History of Austin Real Estate: Hyde Park – Lunatic Asylum, Luxury Suburb, Working Class Neighborhood

Image Source: The Portal to Texas History

Big oak trees shade the streets. College students whiz by on single-speed bikes. And families rake up the leaves in the yard.

Today’s Hyde Park is a blend of students, families and up-and-comers. We think of it as central — so close to the University of Texas and downtown without quite being part of either. It’s packed with early 1900s bungalows and apartments, making it one of the more densely populated parts of the city.

But there was a time when it was a mostly detached suburb — Austin’s first suburb, in fact. It was an outlying neighborhood for the well-to-do where one could enjoy a sizable plot of land, build a mansion and ride a streetcar downtown if necessary.

That was the late 1800s. Austin had experienced its first population boom — growing from 629 people to 3,494 between 1850 and 1860. The city was growing on all sides, but predominantly to the north.

The state built the Texas State Lunatic Asylum (renamed the Austin State Hospital in 1925) near southwest of Guadalupe and 45th Street in 1857, creating the first big employer in the area.  (It remains in service today, each year helping more than 4,000 patients with acute psychiatric illness from the 38-county Central Texas area.)

Congress Avenue got gas street lights in 1874 and The University of Texas started being built in the 1880s, setting the stage for northward growth.

Hyde Park is generally credited as being Austin’s first suburb, although Fairview Park, just south east of Congress Avenue and the Colorado River was established in 1886, a few years before Hyde Park, according to historic documents.

The land that is now Hyde Park has traded hands many times. But its most pivotal sale happened on May 13, 1890 when Monroe Martin Shipe and his wife, Adele, of Abilene, Kan. bought a 206.25-acre tract for $70,000. Then they turned it over to the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Land and Town Co. on December 8, 1890 for $180,000, according to a National Register of Historic Places document.

A month later the company filed the Hyde Park Addition with the Travis County Clerk.

Marketing Hyde Park, Getting Streetcar Service

It’s hard to imagine Hyde Park needing much marketing these days — it’s among the most desirable neighborhoods in Austin. But Monroe Martin Shipe had to hustle to attract people to his new real estate development.

Across America, suburbs were beginning to develop as industrialized manufacturing drew more people to cities. The rise of the middle-class fueled the growth of suburbs and a new form of businessman — the residential real estate developer.

Shipe, who was politically connected and had the financial wherewithal, was just the type of person to pioneer Austin’s first suburban real estate development.

He sought to give residents municipal services in the new Hyde Park development, including mail delivery, street lighting, sewer systems and community resources, such as grocery stores, churches and schools.

A push to convert the mule-car line into an electric streetcar system started in the late 1880s. When it failed, Shipe stepped up. He got the rights to operate an electric streetcar system. It was running by 1891, providing the critical transportation to his real estate development and the asylum.

Shipe resigned as president of the Austin Rapid Transit Railway Co. and focused on promoting Hyde Park as “the Pride of Austin.”

“The original intent of Shipe and the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Land and Town Co. appears to have been the development of an affluent suburb with large, majestic residences,” the National Register of Historic Places document says. “Local newspaper advertisements in 1892 touted Hyde Park as ‘the Pride of Austin’ and encouraged people to invest there as ‘its property will always command a good price because it will be the fashionable part of the wealthiest and most aristocratic city in the land.’ Moreover, the location of noted sculptress Elisabet Ney’s residence and studio in the northeast section was expected to ‘make that part of Hyde Park especially attractive to the scholar and lover of art.’”