Round Rock and Austin have been intimately tied since the 1840s. One of Austin’s early pioneers was also among the first white settlers to notice the natural beauty of Brushy Creek just north of the burgeoning city.
Born in Belfast, Jacob Harrell and his wife Mary McCutcheon Harrell made their way to Austin with a group from Tennessee in 1833. By 1837, the Harrells were among Austin’s first settlers — living out of a tent while a cabin was built, state records show. They called the place Waterloo at the time, but it soon became Austin when the state bought land from Harrell and several other property owners to build the new capital city.
After years of civic life in Austin, Harrell kept thinking about that peaceful fishing hole north of the city. Harrell, who was Austin’s first blacksmith, moved his family to the banks of Brushy Creek in 1848 — he was 44 years old.
Folks in the area called their little area Brushy Creek. But a few years after the Brushy Creek Post Office was opened at a store in 1851, federal officials requested that they change the name, which had already been used by another jurisdiction.
Round Rock would be the new name, the store owner, Thomas C. Oatts, told them. He did it in reference to the roundish rock in Brushy Creek where he and Harrell loved to sit and cast lines for fish. The new name became official on Aug. 24, 1854, according to the city’s website.
You can see the Harrell family cemetery to this day from the intersection of Bowman Road and I-35.
A Pioneering Settler
Harrell played a huge role in the area’s history.
After becoming one of Austin’s first settlers, Jacob and his brother, James, went on to own a livery stable, butcher pen and blacksmith shop.
Then came a pivotal moment on a chilly winter day in 1837.
General Mirabeau B. Lamar came through the area with a hunting party that was tracking buffalo. They stopped at Harrell’s cabin to spend the night. Early the next morning, Harrell’s son woke up the general and his party with big news: a herd of buffalo had been spotted in a prairie nearby.
Lamar’s party killed a lot of buffalo and decided to stay with Harrell another night.
It was critical. Lamar apparently had enough time to look around and decided the area should be the capital of Texas.
A couple years later, the state bought 7,735 acres of land from Harrell and several others for about $21,000. And Waterloo became Austin — as in Stephen F. Austin.
Harrell’s role didn’t end there. His surveying skills were used by city planners to plat a road from Bastrop County to the capitol and another road to San Marcos.
Soon, he was serving in political capacities. He sat on a Grand Jury, became a city alderman in 1840 and mayor in 1847.
But that fishing hole on Brushy Creek held a special place.
He had first visited the area in the 1830s looking for a location suitable for growing corn. Instead, he found his lifelong favorite fishing hole – a special place that would later become one of the nation’s fastest growing cities, forever tied to its larger neighbor to the south.
Rapid Growth Since 1970
Round Rock remained a small town, with fewer than 2,000 residents, until the late 1960s when growth began. The 1970s and 1980s saw huge expansion, with the population ballooning to 12,740 by 1980 and 30,923 by 1990. That spiked to 100,610 by 2010.
Census figures in 2012 showed Round Rock was the second fastest-growing city of all cities with a population of at least 100,000 in the nation (Learn more here). Austin, meanwhile, ranked third.