A Walk Along a River and Missions Galore, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas

By now maybe you figured out that on momma’s birthday we pick out somewhere she wants to go. For Example, momma has picked Fredericksburg and Waco in the past and this year it was San Antonio. We had been in San Antonio for a day back in 2008 but didn’t get to really enjoy much as it was a bit of a whirlwind trip with the girls and the day involved driving from and to Austin. It was a long day. We went this time and spent the night. We arrived on Sunday morning and found parking way closer than we did in 2008. When I can get my photos of that 2008 trip out of jail on Photobucket, I will post about that. Jail on Photobucket. Yes. I put a bunch on there, years ago and they have since reduced the allowable free space and are holding my pics in jail until I either remove them or pay their astronomical fee. Well, they only let me have access to remove a few at a time then they sort of lock things up. So, things that are locked up are in jail, right?

Also, some pronunciation help coming to you. It is not Bex ar County. In Spanish it would be Bey-yar in English just Bear.

The Alamo

We started our tour at this very famous landmark known as “The Alamo”. Technically it is the Mission San Antonio de Valero. It was administered by the Daughters of the Texas Republic until 2015 when the state took control through the General Land Office. That appears to have been a good thing as the place and the surrounding area seems to be upgraded since we were here in 2008.

The long Barracks, believed to be the oldest building in Texas

There is now a nice movie about the Alamo, not only the battle but about mission times. The whole thing is surrounded by the Alamo Plaza with upgraded signage etc. One thing we enjoyed was the re-enactors as the Texas Militia firing their muskets.

re-enactors on the Alamo Plaza

After spending time here, we went on to the San Antonio Riverwalk, one of the best urban areas in the country.

San Antonio Riverwalk was planned by architect Robert Hugman in 1929.

First let’s talk about the San Antonio River. The river rises from a series of springs 4 miles north of downtown San Antonio. The river flows southeast 240 miles to meet the Guadalupe a few miles north of where they empty into San Antonio Bay along the gulf coast. In the downtown area there was a serious bend in the river that caused the section to be flood prone.

To alleviate the flood threat Hugman proposed a straighter bypass channel with check dams at each end of the original bend that could be closed for flood protection. Money and labor for the project became available through the Works Progress Administration in 1939. 17000 feet of walkway was placed along the river, plantings were installed, and the check dams built. The bypass channel had been previously finished. The idea was tested by a major flood in 1946 and minimal damage was done. Shops and restaurants developed and flourished in the area. In 1968 the channel was extended to the grounds of the 1968 World’s HemisFair.

Riverwalk San Antonio

We rode the boat where you get a great history of the area and the buildings along the river.

Along the Riverwalk

We got something to eat and then took a driving tour of the King William area and looked at the unique architecture. We were headed for the Guenther House Museum in the area, but it was closing time when we got there. This closing when we get there seems to be a common theme doesn’t it?

The Guenther House was the residence of C. H. Guenther, the founder of Pioneer Flour Mills. Today it is a museum and restaurant. You ever been shopping and bought say, a gravy mix with the Pioneer brand label? That is C. H. Guenther’s company still in operation today.

Day 2 San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

Yep, a National Park right in the city.

The Franciscans came from Mexico in 1718 and established a mission named San Antonio de Valero near the headwaters of the San Antonio River. Today it is known as the Alamo. But what the Spanish found out was that the small tribes of natives that they coaxed into the Mission didn’t really get along together. Thus, over the next 20 years four more Missions were built to separate the natives. The Missions are: Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña, Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission San Francisco de la Espada. Today they are simply known as Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan and Mission Espada.

The full protection of the missions began in 1975 when the Missions Parkway was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Prior to that a couple had been named National Historic Places but the all-out preservation effort was small. In 1983 the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park was established, and the missions put under the protection and operation of the National Park Service. Mission Road runs between the missions. There is also a bikeway/ hiking trail that connects the sites.

Mission San Jose Y San Miguel de Aguayo

We first went to Mission San Jose as this is where the National Park Service operates a visitor center. Mission San Jose was established in 1720. The current church building was originally constructed in 1768. We arrived just as the park ranger/historian was beginning his talk and tour. For once we weren’t late! He told of the work of the Franciscans who established the missions. Unlike in greater Mexico the friars found that the people of the region consisted of small tribes of hunter/ gatherers. Because the area was under a severe drought at the time it was quite easy to coax the people into the protection of the priests. The natives were to be Christianized, taught the Spanish language and farming and ranching skills and they would be given land to support themselves. But here’s the catch: the land was already theirs and now they would have to pay taxes on the land.

Mission San Jose

After being at Goliad in 2020 we found this mission to be huge!

On with the history, while at the mission the natives were housed in rooms built into the walls in groups of ten with each group given two rooms.

rooms in the walls of the mission
Two rooms of this size per ten natives

What the Spanish hadn’t counted on was this, the different groups of people didn’t get along, thus more missions were built to separate the warring tribes. At San Jose there were reports of abuse and the whole one hundred and twenty residents left one night. After negotiations only about twenty returned. The success of a mission was measured in body counts, so soldiers were sent out to capture and force any natives they found into the missions unwillingly.

the Convento

Meanwhile the friars and priests lived in the above pictured Convento. The rooms were large and airy. In 1939 the Works Progress Administration put money and workers into re storing the missions. The Convento was found to be too unstable to restore. We didn’t get to go into this church as there was a funeral in progress. The missions are still operating churches in the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

Who goes to these old churches? Well, the Ranger/Historian told us that many of the people in the area have direct ancestry to the residents of the old missions. In fact, they have found people who still live on the land given to their ancestors by the Spanish. In a couple of instances these people can still produce the original paper land grant that the Spanish gave to their ancestors. Now, that, is pretty cool!

The “Rose Window”

Another problem the priests had to overcome was this, non-Christians, were not permitted to enter the church. So how do you Christianize a people who can’t come in to hear the priest’s sermon? The solution was the Rose Window. The priest would open the window and stand in front of the gathered natives to preach to them.

Inside the Grist Mill at Mission San Jose

When pulling up stakes on a mission the friars were required to build a Grist Mill for the residents before they left. Mission San Jose’s is mostly intact and much of it original.

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña

We backtracked towards town to Mission Concepcion. The Ranger told us it was the most original of the bunch; about 90%. Mission Concepcion was first established on the Texas coast in 1716. It was moved to San Antonio in 1731.

Mission Concepcion

Apparently, this church is 90% original with the white dome in the rear the only modern addition. We did get to go into this church. The interior having been restored in the 60’s was quite remarkable.

Looking up into the White Dome

In the picture above you can see the remnants of an old fresco. They are struggling with keeping the frescoed wall intact due to moisture. The Convento of this mission was in much better shape.

Frescoes inside the Convento.

Mission San Juan Capistrano

After spending some great time at Mission Concepcion, we moved on to Mission San Juan.

Mission San Juan was established in 1716 on the coast and moved here in 1731.

Mission San Juan

What amazed us here was that the very old house on the property was still occupied by the resident priest or nuns. Services are now held in the white building which was the storehouse at one time. It was locked and we could not go in. The ruins of the original….well, the third church were across the lawn from the present chapel.

At this point of the day the drizzle we had fought since the San Jose tour ended, became a quite steady rain, so we elected not to go to Mission Espada.

Mission Espada was established in 1690 at Augusta and moved here in 1731.

This was quite an experience especially the ranger talk, and the trip to Mission Concepcion, knowing it was 90% original.

Mission San Jose
Mission Concepcion
Mission San Juan

2 thoughts on “A Walk Along a River and Missions Galore, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas

  1. Most of the missions are still active parishes. I have been to the mariachi Mass at San Jose a few times. Its very cool. Don’t make the mistake myself and some friends made when our kids were little: we went to a mission in the heat of Summer. Never again!
    Tom

    Like

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