The Drawl

A Look Back to 180 Years Ago, When Houston Was the Capital of Texas

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

By Katharine Shilcutt March 21, 2017 Published in the April 2017 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Image: Erick Hoffman

One-hundred-and-eighty years ago, on April 19, 1837, Houston became the capital of the nascent Republic of Texas, with President Sam Houston at the helm.

When, that same spring, famed naturalist John James Audubon visited the young city, according to his diary, he found it in a state that today’s Houstonians know all too well: flooded, with Buffalo Bayou six feet out of its banks. But that’s not the only proof his writing offers that in the Bayou City, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Houston Then: “The neighboring prairies were partly covered with water; there was a wild and desolate look cast on the surrounding scenery."
Houston Now: Neighboring prairies are partly covered with concrete; there is a wild and desolate look cast on the faces of drivers stuck in traffic.

Houston Then: “Shanties, cargoes of hogsheads, barrels, etc., were spread about the [Allen’s] landing.”
Houston Now: Shandies, canoe-carrying hipsters, barrels of beer, etc., are spread about the new visitors’ center and café at Allen’s Landing.

Houston Then:  “Indians drunk and hallooing were stumbling about in the mud in every direction.”
Houston Now: Girls drunk and wooing are stumbling about the sidewalks of Midtown in every direction.

Houston Then: “Houses, half finished, and most of them without roofs, tents and a liberty pole ... were all exhibited to our view.”
Houston Now: Townhomes, half finished, and most of them with flat roofs that will take on water when it rains, are all exhibited to our view.

Houston Then: “As soon as we rose above the bank we saw before us a level of far-extending prairie, destitute of timber and of rather poor soil.”
Houston Now: As soon as you rise above the bank you see before you a level of far-extending sprawl, destitute of timber and powered by oil.

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