The National Register of Historic Places-listed King William Historic District is generally located between the San Antonio River, Cesar Chavez Boulevard, South St. Mary’s Street, and South Alamo Street. The King William Local Historic District and neighborhood also includes the National Register of Historic Places-listed South Alamo Street-South St. Mary’s Street Historic District located west of South Alamo Street. Most of the houses within the district were built between 1850 and 1899, and in comparison to most of those located south of South Alamo Street, the houses are larger, more ornate, and are situated on larger lots (Bell and Williamson 1971).
This area of San Antonio was originally part of agricultural lands that belonged to Mission Valero (the Alamo) and remained a largely agricultural area until landowners began selling off the highly desirable land to developers Thomas Devine and Newton Mitchell during the 1840s. The developers then subdivided the land into lots and resold it over time (Bell and Williamson 1971; Taylor and Taylor n.d.).
The neighborhood was first platted and streets were laid out between 1853 and 1859 including King William Street, which is said to have been named after Wilhelm I, King of Prussia. One of the first residents of the neighborhood was Carl Guenther, a German miller, who established his home and mill in the south end of the area in 1859. Over time, several additions were built onto the original Guenther House which can be seen from the Mission Trails hike-and-bike trail corridor. Other prosperous German immigrants, many of whom had come to Texas during the 1840s, later followed suit and built homes in the neighborhood. Growth was slow during the late 1850s and 1860s, and most of the homes that were built during this time were located in the northwest portion of the neighborhood. The majority of these early homes were small, one-story raised cottages or caliche block houses (Bell and Williamson 1971).
Devine subdivided the remaining part of his riverfront property in 1865, after which date more German immigrants purchased lots and built homes in the neighborhood near the San Antonio River. The majority of development occurred during the 1870s and 1880s and continued generally southward along King William Street. In contrast to the earliest homes built in the King William District, these houses were much grander in size and ornamentation and were designed specifically for the homeowner by builders and architects including Alfred Giles and James Riley Gordon. These later structures feature various types of building construction and several popular architectural styles of the time period, a few of which can be seen from the Mission Trails hike-and-bike trail corridor (Bell and Williamson 1971).
The Steves Homestead (1876) is a two-story, smooth finished limestone home of Second Empire design and features a mansard roof, which is a hallmark of the style. The house is currently open to the public as a house museum. The Harnish House (1884) and the Schuchard House (1892) are two-story, brick homes that share characteristics of the Queen Anne style including an asymmetrical plan, broad porches, and intricate wood scrollwork.
The Biesenbach House (1881) and the Adolph Wagner House (1885) are one-story cottages with full length porches though with different architectural style influences. The diagonal porch support braces at the Biesenbach House are characteristic of the Victorian Stick style while the simply ornamented Doric columns and central pediment above the main entry at the Wagner House reflect the Classical Revival style. Other architectural style types from this time period that are easily visible from the trail include Colonial Revival and Italianate. A prominent example of the latter style is the Norton-Polk-Mathis House, also known as Villa Finale. This house currently operates as a house museum and is open to the public (San Antonio Conservation Society n.d.).
The east side of Madison Street, South Alamo Street, and sections of King William Street contain homes constructed in the 1890s and early 1900s after the neighborhood’s boom period. Houses within these areas vary in architectural style and include grand two-story Queen Anne style mansions and imposing Richardsonian Romanesque homes built of solid stone with prominent turrets. This area also contains smaller houses built after the turn of the century including one-story bungalows with Craftsman influences such as low roof lines, inset porches, and handcrafted woodwork (Bell and Williamson 1971).
As with other nearby neighborhoods, the availability of new utilities and transportation resulted in a demographic shift within the neighborhood starting in the 1920s. The new generations of the close‐knit German community were able to afford to live in the more affluent suburbs outside the city core and commute to work. Most of the neighborhood was developed by that time, and only a few vacant lots remained. As a result, development of the neighborhood slowed and some of the original houses were subdivided for multiple tenants or families. Recognizing the unique historic and architectural history of the area, the King William Association formed in 1967 to preserve the neighborhood, and soon afterward the neighborhood became the first National Register of Historic Places-listed historic district in the state (Bell and Williamson 1971; Taylor and Taylor n.d.).
For more information on the King William Historic District see the City of San Antonio’s website and the National Park Service’s website. The King William Neighborhood Association also has information about the district on their website as does the King William Cultural Arts District, which includes both the neighborhood and adjacent industrial and commercial resources in the area. Finally, see the San Antonio Conservation Society’s guided walking tour brochure.
For more information about the Steves Homestead and touring the house museum, see the San Antonio Conservation Society Website. The Villa Finale Museum and Gardens also maintains a website including details about the museum and tour availability. The table below provides an inventory of all contributing resources within the National Register of Historic Places-listed district inventoried by address.