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SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS. San Antonio, at the head of the San Antonio River in Bexar County, is on Interstate Highway 10 (east–west) and Interstate Highway 35 and 37 (north–south). The city is also served by five U.S. highways, numerous state highways, San Antonio International Airport, two freight railroads (the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific), and two AMTRAK trains. The area was explored by Spanish expeditions in 1691 and 1709, which named the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek. The town grew out of San Antonio de Béxar Presidio, founded 1718, and the villa of San Fernando de Béxar, chartered by Canary Islanders in 1731. Beginning in 1718, five Spanish missions were located along the river. The presidial captain's house (later the Spanish Governor's Palace) was completed on Military Plaza in 1749, and San Fernando de Béxar Church was built by 1758. In 1773 San Antonio de Béxar became the capital of Spanish Texas. In 1778 the settlement had a population of 2,060, including mission Indians. Its circumstances were described as "miserable" by visitors. The population was poor and heterogeneous, made up of Europeans, mestizos, and a few black slaves. The missions were all secularized by 1795, and San Antonio de Valero Mission (later, the Alamo) became a military barracks. San Antonio declared for Mexican independence in 1813; it was recaptured by Royalist forces after the battles of Alazán Creek and Medinaqv, and the population was decimated by purges.
During the Texas Revolution, San Antonio was the site of several battles, including the siege of Bexar (December 1835) and the battle of the Alamo (March 6, 1836), which made it one of the most fought-over cities in North America. After the evacuation of Mexican forces, Bexar County was organized by the Republic of Texas in December 1836, and San Antonio was chartered in January 1837 as its seat. A failed attempt to negotiate the release of captives held by Comanche Indians resulted in yet another battle in the streets of the town, the Council House Fight of 1840. San Antonio was seized twice in the Mexican invasions of 1842, and the population was reduced to about 800 in 1846. After Texas entered the Union, growth became rapid, as the city became a servicing and distribution center for the western movement of the United States. The census showed 3,488 in 1850 and 8,235 in 1860, when San Antonio had become for the time the largest town in Texas (ahead of Galveston). Germans made up a large part of this growth; German speakers outnumbered both Hispanics and Anglos until after 1877. In 1861 local militia forced the surrender of the federal arsenal at San Antonio even before the state seceded on March 2. Subsequently, San Antonio served as a Confederate depot. Several units such as John S. Ford's Cavalry of the West were formed there, though the city was removed from the fighting.
After the Civil War, San Antonio prospered as a cattle, distribution, mercantile, and military center serving the border region and the Southwest. The city was the southern hub and supplier of the cattle trail drives. An important wool market developed with the importation of merino sheep to the adjacent Hill Country. With the coming of the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway in 1877, San Antonio, formerly without a transportation system, entered a new era of economic growth. The population reached 20,550 in 1880. The new immigration was overwhelmingly native-born Anglos, mostly from Southern states. In 1881 a second railroad, the International–Great Northern, reached the city from the northeast, and five railroads had built into the city by 1900. Modernization was explosive in the 1880s, comparable to growth patterns across the United States. Civic government, utilities, street paving and maintenance, water supply, telephones, hospitals, and a power plant were all established or planned. San Antonio was once again the largest city in the state in 1900, with a population of 53,321; it remained the largest city in 1910, with 96,614 inhabitants, and 1920, with 161,379. After 1910 Mexican immigration greatly increased due to the Mexican Revolution and the development of local service industries. The confluence of Hispanic, German, and Southern Anglo-American cultures in San Antonio made it into one of America's "four unique cities" (along with Boston, New Orleans, and San Francisco). Each successive group of immigrants put its stamp upon the city, its culture, and architecture; all mingled, none quite submerging the others. Each period of growth produced characteristic and often distinguished architecture. Peculiarly, San Antonio succeeded in merging its past into the new in each generation. Old Spanish walls remain beside modern glass towers, with rows of Victorian mansions a block away, a combination that lends the city a charm sought out by millions of visitors.
San Antonio did not expand beyond its original Spanish charter land until 1940. The land was large enough to allow a number of incorporated suburbs within the metropolitan area, but the city soon went beyond these. Like most twentieth-century American cities in the automobile age, its expansion was mainly horizontal, with sprawling neighborhoods but little vertical building. Although the first Texas skyscraper and several tall buildings were built in San Antonio in the early twentieth century, vertical construction did not continue, and the city's center of population steadily moved northward. San Antonio had fallen behind Houston and Dallas in population by 1930, and has remained the third largest city in the state since that time. After a period of slow growth during the 1930s, San Antonio's population increased by 61 percent during the wartime boom of the 1940s, to reach 408,442 in 1950. The First United States Volunteer Cavalry was organized in San Antonio during the Spanish-American War, and in both world wars San Antonio was an important military center for the army and air forces. It has retained this status. Fort Sam Houston and Kelly, Randolph, Brooks, and Lackland Air Force basesqqv were the city's leading economic generators for many years. In the 1950s the city grew by almost 44 percent to reach 587,718 in 1960. Thereafter it continued to grow at a more sedate pace of 10 to 20 percent a decade. In 1990 San Antonio was the third largest city in Texas, with a population of 935,933; 55.6 percent were Mexican Americans, 35.9 percent were Anglo, 7 percent were African Americans, and 1.5 percent were "other." In 2000 San Antonio was still the third largest city in the state and was the ninth largest city in the country, with a population of 1,144,646; 58.7 percent were Hispanic, 32.5 percent were Anglo, 6.8 percent were African Americans, and 2 percent were "other."
Although the lack of high-paying manufacturing and finance-industry jobs has kept San Antonio in the bottom tier of average metropolitan income, the city has developed a viable economy from its stable military bases, educational institutions, tourism, and its medical-research complex. By the late nineteenth century San Antonio had become a favorite retirement spot for Texans who sought its mild climate, graceful ambience, and civilized amenities; it has continued as a favored military retirement site. Medical-research facilities in San Antonio include Brooke Army Medical Center, Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Brooks Air Force Base, the Southwest Research Institute, the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, and the latest 1,500-acre Texas Research Park in west Bexar County. San Antonio has long been an educational center. Its first English school was organized in 1828. Ursuline Academyqv was established in 1851, St. Louis Academy in 1852, and the German-English School in 1858. In the 1990s Bexar County had sixteen independent public school districts; more than fifty parochial schools and more than 100 private schools operated in San Antonio. Palo Alto College, San Antonio College, and St. Philip's College make up the Alamo Community College District. San Antonio also has five accredited universities and one accredited college: Our Lady of the Lake University, St. Mary's University, Trinity University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, the University of Texas Health Science Center, and the University of the Incarnate Word. Churches have played an enormous role culturally, spiritually, and architecturally in the history of the city. The first Catholic churches were founded at the missions. Concepción, finished in 1754, is the oldest surviving church in Texas. San Fernando Cathedral dates to 1758. St. Mark's Episcopal Church was organized in 1859, and its building was completed in 1875. San Antonio was raised to a Catholic diocese in 1874, and the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio came into being in 1926. The first town council in San Antonio, organized in 1837, held meetings in English and Spanish. City government was first dominated by Hispanics, then by Anglos and Germans. Until 1955 the city government followed the classic mayor-alderman pattern, in which appeared a number of colorful mayors, lively elections, and no little corruption. In 1955 San Antonio opted for the council-manager formqv. Currently the city council consists of eleven elected members, with ten members elected by districts and the mayor elected at large. City council members are elected for two-year terms and may serve two terms. The city council sets the policies of the city and hires a city manager to serve as the chief administrative officer of the city. San Antonio has nine television stations, nineteen FM and fifteen AM radio stations broadcast locally. The city newspaper is the San Antonio Express-News and there are thirty-three other weekly and monthly publications, including eleven military.
Tourism is one of the city's most important industries, for San Antonio's many attractions, including sports, draw tens of thousands of visitors every year. Among the most recent features is Fiesta Texas, a $100 million, 201-acre family musical and entertainment theme park. Sea World in San Antonio is the largest marine-life theme park in the world. The famed Riverwalk, Paseo del Rio, consists of over 1½ miles of cool, shady, walks with shops, cafes, restaurants, and clubs. HemisFair '68 left a number of permanent buildings, including the Tower of the Americas, which has an observation deck and restaurant on top. The San Antonio Botanical Gardens and Conservatory is a thirty-three-acre horticultural facility featuring the flora of Texas, ranging from the wildflowers of the Hill Country to the formal rose gardens of East Texas. The indoor collection houses exotic plants from all over the world. A few of the other attractions found in San Antonio include El Mercado, the old marketplace with a touch of Mexico; the Sunken Gardens, lush Japanese gardens preserved in a natural setting; the San Antonio Zoo, at Brackenridge Park; the Menger Hotel; the Hertzberg Circus Collection and Museum, an extensive collection of circus memorabilia; and the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, a museum documenting the ethnic groups that built Texas. San Antonio's major annual events include Fiesta San Antonio in April, the San Antonio Annual Livestock Show and Rodeo in February, the Texas Folklife Festival in June, and the Riverwalk Christmas Lighting in December. The Alamo (1718), Mission Concepción (1731), Mission San José (1720), Mission San Juan Capistrano (1731), and Mission San Francisco de la Espada (1741) compose San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, one of a few urban national parks in the country. Architecturally interesting sights abound: San Fernando Cathedral (1758), the Spanish Governor's Palace (1749), the Quadrangle at Fort Sam Houston (1878), and the Bexar County Courthouse (1891) are but a few. San Antonio, with its unique architectural heritage dating from the Spanish era, was one of the first cities apart from the Eastern seaboard to become preservation conscious. The San Antonio Conservation Society, founded in 1924, was instrumental in saving the beautiful San Antonio River, which winds through downtown, from being paved over for a drain. The society has since become a popular and powerful organization devoted to preserving the city's unique features. Recognizing the value and impact of the city's cultural sites upon the economy and stability of the community, the city maintains a Historic Preservation office as part of planning, and has passed a model comprehensive historic-preservation code that provides tax incentives to encourage preservation and rehabilitation. The King William and Monte Vista historic districtsqqv are outstanding examples of neighborhood restoration efforts. In sports, the Alamodome hosts major college football and basketball events, and the SBC Center is the home venue for the San Antonio Spurs of the National Basketball Association and the city's newest franchise, the Silver Stars of the Women's Basketball Association (WNBA). The Texas Open golf tournament is held each year at Oak Hills Country Club, and the R. J. Reynolds PGA Seniors Tournament is an annual event at the Dominion. Other professional sports teams include the San Antonio Missions baseball team, the San Antonio Racquets, and the San Antonio Iguanas (a National Hockey League team). See also SPANISH TEXAS, MEXICAN TEXAS, BEXAR COUNTY, and AEROSPACE MEDICINE, AIR FORCE.
Jesús F. de la Teja, San Antonio de Béxar: A Community on New Spain's Northern Frontier (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995). T. R. Fehrenbach, Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans (New York: Macmillan, 1968). T. R. Fehrenbach, The San Antonio Story (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Continental Heritage Press, 1978). Charles W. Ramsdell, San Antonio: A Historical and Pictorial Guide (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1959).
T. R. Fehrenbach
Information Courtesy of Texas State Historical Association