Recreation and Heritage Tourism

In response to San Antonio’s rapid growth during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many local residents became concerned with the associated loss of the city’s historic landmarks. This concern coupled with the city’s increasing status as a tourist destination prompted the development of the local tourism and heritage conservation industry. During the nineteenth century, the advent of the railroad facilitated easier travel to the city from far remote areas of the country while the city’s historic missions and mild climate drew increasing numbers of visitors to the area. Some important resources within the vicinity of the Mission Trails hike and bike trail were preserved as a result of these efforts.

One important example is the Mission San Antonio de Valero, or the Alamo. Efforts to preserve the Alamo began in the 1880s when the state purchased the Alamo property and conveyed it to the city for use as a museum (Schoelwer 2010). The convento, or priest’s quarters, was purchased in 1905 by Clara Driscoll for the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, named the guardians of the church and convento, believed that the property should be restored to its condition during the 1836 battle of the Alamo. However, another faction lead by Adina de Zavala, granddaughter of Lorenzo de Zavala, the first vice president of the Republic of Texas, argued that the property should be restored to its appearance during the Spanish mission period. This conflict continued until 1913 when the convento’s second story was removed. In 1966, the Alamo was designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL). Over a period from the 1960s through the 1990s, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas purchased the entire city block behind the property and demolished later buildings to establish a memorial park (Schoelwer 2010).

Another important tourist attraction in the project area is the Paseo del Rio, or River Walk, a commercial, entertainment, and dining district that follows the San Antonio River through downtown. The River Walk concept was born from a disastrous flood in September of 1921 that killed 50 people and caused substantial property damage (Long 2010b). Recognizing the need for drastic drainage improvements, city officials agreed on a plan to channelize the river in the downtown area and to place it underground. The plan drew resistance from many who sought to preserve the historic appearance of the downriver portion of the project. The San Antonio Conservation Society formed in 1924 to persuade city leaders to protect the area, and they succeeded when the flood control plans were dismissed. In 1929, plans were introduced to redevelop the area into a mixed‐use urban park with residential, commercial, and recreational components. The plan gained popularity in the 1930s with financial support from riverfront property owners. In 1938, grant funds from the Works Project Administration were made available for the project. Construction began that year under the guidance of architect Robert H.H. Hugman and was completed in 1941 (Long 2010b).

Hugman had long campaigned for the project, and although the results were “not as extensive as his original proposal,” the project “resulted in the improvement of more than 21 blocks along the river including the construction of 17,000 feet of walkways, 31 stairways leading from 21 bridges, and the planting of more than 11,000 trees and shrubs.” Hugman also oversaw the construction of the Arenson River Theater near La Villita that visually “represented the picturesque vision of what the Paseo del Rio could become.”

Though dismissed from the project in 1940, his overarching vision directly influenced the evolution of the modern River Walk and was adopted by “a new generation of conservationists and city officials” in the 1960s (Knight n.d.).

Other resources in the Mission Trails hike and bike trail vicinity were constructed specifically to accommodate the increasing number of tourists visiting the city. During the late nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, the Hot Wells Resort site represented a destination of choice for rich and elite visitors from across the country. An artesian well containing sulphur water was discovered on the grounds of the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum east of Mission San José in 1892. The recreational and medicinal potential of the waters were recognized immediately and “a succession of entrepreneurs established several different facilities to take advantage of the well and the surrounding parklike environment bordering the San Antonio River.” Visitors to the resorts established on site included celebrities such as Will Rogers and Charlie Chaplin, world leaders such as Teddy Roosevelt, and wealthy industrialists. One in particular, E. H. Harriman, “a railroad tycoon and president of the Southern Pacific Railroad,” constructed his own spur from the main railroad line to allow access to the resort by private trains (Fox and Highley 1985). Though the buildings burned down, the site still includes remnants of the original buildings that are visible from the hike and bike trail. In addition, the City of San Antonio is currently investigating ways to preserve, interpret, and provide access to the location.

Another recreation-related facility visible from the Mission Trails hike and bike trail that catered to a more elite clientele was the Menger Hotel located in Alamo Plaza. The current Menger Hotel was constructed in the late nineteenth century, though there was a boarding house or hotel at the site since at least 1855. The hotel remained the city’s most prominent during the nineteenth century, attracting visitors such as Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee and future President Teddy Roosevelt, who reportedly recruited his famous “rough riders” there in 1898 (THC 1976). The building was expanded to its current size in 1967 and subsequently listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Alamo Plaza Historic District.

The increasing prevalence of the automobile during the twentieth century was another impetus for recreation-related development along the Mission Trails hike and bike trail. A specific example is the former Camp Roosevelt Tourist Court in what is now Roosevelt Park. The park was dedicated in 1920 at the site of a former gravel pit near the San Antonio River. Four years later, the City of San Antonio dug an artesian well to supply a swimming pool constructed at the site (Harris et al 2011). The park and pool are still open to the public today, though the former municipal campground and motor court no longer exists. The park still contains remnant resources from its early history, including Works Progress Administration-era Rustic restroom facilities, and remnant examples of the types of cottages formerly for rent in the area can be seen from Mission Trails hike and bike trail along Grove Street near the park property.

The Alamo (Mission San Antonio de Valero)

The Alamo (Mission San Antonio de Valero)

Hot Wells Resort

Hot Wells Resort

The Menger Hotel in Alamo Plaza

The Menger Hotel in Alamo Plaza

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