Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Austin: Strolling through History

It is easy to stroll through history in Austin, with only a word or two of caution: sidewalks are uneven in places as mighty Oak tree roots have shifted cement slabs in certain sections over the decades. The town also has a strange way of sloping sidewalk handicap access points at a street corners - making it easy to trip over curbs in places you thought should be flat. And sidewalks sometimes have stairways and elevated sections in them. This is only worth mentioning because there is so much history to see on a simple walk through town that it is hard to pay attention to the surface on which you walk.

The Historical Commission has done a thorough job of telling the story of Austin's buildings by posting signs on those of historical significance. Stop by the Visitor's Center on 6th Street and pick up a brochure if you don't want to set out on an uncharted course of exploration.

Among our favorite historica buildings were The Driskill Hotel (http://www.driskillhotel.com/) just off Sixth St. and The Austin Club (http://www.austinclub.com/) on Ninth St. The hotel, built in 1886 by cattle baron Jesse Driskill, has 189-guest rooms in its Historical and Traditional wings. We began our weekend days with breakfast in its cafe/bakery and ended them sipping locally brewed beer in its bar. The Christmas season kicked off while we were in Austin so the enormous lobby with its columns and marble floors had a centerpiece tree that stretched to the ceiling. We found its food and beverage prices reasonable, if not on the inexpensive side for a luxury hotel; a tumbler-sized glass of fresh squeezed orange juice was $4 and a pint-sized brewskie $5.
Three blocks away, The Austin Club, is housed in the one-time Millett Opera House, built in 1878 by Captain Charles Millett. Over the years the Opera House has hosted legislative sessions, political conventions, dances and roller skating. The building is now owned by the Austin Independent School District and is being leased to the private club.

The Club's website offers a link to the history of the club and the building. One of the stories it features is that of "Priscilla" the Third Floor Ghost. As the story goes, Priscilla, was an opera singer who fell to her death from a catwalk above the stage on the night prior to her wedding. Periodic Priscilla sightings have been reported by both guests and employees over the years.


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