Travis State School

By: Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: May 30, 2017

In 1933 the Texas legislature established the Austin State School Farm Colony as a branch of the Austin State School. The 241-acre site was on the Colorado River about eight miles east of downtown Austin. It was intended to provide a home for intellectually disabled boys who could not further benefit from training at the Austin State School and who were able to do such work as farming, dairying, gardening, and related tasks. The first students were transferred from the Austin State School in October 1934, at which time the colony had only one building. By the mid-1940s the colony had six ward buildings, a cannery, and an administration building, which included storerooms and a sewing room as well as offices; the facility was home to 477 boys. The colony became a separate institution from the Austin State School in 1949. It acquired an additional 195 acres in the late 1950s and built several dormitories to accommodate its increased enrollment. Farming operations at the facility ceased in the early 1960s, and the institution changed its name to Travis State School in 1962. Ten new ward buildings and service buildings were completed in 1963. In July 1968 the school had 1,800 students, all of whom had been transferred from other institutions. A special-education program was conducted for those students able to benefit from classroom instruction. In 1970 the school received a grant from the Hospital Improvement Project, which made possible the use of a unit system of treatment. A new Vocational Evaluation and Training Center, with a capacity of more than 300 residents, was opened and staffed through a grant from the Texas Rehabilitation Commission. That same year a swimming pool, an administration building, and five full-time physicians were added. School enrollment at the end of 1970 was 1,754. Female students were first admitted in 1973. The student population declined steadily in the 1970s and 1980s, as the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation implemented plans to integrate some students into community-based programs. The school used a system known as "behavioral characteristic progression" to evaluate the training needs of students and to coordinate that training so as to help achieve each student's maximum potential. The Travis State School functioned as an independent school district from 1981 to 1988; after 1988 it relied on the Manor Independent School District to provide academic instruction through its "mainstreaming" program. In 1992 the Travis State School had 604 residents and 1,270 employees; the facility had a total of sixty-eight buildings at its 436-acre site. Travis State School was slated for closure in 1995 as part of a settlement for an eighteen-year-old federal suit against the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. See also MENTAL HEALTH.

Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, Annual Report, Austin, 1970–80. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Education
  • State Schools and Orphanages
  • Health and Medicine

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl, “Travis State School,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 30, 2017

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