South River City
South River City is a neighborhood in Austin, Texas. The area, also known as Travis Heights, is located in South Austin, just south of the city’s urban core, just below Lake Lady Bird. A section of ZIP code 78704 is included in the area.
To the west is South Congress Avenue and the Bouldin Creek area, to the south is Oltorf Road, and to the east is Interstate 35 and the East Riverside-Oltorf Combined Neighborhood Planning Area. South River City borders Lake Lady Bird and Riverside Drive to the north. South River City, along with the St. Edward’s neighborhood to the south, form the Greater South River City City of Austin Combined Planning Area.
South River City grew as one of Austin’s earliest planned urban areas south of the Colorado River in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Swisher’s Addition and Fairview Park, the first two settlements in present-day South River City, were hampered by a lack of transportation to Downtown Austin. The concrete Congress Avenue Bridge, on the other hand, was built in 1910, laying the framework for a neighborhood boom in the 1920s and 1930s. Many of the houses built were single-family, and some of those that remain include Victorian-era constructions with gingerbread trim, Craftsman-style bungalows, and Prairie School-style houses. Many residences have gabled or hipped roofs, as well as large porches.
The Swisher Addition and birth of South Congress
The area around present-day South River City, like other South Austin communities, was slower to develop. Prior to the late nineteenth century, ferries and pontoon bridges were used to transport people to and from Downtown Austin.
In 1846, James Swisher and his family landed on a bluff in present-day South Austin and opened a bar and a hotel. Swisher granted Travis County the right-of-way in 1852 to commence construction of a route to San Antonio. Swisher began operating a ferry service across the Colorado River that same year, sensing the commercial potential that the new roadway would offer. Swisher’s ferry and the Post Road’s completion in the early 1850s spurred modest settlement in South Austin, notably along the road, which resulted in the establishment of the Texas School for the Deaf in 1856. The outbreak of the United States halted further growth. Reconstruction followed the Civil War. South Austin residents relied on ferry service and pontoon bridges to get to and from Downtown Austin until a wooden bridge was erected in 1876. The bridge made South Austin more accessible than ever before, and in 1877, James Swisher’s son, John Milton Swisher, partitioned 23 acres of the family farm along San Antonio Road. It was to be Austin’s first development south of the Colorado River.
When it was platted in 1877, it was listed as an addition to “South Austin” rather than Austin, possibly recognizing South Austin’s distinct identity from the capital city. Swisher gave his grid-style residential extension a broad 120-foot right-of-way through the middle. The wide avenue runs parallel to Congress Avenue on the north side of the river. This visionary and civic act dedicated to the public domain a magnificent view from Swisher’s farm. South Congress Avenue, despite being separated from the downtown portion of the street by about a mile over the Colorado River and low-lying areas, preserved the major approach to the Capitol and city center for future residents and visitors. A permanent and fully paved connection from Bouldin Creek to the north side of the river would take another 50 years to build. Monroe, James, Annie, Nellie, Elizabeth, Mary, Johanna, Eva, Newton, and Brackenridge were the names of streets. These names have been passed down to the present day.
Swisher’s Addition was not an instant success. While an iron bridge was erected in that decade, the concrete Congress Avenue Bridge and streetcar lines did not reach to South Austin until around 1910. Because this made it difficult for prospective residents to get to downtown jobs, development was gradual, and South Congress Avenue remained a country road through a predominantly rural terrain for the rest of the nineteenth century.
Despite Swisher’s limited success, other developers ventured into South Austin. In 1886, Charles Newning purchased the northern portion of the Swisher farm with the intention of developing a “upscale, owner-occupied, garden suburb.” Unlike Swisher’s grid-style addition on the high, relatively flat ground of the area, Newning’s development was created over a hilly area with two creeks running through it and numerous city views from its hillsides and terraces.
Mr. Newning’s ideal development was never realized, in part because he did not anticipate the extent to which commercial development would occur on South Congress, the difficulty of crossing the river, and the distance from town. Before the turn of the century, a number of Victorian homes were built on the large lots; however, development was so sparse that starting in the 1910s, lots were subdivided into smaller parcels.
Following the completion of the concrete Congress Avenue Bridge in 1910, pedestrians, automobiles, and Austin’s streetcar system were able to easily reach South River City, and the area began to grow. In 1913, General William Harwood Stacy, Charles Newning’s partner, and Stacy’s sons began development of Travis Heights, which was the most heavily promoted subdivision of its time.
Based on his previous experience with Charles Newning and Fairview Park, General Stacy laid out his South River City subdivision with both curving and grid streets and provided lot sizes and prices to suit a wide range of customers, from builders of modest bungalows to grand home sites with commanding vistas. Travis Heights was an immediate success, and a great surge of home building took place in the 1920s, so that by the General’s death in 1928, 600 lots had been sold and 600 homes had been constructed.
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