Friday, April 10, 2020

Historic Places: San Antonio, Texas

I'm sure you are expecting pictures of the Alamo - and they are coming! But what you might not know is that there is tons of history packed into San Antonio, plenty to keep you busy for a spring break in your future, including four other missions that together are considered a National Historic Park.

San Antonio Riverwalk
San Antonio doesn't have beaches, but it does have the Riverwalk and you can make sure to book a hotel with a pool for soaking up that Texas sun. The San Antonio River was a significant factor in the location chosen for south Texas missions. Serious study and adjustments of the river's flow began in the early 1900s when the dangers of flooding were a concern. The River Walk as a public park and tourist attraction began development in the 1960s. Since then, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been put into making the River Walk one of San Antonio's most popular tourist attractions. Lined with restaurants, hotels, and shops, it is a nice place to take a stroll during the day or to listen to music and get drinks in the evening. You can follow the River Walk to see the five missions in San Antonio, including the Alamo.

The Alamo
It is a common misconception that the Alamo was a military fort, but it was originally built in 1744 as a church, despite the fact that its claim to fame in a battle. By the end of the 18th century, the mission was secularized and occupied by a Spanish military garrison. It remained a military fort when Mexico declared its independence in 1821, and a wave of American immigrants settled in the area. So many immigrants came that Mexico tried to halt American immigration in 1830, leading to the Texas Revolution five years later.

It was during this fight for independence that the Battle of the Alamo took place on March 6, 1836. Texas joined the United States a decade later in order to have the resources of the larger country in the fight against Mexico. As time passed, the Alamo was used as a warehouse and shop and parts of it were demolished altogether. It wasn't until the early 1900s that efforts were made to preserve the mission and its history.

Today, you can visit the Alamo for free, but pictures are not permitted inside the church or barracks, and visitors are asked to treat the site with reverence. Large portions of the 1836 Alamo have been lost, but what remains has been carefully restored and effectively tells the story of those who died there.

Mission Concepcion
What you might not realize is that the Alamo is just one of five missions found in San Antonio, originally built by Spanish missionaries to bring Christianity to Native Americans. Mission Concepcion continues to operate as an active parish, and it appears much the same as when it was built in 1755, though it has not undergone restoration work. At Mission Concepcion, you are looking at the same stonework and frescoes as visitors of the past three centuries.

Mission San Jose
Mission San Jose, the largest of San Antonio's missions has a unique blend of ruins and beautiful restorations. Work of the WPA in the 1930s make it possible for visitors to Mission San Jose to attend mass where Catholic missionaries first offered services in 1720. This mission gives visitors a good feeling of its history as more than a church, with the community within participating in all facets of life together.

Mission Espada is the oldest San Antonio mission, which set high value on teaching not just Christianity, but also skilled work such as farming, weaving, blacksmithing, carpentry, and masonry. Demonstrations of a mission era loom can be seen at Espada if you visit at the right time.

Mission San Juan Capistrano
The final San Antonio mission is San Juan Capistrano. Although it appears newer than the other missions, it was completed in 1756. An active farm at this mission gives visitors insight to what work and life were like there centuries ago when the mission fully supported those who lived there. Historically, the mission would have also had sheep, cattle, and vast miles of fields.

You can explore some nature without leaving the city by strolling Mission San Juan Capistrano's Yanaguana Trail. San Antonio has a little bit of everything for your next spring break.

All photos property of Samantha Wilcoxson

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