The intersection at 6th Street and Congress Avenue has long been the crossroads of downtown Austin. Six blocks to the north is the Texas State Capitol building. Six blocks south is Lady Bird Lake, the last of the Highland Lakes flood control project, which has enabled Austin to grow along its banks. Nearby, the blocks are flanked by skyscrapers that have recently transformed the city’s skyline.
But one block east, at the corner of 6th and Brazos – the west end of the city’s famous party strip that could rival New Orleans’ Bourbon Street or Nashville’s Lower Broadway – the Driskill Hotel has stood regally for over 130 years.
In 1884, cattle baron and local civic leader Colonel Jesse Driskill purchased a city block in Central Austin for $7,500 as the site for what he called his “Hotel of Dreams.” His goal was to construct a modern hotel to improve the city’s national reputation. “It was built to rival New York City, St. Louis, Chicago … some of those larger cities,” explains Mark Bedford, the Driskill’s current Director of Operations.
Opened in 1886, the four-story hotel was built for $400,000 (roughly $92 million today), a vast sum at the time. With its grand Southern style reflected in ornate columns and a large, open lobby, the Driskill was hailed as the “Finest Hotel South of St. Louis” and featured, among other luxuries, 12 rooms, each with its own attached bath, which was unheard of at the time. In January 1887, the hotel hosted the inaugural ball for the newly elected Texas Governor, Sul Ross.