Before William Sydney Porter, aka O. Henry wrote his famous short story “The Gift of the Magi,” he lived for a few years in Austin, Texas. The tiny house he rented survives as a museum. It’s tucked in right next to the giant Hilton Austin in the center of town and this property looks like it would have great potential to become a parking lot or fast food joint, and in fact it barely missed the wrecking ball back in the 1930s.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post on authors’ homes, the places where famous authors lived are often a disappointment compared to the places they describe in their books. And, a huge modern building right next door doesn’t help you envision the author’s life as it was in the 1800s. Nonetheless, if you’re in Austin, you should pay a call at Porter’s house, if only to get a taste of how people lived at the time. The price is right, too. It’s free, but please make a donation when you leave.
While he resided here (1893 to 1895), Porter made his living drawing maps for the General Land Office and publishing a paper called the Rolling Stone (quite different from the current publication of that name). Before you go, be sure to read a couple of his most famous stories–“The Gift of the Magi” or “The Ransom of Red Chief.”
Ah, the symbolism. If Porter could see his tiny home now, wedged in next to the giant hotel, I’m sure he would find inspiration for another story.
Though the South by Southwest music, film and interactive fest has dominated Austin lately, the city has has a ton to offer year-round including great food, shopping, and music coming out of every doorway on 6th Street. In addition, if you have an extra day on your visit to Austin, you’ll find plenty to see, do and eat in the Hill Country west of Austin. It offers a chance to see the Texas countryside, with stunning wildflowers in spring, and even a few longhorn cattle.
Head first to Fredericksburg, a charming town that German settlers founded back in the mid-1800s. A trip down Main Street there is like a walk back into the old west, lined with historic limestone buildings, but with cute shops that cater to tourists on the inside. If it’s hot, you’ll find plenty of beer gardens and craft beer to slake your thirst.
Turn back in the direction of Austin, and pay a visit at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Ranch, home of our 36thPresident, and known as the Texas White House during his presidency. Be sure to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream orBilly Lee Brammer’s, The Gay Place which is about Texas politics and Lyndon Johnson to get the most out of your visit here. The ranch is now operated by the National Park Service. You can tour both an historic Texas farm and the Texas White House, circa 1968. It’s a great way to get off the road and see what a Texas ranch looks like, get a look at the lovely Pedernales River, and see the ranch house as it was, right down to the clothes in the closets.
End your day with a stop in Driftwood at the legendary rib joint and meat-lovers heaven, the Salt Lick. (Cash only and B.Y.O.B. or purchase a beer and wine a the wine bar next door.)