Travis County today hardly resembles the small community on the edge of the frontier it once was. Established in 1840, the county’s population at the time was mere 856 residents. This number grew rapidly in those early decades, and although the population of the city of Austin grew faster than the county, most residents lived in small communities outside the city.
By 1890, Travis County’s population had grown to approximately 36,000 residents, less than half of which lived within the city of Austin. Even though Austin’s population continued to grow, by the turn of the century the majority of the county’s residents still lived on farms or in smaller towns, and agriculture dominated the area economy.
Such rural and agricultural-based communities were in mind when Congress approved the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, a federal law that established a nationwide cooperative extension service and provided for state-based agricultural services to benefit farms and communities. Extension services were essential in educating citizens and teaching skills in a variety of disciplines, to improve and enhance the quality of their lives.
Even as the population within Austin surpassed the number of residents living in the county’s outlying communities, and as Travis County gradually transformed from a rural community to an urban one, extension services played an important role in the development and betterment of Travis County and its residents. With programs such as 4-H, horticulture, agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, residents had access to valuable information and resources that helped improve lives.
2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the passing of Smith-Lever Act, and Travis County History Day will be celebrating the contributions of the AgriLife Extension Service in the growth and development of our community. Please mark your calendars for the morning of October 24, 2014, and join us in learning about and celebrating this valuable service.
*The History Day committee welcomes any recollections or photographs of the activities of the Extension Service throughout the years, both from participants in Extension programs and from Extension Agents. For more information, please contact the Travis County Archivist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Second annual Food & Livestock Show, 1946. Photo No. AR.2000.025, Travis County Negro Extension Service collection, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library