Index to all pages:

Barton Springs


Barton Springs are located in Austin's Zilker Park not far from the UT campus. Don't ever try to tell someone in Austin that Barton Springs is a relatively minor Edwards Aquifer water feature!  Austinites love and revere Barton Springs like no other spot.

On the far bank is Main Spring, which fills a swimming hole that Austinites regard as sacred. Here, pilgrims submit to the embrace of these cool aquamarine waters. Notice what's missing is the pilgrims. On this day in the early 1990s, the pool was closed and drained because of water quality concerns. But it did afford an opportunity to see how the water emerges along bedding planes in the limestone layers. Pollution and pool closures at Barton Springs serve as a warning for all Edwards Aquifer users.

There are four main spring orifices that are the only known habitat for the Barton Springs Salamander and the Austin Blind Salamander, two federally listed endangered species.  These four springs are the primary discharge point for the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer.  Main Spring, also known as Parthenia Spring, feeds the 900' long swimming pool. There is a dam at each end of the pool; the upper dam directs flow from Upper Spring and Barton Creek into a bypass culvert so that stormwater flows do not enter the swimming area.  Old Mill Spring, sometimes called Walsh or Zenobia Spring, is just south of Barton Creek about 450' below the lower dam and is surrounded by a round limestone enclosure built by the Works Progress Administration.  Upper Spring occurs about 1,200' above the swimming pool. The fourth spring, Eliza Spring, is adjacent to the swimming pool and also surrounded by a WPA structure, a deep concrete ampitheatre that used to be a swimming hole but is now reserved for the salamanders.

It has long been accepted that a groundwater divide separates this portion of the Edwards Aquifer from the central (San Antonio) portion and the large springs in San Marcos, New Braunfels, and San Antonio. But in April 2010 a study commissioned by the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority found that groundwater level data indicates the groundwater divide dissipates and no longer hydrologically separates the two segments during major droughts and current levels of pumping. As a result, there is potential for some groundwater to bypass San Marcos Springs and flow toward Barton Springs during major droughts. The groundwater divide appears to be influenced by recharge along Onion Creek and the Blanco River and is vulnerable to extended periods of little or no recharge and extensive pumping. See the complete study.

Up until about the mid 1990s, Austin was synonymous with Barton Springs. Since then, many thousands of acres in the Barton Springs segment have been subject to intense development and the future water quality of the Springs seems dim. Hundreds of new young hipsters arrive every day, drawn by Austin's progressive culture and music scene and relatively low cost of living. In decades prior to that, many came for Austin's natural beauty, but that is mostly gone now. Most cities lose some of their character when development booms, yet it is surely safe to say that Austin has lost far more than most.



Barton Springs, 2008

The highly revered swimming hole at Barton Springs in July 2008.


A view from the lower dam

Looking toward Main Spring from the lower end of the 900' long swimming pool.

For Barton Springs, about 85% of Aquifer recharge comes from six major surface streams that cross the recharge zone:  Barton Creek, Onion Creek, Slaughter Creek, Bear Creek, Little Bear Creek, and Williamson Creek (Slade, Dorsey, and Stewart, 1986).  During storm events, sinkholes and fractures in the stream bed can quickly provide large volumes of water to recharge.  Dye-tracing studies have found that several preferential ground-water flow paths lead to the Springs and that the four springs do not all receive water from the same flow paths (BSEACD, 2003 and Hunt, Smith, Beery, Johns, and Hauwert, 2006).  Dye-tracing studies have also revealed that underground flow velocities toward the Springs are highly variable and can be quite rapid, up to six miles per day (Hauwert, Samson, Johns, and Aley, 2004).  Swimmers notice that waters in the pool can become quite cloudy and turbid after rain events, especially when low flow conditions prevailed before the rain. The theory about why this occurs is shown below:

The limestone rock matrix can store a lot of water, but water does not move through it very fast. When the water table is high, the conduits that feed the Springs are already full, so some of the new water entering is dispersed into the matrix. Water quality at the Springs might not change very much.

During low flow conditions when the conduits and the surrounding matrix are dewatered because the water table is low, new recharge water entering from the surface can move very quickly through the conduits toward the Springs. The water at the Springs may become cloudy and turbid.

In January 2003 the pool was closed for 90 days for environmental testing after the Austin American-Statesman reported that high levels of arsenic and seven benzene-based compounds were found in the pool and upstream on a hillside overlooking Barton Creek.  It was suggested that a possible source of the contamination was wastes dumped from nearby coal gasification plants that produced fuel for city lighting from the 1870s to 1928.  Subsequently, it was determined the contaminant levels do not pose a threat and are from urbanization, not a waste dump.  Retired hydrologist Raymond M. Slade, Jr., who supervised and authored many scientific studies on Barton Springs during his working career, prepared a detailed professional opinion on the matter and you can read it here. Mr. Slade concluded that although the water quality of Barton Springs is still well within swimming criteria, it is likely that uncontrolled urbanization in the watersheds feeding the Springs will eventually cause Barton Springs to be degraded to the extent that it must be permanently closed to swimming.

In 2006, the United States Geological Survey published a Scientific Investigations Report that summarized water quality sampling performed from 2003 to 2005.  Barton Springs was found to be affected by persistent low concentrations of atrazine (an herbicide), chloroform (a by-product of drinking water disinfection), and tetrachloroethane (a solvent).  Concentrations peaked 1-2 days after storm events, and Upper Spring was found to be more contaminated and influenced by a contributing flow path that is separate from those leading to the other springs under all but stormflow conditions.  The geochemical response at the Springs after storm events led the authors to conclude that when there is flow in the recharge streams, water directly enters conduits and is transported straight to the Springs.  When there is no flow in recharge streams, water drains from the surrounding limestone matrix into the conduits that feed the Springs. You can get the report from the USGS website or right here

Citizens have been fighting for decades against insensitive development that threatens Barton Springs. In the 1990s, residents overwhelmingly passed a Save Our Springs ordinance that would have implemented strict development controls. It was subsequently nullified by the state legislature, which passed a law allowing any development plat already on file to be completed without regard to the new controls.

Hydrologists have been warning about diminishing flows and water quality at Barton Springs for many years. In 1983, Max Woodfin highlighted Barton Springs in one part a 13-part series surveying the use - and abuse - of water in different parts of the state. From the Austin American-Statesman, April 30, 1983.

In 2008, the fight to preserve Barton Springs was the subject of The Unforseen, a documentary co-produced by Robert Redford, who learned to swim there as a child.   The movie uses the struggle over development in the Barton Creek watershed to illustrate the many clashes between private property rights and resource protection that are occurring across the country.  The film drew great reviews, but some developers said it went too far and portays them unfairly.  Environmentalists said the movie is not hard enough on those who would develop lands at the expense of common resources like Barton Springs.


Robert Redford at Barton Springs talking about environmental stewardship, from The Unforseen. It's available on Amazon. You should get it.

In May of 2011 the United States Geological Survey published a fact sheet that summarized its fundings on increasing nitrate concentrations in Barton Springs. Nitrates are a nutrient that can cause blooms of algae when present in excessive concentrations. When the algae dies and decomposes, dissolved oxygen in the water is used and levels of oxygen can become so low that fish and other organisms in the aquatic ecosystem cannot survive. The USGS found that nitrate concentrations in Barton Springs and the five streams that provide most of its recharge were much higher from 2008-2010 than before 2008. It also found that biogenic nitrogen from human wastes is the probable source. On Onion Creek, nitrate levels were six to 10 times higher than measured previously. Since 2001, the entire Barton Springs contributing zone has undergone tremendous development, and the number of septic tanks and discharges of wastes have exploded. You can get the fact sheet here.

Daily discharge measurements since 1978 show that flows from Barton Springs are rarely less than 10 million gallons per day and rarely exceed 80. Flows can vary widely depending on recent weather conditions and can drop rather quickly when dry conditions prevail. The USGS considers these records to be of poor quality, because the operation of the swimming pool can significantly effect the level seen by the water-stage recorder. As with all USGS stations, flow is determined by developing a relationship between water level and discharge. Since the pool is periodically drained for cleaning, there are times when the gage height is not in direct relation to discharge. Some of the precipitous drops and sudden peaks in the chart reflect pool operations, not changes in flow rate. For the latest real-time measurements, visit the USGS page for Barton Springs. For additional information on Barton Springs visit the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District.

 


New Endangered Species Listings

On August 22, 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list four central Texas salamanders as endangered, the Austin Blind Salamander, Jollyville Plateau Salamander, Georgetown Salamander, and the Salado Salamander. It also proposed to designate 5,983 acres of critical habitat in 52 units in Bell, Travis and Williamson counties. Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act that identifies geographic areas containing features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species, and which may require special management considerations or protection

Based upon information received during the first 60-day comment period, in January of 2013 the Service proposed to revise the proposed critical habitat units and acreage. In addition, the revised proposal includes an amended Required Determinations section, an amended Exclusions section and the availability of a refined Impervious Cover Analysis.

The current proposal revises the proposed critical habitat for both the Georgetown Salamander and the Jollyville Salamander. The revised rule includes an additional 474 acres of proposed critical habitat for the Jollyville Salamander; however, the numbers of critical habitat units for the Jollyville Salamander are reduced from 33 to 30. Critical habitat revisions for the Georgetown Salamander include adjustments to the critical habitat boundaries which does not change the overall proposed acreage. In total, this rule proposes to designate 6,457 acres (2,613 hectares) of critical habitat in 49 units.

When specifying an area as critical habitat, the Endangered Species Act requires the Service to consider economic and other relevant impacts of the designation. If the benefits of excluding an area outweigh the benefits of designating it, the Secretary of the Interior may exclude an area from critical habitat, unless that would jeopardize the existence of a threatened or endangered species.

So the Service also released a Draft Economic Analysis that quantifies economic impacts of the four central Texas salamanders conservation efforts associated with these categories of activity: development, water management activities, transportation projects, utility projects, mining and livestock grazing.

The Draft Economic Analysis estimated impacts for development, transportation, mining and species and habitat management activities. No impacts are forecasted for water management activities, utility projects and livestock grazing activities. Total present value impacts anticipated to result from the critical habitat designation of all units for the four central Texas salamanders were deemed to be approximately $29 million over 23 years. All incremental costs are administrative in nature and result from the consideration of adverse modification in section 7 consultations and re-initiation of consultations for existing management plans.

The Service also reopened the public comment period on the proposed listings and the revised critical habitat proposal and accepted public comments through March 11, 2013. You can get the draft analyses below:


Draft Economic Analysis Question and Answer Sheet


Draft Economic Analysis

In August of 2013, two of the species were listed: The Austin Blind Salamander was listed as endangered, and the Jollyville Plateau Salamander as threatened. The Austin Blind Salamander is found only in and around the Barton Springs pool, and counts have never exceeded 1,000 individuals, but the listing was not expected to force closure of the pool. The city will be required to keep a Habitat Conservation Plan on file with the Fish and Wildlife Service that protects both the Austin Blind Salamander and the previously listed Barton Springs Salamander. The Service also announced the other two species being considered for listing would be studied for another six months before a decision would be made.

In February of 2014, it announced they would be listed as threatened, not endangered. Austin Field Office supervisor Adam Zerrenner said "The service's decision to list these species reflects the best available science and a careful evaluation of the comments received from the public." The Fish and Wildlife Service also proposed a special rule for the Georgetown Salamander that “would allow development activities to continue if they are in compliance with ordinances adopted in December by Williamson County and the City of Georgetown to protect water quality. These ordinances include steps to reduce contamination from spills and establishment of buffer zones around the species' habitat.”


A Brief Barton Springs History

As with all the Edwards Aquifer springs, Barton Springs has a record of human history stretching back at least 10,000 years. It is likely that Zilker Park contains layer upon layer of cultural artifacts. In San Antonio's Brackenridge Park where the San Antonio Springs are located, excavations in 2011 suggested the entire Park is one large archaeological site, and such is probably the case at Zilker Park too. At Brackenridge, cultural artifacts lie below the surface in just about any location, beginning at a depth of about 18 inches.

Archaeologists suspect that a megadrought which occurred between 3,000 and 6,000 years ago forced tribes that had previously inhabited the trans-Pecos region to make greater utilization of the reliable water sources along the Texas "Spring Line" - the Balcones Escarpment corridor that parallels I-35 and contains most of the major Edwards springs, including Comal Springs and San Marcos Springs (Tomka, 2011).


Barton Springs, circa 1870

Photo from the Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

One of the earliest known photographs of Barton Springs, from around 1870.

The earliest known excavations along Barton Creek were conducted in 1929 at Barton Springs by J. E. Pierce of the University of Texas at Austin (Pipkin and Frech, 1993). In a letter to a colleague, Pierce wrote:

Many interesting artifacts were found and many evidences of relatively settled village life, such as corn cullture (probably acorn) implied by grinding stones, and pot shard (small in quanity), but the great quantities of river silt thrown down from time to time by the great flood necessitates the moving of much material. This results in scanty returns from labor.

Particularly fine specimens of blades were found at Barton Springs including a curved skinning knife. One plaque of slate, probably from the Ozark mountains, is intricately carved with figurines and notched in a way indicating the keeping of records. On the whole, this place, as was to be expected of a site by such a spring and trees, gave evidence of more prolonged and more continuous occupation than any place I have yet investigated with this fund. The magnificent collection of ceremonial flint axe blades which I obtained some years ago from the river bank in South Austin belongs to such evidence.

The numerous entradas, or formal expeditions, made by Spanish explorers between 1709 and 1722 undoubtedly encountered the ancient thoroughfares that cross-crossed the Texas landscape. These were made by migratory herd animals and the native Americans that pursued them. An old Comanche Indian trail from Bandera county to Nacogdoches passed Barton Springs (Brune, 1981). In 1730, Spanish missionaries chose a site for a mission near present day Zilker Park, but it was occupied for less than a year before the friars moved on to the previously established missions in San Antonio. Its exact location has never been determined.

In 1821, the territory came under the control of the Mexican government, which opened up the land to colonization by foreign immigrants. Anglo pioneers began to pour into the region, acting on the Mexican government's promise of 177 acres of farmland and an additional league (4,428 acres) for each family.

In 1837, William Barton and his family settled at the springs that would later bear his name. At the time, his nearest neighbor was Reuben Hornsby, eleven miles away at Hornsby's Bend. Barton had settled nearly 10 years earlier with Stephen F. Austin's colony in Bastrop, but when another family moved within earshot, Barton decided to pull up stakes and move upriver to a more private spot (Pipkin and Frech, 1993). Barton built a cabin on the bluff overlooking the present day swimming pool, and named the three springs grouped near his cabin after his daughters, Parthenia, Eliza, and Zenobia (the names never stuck, except for Eliza).

If Barton sought solitude, he picked the wrong place, because others had designs on the sleepy little town of Waterloo, which lay just across the river. The Republic of Texas had achieved independence a year earlier (remember the Alamo?) and it soon began a search for a new capital city. A survey committee picked the town of Waterloo. In a letter to Mirabeau B. Lamar, the selection committee praised nearby Spring Creek, which afforded "the greatest and most convenient flow of water to be found in the Republic." Barton's springs began to supply the new city, and in December 1839 he agreed to "give possession of stream of water from my Big Spring" to furnish power for a sawmill. He died four months later, before the mill was built.


Barton Springs Mill, circa 1880s
 
Bridge at Barton Creek, circa 1895
 

A flour mill three stories high was built in 1879 on the south side of Barton Creek near where the current swimming pool's lower dam is located.

Photo from the Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

 

This bridge built in 1894 crossed Barton Creek near where the current swimming's pool upper dam is located. It was destroyed by floods in 1900.

Photo from the Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

The Springs became a popular site for picnicking, fishing, and swimming, and they were also the primary source of water for many local families. The property changed hands several times, first to Captain John J. Grumbles in 1855, then to John Rabb in 1860, and then to Jacob Grist, who purchased separate portions in 1866 and 1889. In 1901, Andrew Jackson Zilker purchased Barton Springs and 350 acres surrounding them. When droughts ravaged central Texas between 1910 and 1917, the practical need for drinking water gained attention from city leaders, and a military camp proposed for Austin at the time also stipulated a guaranteed water supply. Barton was a staunch advocate of manual-skills education, and he gave the city the tract containing Barton Springs on the condition the city would give $100,000 to the Austin School District earmarked for manual training at Austin High School. Before he died in 1934, he granted additional acreage that is now Zilker Park to the city, once again in return for funds dedicated to manual training (Pipkin and Frech, 1993).

During World War I, army troops were stationed in Zilker Park and they used Barton Springs as a bathing area. Large baptismal ceremonies attended by hundreds were frequent events. There was no dam creating a pool as exists today, and Barton Springs lifeguard Ed Barlow reports that in the early 20s, they would pile up rocks each spring and use moss to plug the holes, which brought the water up so people could swim (Barlow, 1993). In 1922 the Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club built a permanent bath house at a cost of $8,000. They began charging 10 cents, but you could easily slip in on the other side of the pool without paying (Kooch, 1993). That same year, construction started on the Barton Springs dam and an enlarged pool.


Barton Springs rock dam
 
Barton Springs baptism, 1925
 

Rock dam built at Barton Springs by lifeguard Ed Barlow and other swimmers.

Photo from the Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

 

A baptismal ceremony attended by hundreds at Barton Springs in 1925.

Photo from the Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

In 1928 the firm of Koch and Fowler produced a plan for the city of Austin that advised "playgrounds and recreation facilities are as much a necessity to the health and happiness of people as are its schools, sewer systems, water supply, pavements, and drainage." The next year, a $30,000 improvement project was proposed. On September 23rd the Austin Statesman wrote:

Proposing to spend $30,000 this fall on improving and enlarging Barton Springs, City Manager Adam R. Johnson this morning outlines his dream of a greater recreation center.

The pool would be extended west to the city property line which is near the remnants of the old bridge which washed away years ago. General deepening of the pool and levelling out of all possible danger spots is one of the major jobs to be accomplished.

Around the pool, an ornamental walk would be placed. The circumference of the swimming pool would be about 2500 feet.

A 50-foot-wide beach on the north side of the pool extending the entire length would be placed which would provide water waist deep for non-expert swimmers. Deep water would be on the opposite side where one low and two high diving boards would be placed.

By 1936, the array of activities available in Zilker Park included swimming, horse-back riding, camping, tennis, shooting, boating, and dancing. Water pageants and music events were held throughout the spring and summer. Almost every day, an intellectual circle led by two legendary Texas writers, naturalist Roy Bedichek and folklorist J. Frank Dobie, would meet for discussion and contemplation at the limestone shelf next to the diving boards. They were occasionally joined by historian Walter Prescott Webb. This became known as The Rocksitters Era, and the rock became variously known as the Philosopher's Rock or Bedicheck's Rock.


The Philosopher's Rock

In 1994, sculptor Glenna Goodacre completed this piece, which stands near the bath house entrance. A plaque next to it displays a quote from Walter Prescott Webb. Another plaque near the base explains:

Dobie, Bedichek, and Webb strove to create a vibrant and distinctive intellectual style in Texas, and their influence reached far beyond the state. This monument has been erected to celebrate their friendship, their enlightened spirit, and their love for Barton Springs.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s, Barton Springs remained an essential destination for many Austin residents. Austin and Barton Springs were Texas' best kept secret. It was a lovely place that seemed to have found the right balance between protection of natural resources and development. It was largely taken for granted that Barton Springs would always be there.

But in January of 1961, stunned Austinites woke up one morning to learn that Austin's natural beauty had suffered a fatal catastrophe, a major fish kill in Town Lake. Over the next three weeks, a wave of poisonous substances moved downstram and killed almost every fish in the Colorado River between Austin and the Texas coast. It was found that a chemical plant had been routinely disposing of insecticides like DDT and chlordane into a storm sewer for over 10 years.  The kill was triggered when high-pressure flushing of the storm sewers released a mass of toxins. Traces of chemicals can still be found in the sediments of Town Lake to this day. In 1962 this event was detailed by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, the book that started the modern environmental movement.

In 1970, responding to the first threats of major construction on Barton Creek, the Austin Environmental Council filed a class-action suit seeking to declare Barton Creek a navigable waterway open to the public for recreational uses. In a time before the Clean Water Act, such a suit was one of the only tools available to preserve creeks. Around the same time, several landowners began negotiations to sell property along Barton Creek either to the city or to developers. The city turned down an offer to buy the property where apartments loom over Barton Springs today, and it also passed on many golden opportunities to purchase thousands of acres upstream in the Barton Creek watershed that is now densely developed.

Today, Austin's natural beauty is a shadow of its former self, and the future of Barton Springs seems dim. Texas is struggling to find the right balance between protection of common resources and private property rights, and currently the pendelum is swinging strongly in favor of landowners, not residents.


Some Barton Springs photos


Peering into the depths of Main Spring

A view into the natural limestone depths from which Main Spring emerges.


Upper portion of the pool

The upper dam is visible in this view of the upstream portion of the swimming pool. The dam diverts stormwater flows around the pool.


Barton Creek below the swimming pool

This section of Barton Creek just below the swimming pool is a favorite dog park. Notice the discharge of Main Spring from the center of the dam.


Discharge of Main Spring and Upper Spring

When this photo was taken in the early 1990s, the lower dam was being rebuilt and all the flow from Main Spring was being routed through this gate, which is normally the bypass channel for Upper Spring and Barton Creek. So this represents the discharge of both Main Spring and Upper Spring. Below the inner tube, note the grasping hands of a swimmer submerged and prone in the cool discharge.


Eliza Spring ampitheatre 

Built by Andrew Zilker in the early 1900s and located on the banks next to the main swimming hole pictured above. It used to be a swimming pool but is now reserved for salamanders and other native aquatic plants and animals. Photo taken around 1991.


Eliza Spring, 2008

A view of Eliza Spring taken in July of 2008.


Old Mill Spring, 2012

The Old Mill Spring in March of 2012.


Old Mill Spring discharge, 2012

Discharge of Old Mill Spring to Barton Creek in March of 2012.


Upper Spring

Upper Spring bursts from the bed of Barton Creek about 1,200 feet above the swimming pool. The early Texas explorers described most of the Edwards springs as fountains, gushing several feet above the bed of the creeks and rivers they created. As far as I know, this is the only remaining Edwards spring that still has the appearance of a fountain. All the rest have been walled in, plugged up, or covered by lakes. Many thousands of people visit Barton Springs every weekend, but only a handful make the trek through the woods to visit Upper Spring. Photo taken April 2012.


Barton Springs nude sunbathing

The debate about nude or partially nude sunbathing at Barton Springs proves there is nothing new the sun. In 1933 the Austin city council had long discussions about how to curb "Bathing Suit Brevity." In 1977 the San Antonio Light reported that people were "shocked and appalled" at the sight of topless bathers. "Matter of fact, some folks are driving 200 miles to be shocked and appalled by the sight." In 2002 a rather prudish columnist for the Austin American-Statesman suggested Austinites should demand an ordinance banning topless female sunbathing, thereby sparking a revivalist topless movement. Sorry fellas, there's no nudity on this site, you'll have to settle for these cutie-pie dogs competing for a bikini top.


Barton Creek Bridge Abutment

Just above the swimming pool one of the abutments of the arched bridge built in 1894 still stands.


Historical marker at Barton Springs

Part of it says:

Clear and icy, these springs over the years have drawn Indians, pioneers, and tourists to this spot. The waters are brought from limestone strata to the surface by the Balcones Fault, which bisects central Texas. Average flow is 27,000,000 gallons per day.

 


Postcards from Barton Springs

Compared to other Edwards springs like San Pedro and San Marcos, there are not too many Barton Springs postcards out there.


Barton Springs circa 1910

A really fabulous Sauter & Kuehne card mailed in 1910. This appears to be Old Mill Spring. On the back Miss Paula Tucker wrote to Nita:

Have been here two weeks. It is so warm here that one can scarcely live.


Barton Springs, circa 1915-1930

A very rare Real Photo postcard of the Barton Springs pool. Kodak introduced the Real Photo postcard in 1906, and for the first time anyone could have cards made of any photo they took. They were usually produced in very limited numbers. Judging from the white border around the edge, this card can be roughly dated to between 1915 and 1930. The "white border" style of card was predominant during those years and faded out in the early 30s, when linen cards printed to the edge became the predominant style.

A new bath house at the Springs was completed in 1922. It was a two-story pavillion with a dance hall upstairs and dressing rooms downstairs, and people recall it as quite romantic, with wood paneling and open-air screens (texasescapes.com, 2010). The first bath house was just four walls open to the sky and is reported to have been in use as early as 1884.


Bath House and pool, 1924

A Curt Teich card produced in 1924 showing the new bath house. This card was mailed back home to Celina, Texas in January of 1925 by newly elected legislator Samuel E. Bateman. Mr. Bateman served three terms in the Texas House of Representatives beginning in 1925. He wrote:

The members who have been here before tell me I got some good Committee appointments by the Speaker Mr. Satterwhite this afternoon. They say I will have plenty of work to do.

The committee assignments that Mr. Bateman received that year were for Agriculture, Liquor Traffic, Public Lands and Buildings, and Revenue and Taxation.


Bath House and pool, 1931

A hand-colored card from 1931 showing the second bath house. It probably uses an image from around 1924, as many elements of the trees are identical to the earlier card above this one. The card was published by Jordan Co. of Austin, which also took the photo.


Bath House and pool, circa 1931

A similar view from about the same time period as the card above, published by the Abe Frank Cigar Company of Austin, Texas.


Barton Springs, 1932

A nice Art-Colortone card made by Curt Teich. The white border on linen stock represents a transition between the two styles. Card collectors have compiled a guide for dating Teich cards, and this one was produced in 1932. The caption on the back says:

Austin is justly proud of this beautiful municipal resort with artistic landscaping, pavilion and a swimming pool fed by springs that flow over 12,000,000 gallons of pure, crystal clear water daily.


Barton Springs Bathing Beach, circa 1930s

In this card, the Raab family house is visible on the bluff overlooking the Springs. Another structure in front of the house may be an earlier cabin that is known to have stood in front of the Raab house.


Barton Springs Bathing Resort, 1940

This Curt Teich card from 1940 shows the second bath house and a nice view of the upper pool.


Barton Springs bath house, 1947

The third and current version of the bath house is this one completed in 1947. I am dating the card to 1947 because the caption on the back mentions the bath house as being new.


Don Bartels card, circa 1954

An Ektachrome image by Don Bartels, mailed in 1954. The back caption says:

Barton Springs, one of the most beautiful recreation centers found anywhere in Texas. Austin is especially recognized for its dozens of recreational centers made possible by its civic minded citizens.


Austin skyline from Barton Springs, 1960s

Do you remember when the Capitol was the tallest building in Austin? In the 60s and 70s the view of downtown Austin from Barton Springs was very different from today...