Violet Crown: the Origin of the Name

If you’ve lived in Austin for any period of time, you have no doubt heard the phrase “violet crown.” Several of Austin’s business and organizations use the phrase in their names – including the popular downtown cinema, community cycling club, shopping center, annual arts festival, community theater and east-side lounge. In fact, even the recently opened Violet Crown trail, the first regional trail system in Central Texas, was given the iconic name. The phrase clearly has significance in this part of the world. But where the heck does it come from, and why is it so widely used to refer to places and groups in Austin?

Violet Crown logos

For a long time, it was believed that the first published use of the phrase could be found in the short story “Tictocq,” written by William Sydney Porter, who was most well-known by his pen name, O. Henry and who began living in Texas at the age of 20. The story was published in his local newspaper, The Rolling Stone, in October 1894, and the phrase appeared in chapter two: “The drawing-rooms of one of the most magnificent private residences in Austin are a blaze of lights. Carriages line the streets in front, and from gate to doorway is spread a velvet carpet, on which the delicate feet of the guests may tread. The occasion is the entre into society of one of the fairest buds in the City of the Violet Crown.”

However, the Austin History Center found an article in the Austin Daily Statesman in August of that same year – two months earlier – that begins: “May 5, 1890, was a memorable day in Austin. It was memorable for the reason that on that day the citizens of the City of the Violet Crown voted to build a granite dam across the Colorado River …”

Still earlier, the writer William Cowper Bran (1855-1898), an Illinois native and longtime Texas journalist, included the description “… Austin’s violet crown bathed in the radiance of the morning or arched with twilight’s dome of fretted gold” to describe the city in his paper, The Iconoclast, in 1891. And it just so happened that Porter (O.Henry) was an admirer of Brann’s work. But wait! The phrase was used even earlier by the Greek poet Theognis, born 550 B.C., in reference to the violet crown over Hymettus, a mountain near Athens, Greece. And still other writers over time have also used it to describe Athens; check out the Voices of the Violet Crown website to learn more about the phrase’s long and varied history.

Whether one can ever definitively determine who first uttered the phrase “violet crown,” what people do seem to be able to agree on is that during a brilliant sunset, when the color of the hills and sky to the west turns a lavender shade, Austin is truly deserving of the description. Blairfield Realty hopes you’re taking some time to enjoy it!

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