Barton Springs is Austin’s premier natural landmark and is touted by many as the “soul” of Austin. Emanating from an underground aquifer into a pool that is 1/8 of mile in length, the Springs have played a central role in this geographic region for thousands of year. The Springs are a place of sustenance and scientific inquiry, a place of ritual and recreation.
The history of the Springs spans the ages, from archaeological digs that reveal clues about prehistoric life at the Springs some 10,000 years ago, to early pioneer accounts of the wonders and danger of Austin in the early 1800’s. The mid-1880’s through the early 1900’s is a time of active industry around the Springs, including mills, fish hatcheries and quarrying activities. In the 1930’s, the Springs’ surroundings were greatly reconfigured ushering in the ‘Rocksitters’ era when Barton Springs was Austin’s playground and a meeting place for intellectuals and common folk alike. This is also a period of racial segregation. The compelling story of the 1960 swim-ins that re-integrated the pool and led to the integration of recreational facilities in Austin is another story of this period.
The 1970’s saw urban development and declining water quality, raising concerns about the future of the Springs. Citizens organized to protect the Springs, setting aside green space and passing the Save Our Springs ordinance in 1990. During this time, the Barton Springs salamander was listed as an endangered species and scientists have worked since then to understand the Springs aquatic ecosystem in an effort to protect it.