Happy 300th Birthday to the River City

In: Texas Times Column   Posted 05/02/2018

It all started along the river.

The fertile land along its banks and the abundant wildlife and fish had supported Yanaguana natives and their ancestors for nearly 10,000 years. Throughout the 17th century, the river’s prime location along the trade route to French Louisiana and other missions in East Texas brought many visitors, some of whom would eventually settle the land to form the City of San Antonio.

The river had been fondly known to local natives as the Yanaguana until a Spanish expedition led by Father Damián Massanet renamed it “Rio San Antonio de Padua” in 1691.  Father Massanet picked the name in celebration of the day he arrived at the riverside sanctuary: the Feast Day of St. Anthony of Padua.

Years later, the lush land alongside the Rio San Antonio peaked Spanish interests once again.  On May 1, 1718, Franciscan missionary Father Antonio Olivares established the mission of San Antonio de Valero “near the first spring, half a league from a high ground adjoining a small thicket of live oaks,” according to one priest’s account.  This spring had been named “Agua de San Pedro”; today we call it San Pedro Creek.  Four days later, a military post, Presidio San Antonio de Béxar, and a civil settlement, Villa de Béxar, followed.  Soon after they built aqueducts to water crops and feed the growing village.  All the while, the San Pedro Creek became the beating heart of the city, its banks the hub of civic and commercial activity. 

From this riverside settlement, the City of San Antonio was born. 

In the 300 years since the establishment of that first mission, the City of San Antonio has grown into an epicenter of storied Texas history, national interest, and international culture.

It was where Stephen F. Austin, the Father of Texas, arrived in the summer of 1821 to pursue his father’s permit for the settlement of the “Old 300” American families into the Mexican territory.

It was the site of the unforgettable Battle of the Alamo, where hundreds of valiant Texians paid the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of the unyielding commitment to freedom that still characterizes our state today.

It was host to more than six million global guests from 30 different nations during the HemisFair 1968 in celebration of its sestercentennial anniversary, when the city’s skyline staple Tower of the Americas debuted.

It was the recipient of the first and only papal visit to Texas with the arrival of Pope John Paul II, who celebrated mass with 350,000 San Antonians in 1987.

It was host to the original North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signing ceremony with U.S. President George H.W. Bush, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gotari, and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1992 that shaped our relationship with partners Mexico and Canada.

It is home to Texas’ only United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site - the five Spanish Colonial Missions – which includes the original San Antonio de Valero mission from 1718.  Today, we know that mission as the Alamo.

Throughout its 300 years, it has had a consistent military presence, including one of oldest U.S. Army posts, named after the first President of the Republic of Texas: Fort Sam Houston. Today the city is known as the “Gateway to the Air Force” due to the nearly 40,000 airmen graduating from Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base each year.  Our critical hub for national defense has earned San Antonio the proud trademark “Military City, USA.” 

It is also blessed with a large veteran community, including “the Oldest Post in Texas,” the 111 year old Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 76.

It has thrived under five nation’s flags: Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America.

Three hundred years later, as evidenced by the persistent crowds strolling along the River Walk, the San Antonio River is still the epicenter of our great city.

As San Antonio celebrates its tricentennial anniversary this month, the city is putting on quite a show in honor of its longstanding history.  I encourage you to take advantage of the occasion’s exhibits, events, and fiestas– and I encourage you to visit some of the historical sites my hometown has to offer.

Of course, it all comes back to the river.  As a part of the long-awaited tricentennial, San Antonio and Bexar County will invest in the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project to beautify and rehabilitate the river.  For generations to come, San Antonians will continue to enjoy the river where it all began.