In all the confusion over the ownership of League 21, originally granted to Henry P. Hill in 1835, court records show that the land was sold at the courthouse steps against property tax debts several times in the 1850s. The question of the ownership of the labor of land was finally resolved by a decree of the Travis County District Court issued in 1855. The labor of land was then sold on behalf of the Barton heirs to A. B. McGill. Hill’s ownership of the league of land, exclusive of two subdivisions previously made for William Barton’s labor and Wayne Barton’s donation grant IN 1855, was finally resolved by a decision of the Travis County District Court in 1869, in favor of Hill. The original Henry P. Hill land was split up, sold, and resold numerous times over the ensuing years. Much of the west end of Zilker was owned by Vincent Canizzo until the late 1940s when the City of Austin, using eminent domain, forced him to sell the land on which Zilker Elementary currently sits. Shortly thereafter, the remaining land — from Ann Arbor Road to Rabb Road — was split into the Canizzo Subdivision.

More About the History of the Zilker Neighborhood

Timeline

This is a work in progress. Feel free to share with us historic events that you feel were important to the development and shaping of neighborhood, and we will consider adding them. Much of the history of the neighborhood is reflected in the history of Zilker Park and Barton Springs. Those events related to the Zilker Park and Barton Springs area are highlighted in green below. The opening and closure of particularly iconic bars, restaurants, and music venues are also included. If there is a icon in the Image column, hover over it to see the image.

Date Event Image
1835 Isaac Decker is granted a league (4,428.4 ac) of land, which included the eastern part today's Zilker neighborhood, on March 17  
1835 Henry Hill is granted a league of land (4,428.4 ac), which included the western part of today's Zilker neighborhood, on July 14  
1837 After his wife Stacy dies, William "Billy" Barton moves his family to the then-named Spring Creek, building a house and settling on the south bank near the main springs  
1838 William Barton files a patent for a labor of land (177.1 ac) and has it surveyed around March or April, but a patent is never actually granted because it was later determined that the land was on the tract already patented to Henry P. Hill  
1838 Isaac Decker sells his land to the Browning brothers on June 18  
1839 William Barton makes an agreement with Lewis Capt for use of the water from the main spring and land on the north bank of the creek to erect a saw mill  
1840 William Barton dies in April, leaving the property to his six children  
1842 Two Indian attacks were recorded near the springs  
1845 John Grumbles reportedly buys the Barton property though the transaction was not recorded, and lives there through 1853  
1853 Col. Sterling W. Goodrich purchases 1133 3/8 acres of the Decker tract from John H. Raymond and establishes a plantation  
1855 The Barton labor of land including Barton Springs is sold to A. B. McGill by the Barton heirs after a protracted 15-year legal dispute over ownership  
1857 The Barton labor of land including Barton Springs is sold to Thomas Collins by A. B. McGill  
1858 Thomas Collins sells the portion of the Barton labor on the north side of the creek back to McGill  
1859 Thomas Collins sells the portion of the Barton labor on the south side of the creek to Thomas Tumey  
1860 Thomas Tumey sells the portion of the Barton labor on the south side of the creek and water rights to John Rabb and Rabb builds a log cabin near the main Springs (Rabb's heirs would hold the land for the next century)  
1861 John Rabb dies at his home on June 5, deeding the property to his son Gail, but giving control to his wife Mary until her death  
1866 William C. Walsh, his mother, and three younger brothers move to the north bank of Barton Springs  
1867 Mary Rabb, widow of John Rabb, builds a 2-story limestone house near the log cabin  
1868 Sterling W. Goodrich dies.  
1870 Michael Paggi has arrived and is operating an ice manufacturing business and grist mill at the Old Mill Spring (aka Sunken Gardens or Zenobia Spring)
1875 Isaac V. Davis and his wife Lucy, daughter of Sterling W. Goodrich, build a house on the bluff above what is now Barton Springs Rd on a large tract of land that had been part of the Goodrich plantation.  
1879 A 3-story flour mill is built adjacent to Barton Springs on an acre of land including water power leased by Michael English, E. G. Dorr and Robert English from Gail T. Rabb
1881 Wrought-iron Double Intersection Pratt Though Truss RR bridge on limestone piers over the Colorado River completed by IG&N  
1882 Mary Rabb dies but her son Gail Texas Rabb and his wife Isabella continue to live at the site
1884 Michael Paggi purchases the Sterling W. Goodrich plantation house  
1886 The English Mill adjacent to Barton Springs burns down leaving only the stone foundation, and the lease agreement with the Rabbs is terminated, conveying the mill dam, foundation, race wall and water wheel flume to the Rabbs  
ca1886 G. T. Rabb sells 5.85 acres portion of his land to Jacob Stern, including the Old Mill Spring and the improvements and mill built by Mr. Paggi  
1889 Stone bridge is built across Barton Creek above Barton Springs but will only last for the next 11 years
1890 G. T. Rabb sold more land on the south bank of the creek, including the creek bed and water power rights but exclusive of the tract sold to Stern, to Richard Wooley of San Antonio  
1895 G. T. Rabb sued Richard Wooley when he did not make the second payment on the land sale and recovered the land  
1900 Stone bridge across Barton Creek above Barton Springs is washed away by flood on April 11  
1901 Andrew J. Zilker begins acquiring property around the springs, when he purchased about 350 acres on the south bank of the Colorado.  
1902 Iron bridge with wood deck built across Barton Creek below Barton Springs (just below current Barton Springs Road bridge)
1902 Amphitheater built around Eliza Spring  
1907 G. T. Rabb sells the land along the creek, including the Main Spring, to A. J. Zilker, reserving a tract upstream of the Main Spring for the Rabb residence  
1912 Butler Brick Works is destroyed by fire on September 29  
1913 A. J. Zilker purchases Walsh Spring and Eliza Spring  
1916 Ida Zilker, wife of A. J. Zilker, dies, ending the plans of Andrew and Ida to build a house on the land, in about the location of the current Zilker Garden Center  
1918 A. J. Zilker donates 35 acres including Barton Springs to AISD which sells it to the City of Austin  
1922 A two-story wooden public bathhouse and dance pavillion is built at Barton Springs by Chamber of Commerce and Lions Club
1926 New bridge across Barton Creek is built just a few feet upstream of old iron bridge
1926 Old iron bridge across Barton Creek removed  
1928 Permanent concrete dam built below Barton Springs creating the pool  
1929 Gail T. Rabb dies but his widow Isabella continues to live at their 2-story limestone house  
1931 A. J. Zilker donates a second tract of land to the City of Austin to be used as parkland  
1934 Isabella Rabb dies, leaving the Rabb homestead and 10 acres surrounding it to her only daughter, Mayme  
1934 A. J. Zilker donates third tract of land to the City of Austin to be used as parkland  
1936 Wrought-iron railroad bridge over Colorado River is replaced with a plate girder bridge on the same piers  
1942 South Lamar Bridge, the second bridge over the Colorado River in Austin, opens  
1943 On October 25, a major fire at the Rabb house destroyed a portion of the house  
1945 Barton Springs Road Bridge over Barton Creek is widened  
1947 New bathhouse built at Barton Springs  
1948 Peter Pan Mini-Golf opens  
1950 Zilker Elementary School opens in January  
1950 Butler Pitch and Putt Golf Course officially opens on June 1  
1951 Kash-Karry supermarket, the first major grocery in the neighborhood, opens at South Lamar and Toomey in April  
1955 City of Austin purchases 29 acres from Mamye Rabb, including the Rabb homestead and house, ending the Rabb family's 95-year influence in the neighborhood  
1958 Lamar Plaza Shopping Center at South Lamar and Treadwell, the first, last, and only shopping center in the Zilker neighborhood, opens with key tenants Handy-Andy supermarket and Beall's department store on March 12
1965 Horseshoe Lounge opens on South Lamar  
1974 Mopac Bridge built over the Colorado River and Zilker Park loses 24-acres to Mopac right-of-way  
1978 Split Rail Inn (217 South Lamar Blvd), bar and musci venue, destroyed by fire on December 6. The Split Rail was a favorite music venue for Zilker neighborhood resident, Marcia Ball, and her band Freda and the Firedogs.  
1982 Chuy's restaurant opens on April 16  
1988 Green Mesquite restaurant opens  
1990 The Saxon Pub, bar and music venue, opens
1992 The Shady Grove restaurant opens  
1997 "Unplugged at the Grove" music series begins at The Shady Grove  
2002 The first ACL Music Festival begins at Zilker Park in September  
2003 Fiesta Mart in Lamar Plaza Shopping center, the last grocery store left in Zilker neighborhood, closes  
2012 Artz Rib House, restaurant and music venue, closes  
2012 Lamar Plaza Shopping Center, the first, last, and only shopping center in the Zilker neighborhood, closes in November, after 54 years of operation, to make way for Lamar Union  
2013 ACL Music Festival increases to two weekends  
2014 Flipnotics, the second oldest coffeeshop in Austin and a local music venue, closes in March  
2015 Horseshoe Lounge, the oldest bar in South Austin, closes in February after 50 years of operation  
2020 The Shady Grove closes, due largely to the 2020 COVID outbreak, ending the 27-year run of the restaurant and 22-year run of the "Unplugged at the Grove" music series  
     
     

 

Some City of Austin History

Here are a couple of City of Austin promotional videos from the past.

 

1943 Video (31:26)

 

1987 Video (3:17)