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Michael Barnes

Tale of Two Towns: Montopolis

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Read more of this story about Montopolis here.

Bit by bit, historians add to history. They exchange findings. And, along the way, they make new friends.

And look at what Richard Denney and Lanny Ottosen, two history buffs working separately, found: Two burgs dubbed Montopolis. One on each side of the Colorado River.

In an American-Statesman article published Jan. 31, 2015, I described a personal tour of today’s Montopolis neighborhood on a muddy, chilly day. My intrepid guide was Fred McGhee, author of “Austin’s Montopolis Neighborhood.” As we zoomed around the semirural district in Southeast Austin by car and on foot, McGhee, a noted activist who trained as a marine archaeologist, pointed out remnants of the old settlement’s past.

Cropped-TX_Austin_123727_1897_125000_geoWe talked about how the town, which antedates Austin, had been proposed by pioneer Jesse Cornelius Tannehill as a possible alternative location for the Republic of Texas capital. McGhee also recounted the area’s frequent floods and damaged bridges; the church and a cemetery established by freed slaves at Burditt’s Prairie; and the wrenching changes that accompanied each new wave of development in the area.

Just last month, a mobile home park that McGhee and I had visited was slated for redevelopment.

“Austin began annexing Montopolis in 1952,” the story concluded, “and it has been something of a political, cultural and social hot potato ever since, the site of pitched battles over affordable housing, fair education and equitable amenities.”

Almost as soon as the article was published, Denney and Ottosen began sharing their fresh findings about Montopolis with me. Denney — who writes a blog under the pen name Dick O’Dennehy — recently posted a long, immaculately sourced version of the early Montopolis years. Meanwhile, Ottosen shared with me some of his insights from research for a book on southeastern Travis County.

Among their conclusions: Montopolis today sits on high bluff above the south side of the Colorado River, but in fact, it almost assuredly was originally laid out on Tannehill’s land on the north shore. …

And in “Indelible Austin” news 

JacketMarch public appearances for my book of Statesman history columns.

March 22: Texas Outdoor Woman Network at NW Recreation Center

March 23: Condo Book Club at the 360 Tower

March 26: Bouldin Neighborhood Book Party at private residence

March 30: Metropolitan Breakfast Club at the UT Club

Current places to find “Indelible Austin” — BookPeople, Sue Patrick, University CoOp, South Congress Books, Austin History Center, Texas State Capitol, Bullock Texas History Museum, Capitol Visitors Center, Tarrytown Pharmacy, Blue Willow Books (Houston). Coming soon: Barnes & Noble.