Austin Nichols claimed 112 acres of land on the Cedar River, near the current location of Oakwood Cemetery, in 1853 or 1854. Nichols was a bachelor who hunted and trapped for fur pelts and was probably familiar with the area from previous hunting travels. He built the first cabin and saw mill in what would become Austin. In 1855, he left Austin and sold his claim to Chauncey Leverich.
In the mid-1850s, settlers poured into Mower County. By 1860, people claimed land in all twenty of Mower County’s townships. Men like Alanson Vaughan, Chauncey Leverich, Jeremiah Yates, Joshua Davidson, and brothers Orlenzer and Ormanzo Allen came to Austin to make names for themselves as early leaders and business owners. Leverich’s saw mill is considered the first business established in Austin and Vaughan opened the first store. Austin grew quickly between 1855 and 1865 as it transitioned from a small prairie settlement made up of a few claim shanties to a village of around 100 people.