The Austin History Center's mission is to procure, preserve, present and provide the historical records that make up Austin's unique story.
Not far from the Texas State Capitol, another impressive historic building serves as a visitor center and museum of Texas history. It's a great place to learn more about what you are about to see or what you've already seen in your exploration of Austin. It's also the former home of one of the most important parts of the early Texas government -- the General Land Office.
The most valuable resource in early Texas, the one that motivated pioneers to embark on epic journeys to settle here, was its land. The largest migration of English-speaking settlers to Texas, led by Stephen F. Austin, came here to settle on land granted by the Mexican government to Austin's father.
When Texas became an independent republic, its leaders knew keeping track of land ownership would be a key function of the government. Many Texans claimed land granted to them by the Spanish or Mexican governments, and the Republic would need to determine which of those claims were valid, while also granting additional claims. The new government sold or bartered land to finance important institutions such as the State Capitol and later the first public schools.
In 1836 the Texas Congress appointed John Petit Borden as Land Commissioner, though it would later become an elected position. His first task was to bring the archives of property documents that had been preserved in Houston and other parts of Texas during the war to Austin.
This building, completed in 1857, is the oldest government office building in Texas. It was the first building in Austin to be designed by an architect who went to school for architecture, Christoph Conrad Stremme, a native of Germany. It served as the General Land Office until 1919, when the office moved to a new building, and this one was taken over by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and United Daughters of the Confederacy as a museum. After renovations in the 1990s, it became the Capitol Visitors Center. See what goes on at the Visitors Center in the video below.
Besides its official role, the building has another claim to fame. One of its employees, William Sidney Porter, would go on to become an extremely popular writer of short stories and one of Austin's most famous residents, better known by his pen name, O. Henry.
Cover Photo from Texas State Capitol Visitor Center via Flickr