About San Antonio
and Its History
San Antonio was established at the head of the San Antonio River in Bexar County. The city is served by five U.S. highways, numerous state highways, San Antonio International Airport, two freight railroads (the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific), and two AMTRAK trains. The area was explored by Spanish expeditions in 1691 and 1709, which named the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek. The town grew out of San Antonio de Béxar Presidio, founded 1718, and the villa of San Fernando de Béxar, chartered by Canary Islanders in 1731. Beginning in 1718, five Spanish missions were located along the river. The presidial captains house (later the Spanish Governors Palace) was completed on Military Plaza in 1749, and San Fernando de Béxar Church was built by 1758. In 1773, San Antonio de Béxar became the capital of Spanish Texas. The missions were all secularized by 1795, and San Antonio de Valero Mission (later the Alamo) became a military barracks. San Antonio declared for Mexican independence in 1813; it was recaptured by Royalist forces after the battles of Alazàn Creek and Medina, and the population was decimated by purges.
During the Texas Revolution, San Antonio was the site of several battles, including the siege of Bexar (December 1835) and the battle of the Alamo (March 6, 1836), which made it one of the most fought-over cities in North America. After the evacuation of Mexican forces, Bexar County was organized by the Republic of Texas in December 1836, and San Antonio was chartered in January 1837 as its seat. A failed attempt to negotiate the release of captives held by Comanche Indians resulted in yet another battle in the streets of the town, the Council House Fight of 1840. San Antonio was seized twice in the Mexican invasions of 1842. After Texas entered the Union, growth became rapid, as the city became a servicing and distribution center for the western movement of the United States. The census showed 3,488 in 1850 and 8,235 in 1860, when San Antonio had become, for the time, the largest town in Texas (ahead of Galveston). In 1861, local militia forced the surrender of the federal arsenal at San Antonio even before the state seceded on March 2. Subsequently, San Antonio served as a Confederate depot. Several units such as John S. Fords Cavalry of the West were formed there, though the city was removed from the fighting.
After the Civil War, San Antonio prospered as a cattle, distribution, mercantile, and military center serving the border region and the Southwest. The city was the southern hub and supplier of the cattle trail drives. An important wool market developed with the importation of merino sheep to the adjacent Hill Country. With the coming of the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway in 1877, San Antonio, formerly without a transportation system, entered a new era of economic growth. In 1881, a second railroad, the International-Great Northern, reached the city from the northeast, and five railroads had built into the city by 1900. Modernization was explosive in the 1880s, comparable to growth patterns across the United States. Civic government, utilities, street paving and maintenance, water supply, telephones, hospitals, and a power plant were all established or planned. San Antonio was once again the largest city in the state in 1900, with a population of 53,321; it remained the largest city in 1910, with 96,614 inhabitants, and 1920, with 161,379. The confluence of Hispanic, German, and Southern Anglo-American cultures in San Antonio made it into one of Americas four unique cities (along with Boston, New Orleans, and San Francisco). Each successive group of immigrants put its stamp upon the city, its culture, and architecture; all mingled, none quite submerging the others. Each period of growth produced characteristic and often distinguished architecture. Peculiarly, San Antonio succeeded in merging its past into the new in each generation. Old Spanish walls remain beside modern glass towers, with rows of Victorian mansions a block away, a combination that lends the city a charm sought out by millions of visitors.
San Antonio did not expand beyond its original Spanish charter land until 1940. The land was large enough to allow a number of incorporated suburbs within the metropolitan area, but the city soon went beyond these. Like most twentieth-century American cities in the automobile age, its expansion was mainly horizontal, with sprawling neighborhoods but little vertical building. Although the first Texas skyscraper and several tall buildings were built in San Antonio in the early twentieth century, vertical construction did not continue, and the citys center of population steadily moved northward. The First United States Volunteer Cavalry was organized in San Antonio during the Spanish-American War, and in both world wars San Antonio was an important military center for the army and air forces. It has retained this status. Fort Sam Houston and Kelly, Randolph, Brooks, and Lackland Air Force bases were the citys leading economic generators for many years.
Tourism is one of the citys most important industries. The famed River Walk, Paseo del Rio, consists of over two and one-half miles of cool, shady walks with shops, cafes, and restaurants. HemisFair 68 left a number of permanent buildings, including the Tower of the Americas, which has an observation deck and restaurant on top. The San Antonio Botanical Gardens and Conservatory is a thirty-three-acre horticultural facility featuring the flora of Texas, ranging from the wildflowers of the Hill Country to the formal rose gardens of East Texas. The indoor collection houses exotic plants from all over the world. A few of the other attractions found in San Antonio include El Mercado, the old marketplace with a touch of Mexico; the Sunken Gardens, lush Japanese gardens preserved in a natural setting; the San Antonio Zoo, at Brackenridge Park; the Menger Hotel; the Hertzberg Circus Collection and Museum, an extensive collection of circus memorabilia; and the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, a museum documenting the ethnic groups that built Texas. San Antonios major annual events include Fiesta San Antonio in April, the San Antonio Annual Livestock Show and Rodeo in February, the Texas Folklife Festival in August, and the River Walk Christmas Lighting in December. The Alamo (1718), Mission Concepción (1731), Mission San José (1720), Mission San Juan Capistrano (1731), and Mission San Francisco de la Espada (1741) compose San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, one of a few urban national parks in the country. Architecturally interesting sights abound: San Fernando Cathedral (1758), the Spanish Governors Palace (1749), the Quadrangle at Fort Sam Houston (1878), and the Bexar County Courthouse (1891) are but a few. San Antonio, with its unique architectural heritage dating from the Spanish era, was one of the first cities apart from the Eastern seaboard to become preservation conscious.