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San Pedro Springs

The San Pedro Springs are located a few miles northwest of downtown San Antonio and the Alamo. They emerge at an elevation of about 663' through a fault at the base of a limestone bluff. At the surface the Austin chalk limestone is present on the southeast side of the fault and the Pecan Gap chalk on the northwest (Brune, 1981).

The site is much more than just Springs. It is one of the most important places in all of the southwest United States, and no web page of a few thousand words can begin to describe the pre-historic and historic significance of the Springs and surrounding Park.

The Springs and a small natural lake just below the Springs were a favorite meeting place and campsite for native Americans for thousands of years. The bones of mastadons, giant tigers, dire wolves, Colombian elephants, and extinct horses have been found here, along with projectile points and stone tools. In early historic times, a band of Coahuiltecan Indians known as Payayas called the Springs and their village there Yanaguana.

After European settlement, the site was the social and recreational center of San Antonio for many decades, and a number of important old roads, including the Camino Real (King's Highway) radiated from this point.  Early travelers would sometimes confuse these Springs with another major cluster of springs four miles to the northeast, San Antonio Springs. A nearby street, Calle del Camaron was named for the abundant crawfish that were found in the Springs and Creek. Limestone quarried from just northwest of the Springs provided stone for many of the town's early buildings.

Ojo de Agua San Pedro, by Theodore Gentilz


Nineteenth century artist Theodore Gentilz was noted for attention to detailed accuracy in his depictions of south Texas scenes during the last half of the 19th century. Here, he painted the waters of San Pedro Springs green, the color that indeed characterizes most groundwaters from limestone aquifers such as the Edwards. When they flow, the various pools of the San Pedro Springs are distinctly different shades of emerald green to aquamarine.

San Pedro Springs, by Robert Whelan

It is very difficult to photograph the Spring pools and the swimming pool together, so we are relying here on the artistic vision of watercolorist Robert Whelan to show both in context.

Spring e is the largest.  Springs a and b, in front of the bandstand, were sealed by the City Parks and Recreation Department many years ago to divert more flow to the other Springs. There were many additional springs in the area where the swimming pool is today; their locations have been lost to history.

In 2014, artist Susan Dunis created a series of paintings for these pages that depict a family of Lower Pecos natives on a sacred pilgrimage to the Edwards springs sites about 4,000 years ago. Each painting illustrates a different aspect of cultural importance of the Edwards springs.

In this painting, the fifth in the series, the theme is the use of the springs for gathering food and tools, and their use for simple pleasure and relaxation. While the younger family members take a swim in the sun-drenched springs, the men are selecting chert for point-making, collecting wild grapes, and fishing.

See the other paintings in the series on these pages:

San Antonio Springs

Spanish exploration and settlement

By 1680 the Spanish had begun to fear French expansion into lands claimed by Spain, and between 1709 and 1722 several Spanish entradas, or formal expeditions, made their way across Texas.  These explorers realized the gentle plain below San Pedro Springs was a strategic spot for a permanent stronghold against French incursion.  Father Isidro Felix de Espinosa, one of the leaders of an expedition in 1709, gave the Springs their name and provided the first known description: 

We crossed a large plain in the same direction, and after going through a mesquite flat and some holm-oak groves we came to an irrigation ditch, bordered by many trees and with water enough to supply a town.  It was full of taps and sluices of water, the earth being terraced.  We named it agua de San Pedro....

Espinosa's description of an irrigation ditch with sluices and terraces has often been interpreted as evidence that native Americans were practicing irrigation here or that earlier Spanish settlers were already present. However, I. Waynne Cox pointed out there is no evidence for either interpretation in any other text or in the archaeological record (in Houk, 1999). There is no evidence anywhere else in the San Antonio River valley that inhabitants became farmers. M. B. Collins has suggested that because the plant and animal resources were so rich and diverse, efficient hunting and gathering prevailed and the labors and limitations of food production were looked upon with disdain (Collins, 1995). The terraces referred to by Espinoza may have been natural limestone outcroppings that were later quarried. In this region, limestone layers erode at different rates, resulting in hillsides having a stair-step appearance that can be mistaken as man-made.

Another Franciscan missionary, Antonio de San Buenaventuara y Olivares, also arrived with Espinosa's 1709 expedition and became interested in this area of Texas and the intelligent Papaya Indians.  He began a nine year campaign to build a mission here.  He got his chance in 1718 when Martin de Alarcon, a Spanish soldier of fortune and governor of the province of Texas, was sent to establish a presidio and settlement.  Many delays in mounting the expedition led to acrimony between Alarcon and Olivares, and they took separate routes to their destination.  On May 1, 1718, Olivares broke ground just west of San Pedro Springs, built a hut of brush and grapevines, offered Mass, and named his mission San Antonio de Valero.  This marked the establishment of San Antonio's first permanent settlement by Europeans.  Meanwhile, Alarcon chose the creek just below the Springs for the site of the Royal Presidio, which became the focal point of Spanish defense in western Texas and San Antonio.

This depiction of Father Olivares holding mass at San Pedro Springs appeared on a flyer advertising Arbor Day in the park in 1971.

Olivares' little mission later became known as the Alamo and the shrine of Texas liberty.  So originally, the mission was not on the San Antonio River where the famous battle was fought, but here at San Pedro.  After establishment west of the Springs in 1718, the mission was moved in 1719 to the east side of the Springs where farmland was better, and then was moved to the location now occupied by St. Joseph's church.  Hurricane floods destroyed it in 1724 and the mission was then moved to its final location on the banks of the San Antonio River (Noonan-Guerra, 1987).

By January of 1719, Alarcon was directing the construction of San Antonio’s first irrigation canal, or acequia, to carry water from the Spring headwaters toward agricultural lands. Eventually, a system of seven canals diverting water from both San Pedro and San Antonio springs would form the framework around which present-day San Antonio grew up. There are many streets in San Antonio, such as Saint Mary’s, South Flores, and Presa, that were originally laid out to follow the contours of the canals. This explains their still meandering nature, although the canals are long gone.

By replotting the metes and bounds of land grants that bordered the canal, I. Waynne Cox established that the first canal at San Pedro started on the eastern edge of the Springs and flowed southeast 1,308 feet to the east of San Pedro Creek, where it turned slightly more to the east to intersect a projection that is now Richmond Avenue. It then paralleled the general course of present day Richmond Avenue and discharged into the San Antonio River where the Municipal Auditorium is today (Cox, 2005).

In 1729, not long after the city's first acequia was in operation, San Pedro Park was established when King Philip V of Spain declared the land surrounding the Springs to be an ejido, or public land.  Two years later, in 1731, the ejido was used for the first time in the public interest when the commander of the Royal Presidio designated it the temporary farming land of 56 men, women, and children who had just arrived from the Canary Islands.  As such, the land around the Springs was also the site of San Antonio's first permanent settlement by European civilians.  Until their arrival, the only colonists had been the military and religious missionaries. 

The remains of an acequia that can still be seen in the Park today (photo below) were not from the first acequia, they are a remnant of the Alazan Ditch, built in 1874 by Anglo businessmen. The old world masters that constructed the first acequias were highly adept at designing and executing perfectly functioning canals, while the Alazan Ditch, with a design dictated by City Hall, never functioned correctly. A casual inspection of the canal’s remains today will reveal that it starts at a higher elevation than most of the spring outlets. In 1874, after work had begun, the press reported the city engineer had “discovered that water will not run uphill” (San Antonio Express, April 16, 1875).

Though declared a public land in 1729, it took more than a century for the area around the Springs to take on the appearance of a modern day park. It remained little more than an outpost where armed travelers could graze their pack animals and obtain water.  Around 1785, Philip Nolan, one of the first English-speaking adventurers in New Spain, brought his pack train to the site and skirted Spanish law to establish a trading network that created American-style commerce in Texas.

The alignment of San Antonio's first acequia, from San Pedro Springs to where the Municipal Auditorium is today, as determined by I. Waynne Cox.


Military uses of the Springs

In the spring of 1813, revolutionists who favored a separation of Texas from Spain formed the Republican Army of the North and achieved victory over Spanish Royalist forces in San Antonio.  They declared Texas to be independent, but the first Texas Republic was shortlived, as almost all the Republicans were massacred at the Battle of Medina in August of the same year.  Following the battle, the city was systematically raped and pillaged and almost became a ghost town.  Records of Spanish land grants in the village archives were lost, such as the one that declared an ejido around San Pedro Springs.

Texas finally achieved independence in 1836, but the following decade was one of continued carnage and battles against re-invading Mexican troops and marauding Indians.  By 1841, Texas Rangers headquartered in San Antonio under Captain Jack Hays had become experienced riders and Indian fighters.  When they were not on expeditions against unfriendly Indians or Mexicans, they would join local Mexican cowboys and Comanche warriors at San Pedro Springs for riding contests and exhibitions of amazing feats of horsemanship.  John Duval's firsthand descriptions of these riding matches are the earliest recorded use of the site as a recreation center.  He wrote:

Drawn up in line on one side of the arena, and sitting like statues upon their horses, were the Comanche warriors, decked out in their savage finery of paints, feathers and beads, and looking with Indian stoicism upon all that was going on around them.

Opposite to them were the Texas Rangers:

...dressed in buckskin hunting shirts, leggins, and slouched hats, and with pistols and Bowie knives stuck in their belts.

and also:

...a few Mexican rancheros, dressed in their steeple crown, broad brim sombreros, showy scarfs and slashed trowsers, holding gracefully in check the fiery mustangs on which they were mounted.

After the arena had been cleared of the large crowd that had come to watch the show, the contest began:

A Mexican lad mounted on a paint pony, with a spear in his hand, cantered off a couple of hundred yards, and laid the spear flat on the ground.  Immediately a Comanche brave started forth from their line, and plunging his spurs into his horse's flanks dashed off in a direction opposite to that where the spear was lying, for a hundred yards or so; then wheeling suddenly he came rushing back at full speed, and as he passed the spot where the spear had been placed, without checking his horse for an instant, he swerved from his saddle, seized the spear, and rising gracefully in his seat, continued his headlong course for some distance beyond, when he wheeled again and galloped back, dropping the spear as he returned at the same spot from which he had taken it, and resumed his place in the ranks.  The same feat was then performed by a dozen or so each of the Rangers, rancheros, and Indians.

Duval described how other portions of the contest involved shooting arrows and bullets into a target while riding past at full speed, shooting imaginary foes while hiding under a galloping horse's neck, and numerous horseback acrobatics.  In the final event, the contestants broke in several wild horses, and then the judges awarded first prize to a Ranger and second prize to a Comanche warrior (Duval, 1892).

In 1845, anticipating war with Mexico, the United States sent troops into Texas under Colonel William Harney, and his three companies of the 2nd United States Dragoons pitched camp near the Springs, making the Park the first home of a U.S. garrison in Texas.  The city recognized the advantage of having a permanent military presence and offered 100 acres of free land around the Springs for establishment of a fort, but Harney declined, telling City Council "The low land is unhealthful and the open space makes it easy for Indians to attack" (Crook, 1967).

Although the army did not make a permanent base at San Pedro Springs, their encampment there began a relationship with the U.S. military that has lasted until this day and profoundly impacted San Antonio. In 1917, Mayor Sam C. Bell addressed a gathering of Army representatives and Chamber of Commerce members, and he told of the soldiers having come to town in 1845: "They pitched camp at San Pedro Springs and, finding it an ideal spot for military headquarters, have never left. The soldiers have been marrying the daughters of San Antonio for years, and that is why the Alamo City is called the mother-in-law of the Army" (San Antonio Light, August 17, 1917).

In 1849, some of the troops that had fought with William Jennings Worth in Mexico camped around springs in San Antonio during a cholera epidemic in which Worth and 600 others died.  The campsite came to be known as "Worth's Spring", possibly referring to a location at San Pedro Springs Park (see the FAQ on Worth's Spring).

In 1851, with original records missing, the City sought to re-establish the boundaries around San Pedro Park.  Officials had the boundaries marked off as remembered by older residents, and then the city initiated legal proceedings against those it considered trespassers.  In the case of Lewis and Others v. San Antonio, the District Court found in favor of the City and granted title to 46.004 acres that is now San Pedro Park.

In 1852 the City sold two adjacent lots to Jacob J. Duerler, who built his house within 200 feet of the Springs on city land.  In 1854 the City Council officially granted him permission to live on the property.  In September of that same year, a two-day county agricultural fair was one of the first large community events to be held in the Park.  Farmers and stockmen brought the best samples of their products to compete for prizes.

Two years later, in 1854, the United States Army experimented with the use of camels in south Texas and temporarily stabled the animals in San Pedro Springs Park.  In 1860 Sam Houston delivered a two-hour speech against secession at a large political rally at the Park.  During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers used the Park as a prisoner-of-war camp.  These intense uses by the military damaged the Park and in 1863 the City Council prohibited military encampments and livestock. 

San Antonio's Amusement Park

In 1864, Jacob J. Duerler petitioned the city for a 20 year lease of the property in exchange for much-needed stewardship and improvements including fencing, planting of trees and shrubs, and cleaning the Springs.  Under Duerler's management, the Park became San Antonio's amusement center, with an amazing array of attractions and interesting improvements to the grounds.  Duerler created five fish ponds, planted flower gardens, constructed a speaker's stand and exhibition building with a ballroom and bar, rented boats, built a horse-race track, and opened a small museum and zoo.  

This map from 1870 shows the configuration of Duerler's five ponds west of the lake, where the concession buildings are located today.


This section of an 1894 sewer map noted two drainways leaving the lake on the southeast corner; the one on the left is San Pedro Creek and the other is an acequia, the San Pedro Ditch.

In 1873, Edward King, writing for Scribner's Monthly Magazine, captured the spirit of the Park:

The San Pedro is commonly known as a creek, but has many a beautiful nook along its banks; and in one of them the Germans have established their beer garden, at what is called "San Pedro Springs."  There, in the long Sunday afternoons, hundreds of families are gathered, drinking beer, listening to music and singing, playing with the fawns, or gazing into the bear garden and the den of the Mexican panther.

There, too, the Turnverein takes its exercise; and in a long hall dozens of German children waltz, under the direction of a gray-haired old professor, while two spectacled masters of the violin make music.  This is the Sunday rendezvous of great numbers of citizens of San Antonio, Germans and Americans, and is as merry, as free from vulgarity or quarreling, as any beer garden in Dresden the fair.

Also in 1873, a large colony of genuine gypsies descended upon and camped at San Pedro Springs. The city was greatly attracted by the visitors, and large crowds gathered about the gypsy camp whose members provided entertainment and amusement, while others begged money from the spectators.

In 1926, the Joske's department store held a 53rd anniversary sale and offered an opportunity for art students at local high schools to make some money for themselves by sketching interesting happenings in San Antonio in 1873, the year Joske's was founded.

Miss Joe Raphael, art student at Main Avenue High, responded with this drawing that ran in a Joske's ad in the Light newspaper on October 13, 1926.

Park manager J. J. Duerler died unexpectedly in 1874 from injuries suffered in a fall, and and his son Gustave took on management of the site until 1877, when city records indicate that Duerler's son-in-law Isaac N. Lerich was representing the Duerler heirs in management of the Park. Duerler was buried in the Park but by 1886, his grave had been descrated by vandals and the monument fallen into decay, so his son had his remains disinterred and removed to the city cemetery.

In 1878 a mule-drawn cart began continuous runs from the Alamo Plaza to the Park, making it more popular and accessible than ever.  About this time a bandstand was added, and there were hot-air balloon rides and daring parachutists, shooting matches, and horse races.

Even while the Park was become more popular, dissatisfaction over the management provided by Lerich was growing.  The City Council initiated fence repairs and tree trimming on its own, and in 1880 passed a strongly worded ordinance that directed Mr. Lerich to make specific improvements.  By 1883, the Duerler heirs had sold their unexpired lease to Frederick Kerbel, and City Council voted unanimously to approve the transfer.  In that year, the General Directory of the City of San Antonio described the Park this way:

Much as bountiful nature had done to this park, man has done still more, and the result is a pleasure park, with cool banks beneath great overhanging trees, numerous fishponds filled with rare fish, a large lake spanned by an artistic and substantial bridge, the headsprings of San Pedro Creek, a bear pit, an aviary, and all the various buildings, dance pavilion, etc., which contribute to the enjoyment of its patrons.

San Pedro Springs, circa 1877

A view of San Pedro Springs that appeared in the San Antonio Guide and West Texas Directory for 1877, by Garza & McKernan Publishers of San Antonio. The only examples of this book I have seen are all marked 'Sample Copy', which suggests perhaps the book was never actually published and only a few copies were made as a marketing tool.

San Pedro Park, circa 1881

An engraving of San Pedro park from San Antonio and Environs, published by Inquirer Printing and Publishing of Lancaster, PA in 1881. The image appeared on the frontispiece of the book, emphasizing the importance of San Pedro Park to San Antonio at that time. The photograph upon which the engraving was based appeared in the 1877 San Antonio directory mentioned just above.

In 1885, Gustave Jermy, a Hungarian naturalist, opened the Museum of Natural History, a forerunner of today's Witte Museum. He acquired many interesting specimens of Texas, mostly by donation, including fossils, rare birds, animals, and lizards.

Around 1886, a newsboy named Willie Ivy conducted an aerial stunt in which he walked a rope stretched across the water in San Pedro Park at a height of about 100 feet. Ivy went on to become a world-famous aeronaut, conducting many feats of aerial daring across the country and in Europe. He was also credited with making the first balloon ascension in San Antonio and was the first in the world to leap from a balloon using a parachute, a feat witnessed in the Park by thousands of San Antonians and visitors from surrounding towns.

By 1894 Dave Menck had taken over the Museum enterprise and he added additional specimens such as bald eagles and elk. He also added oddities like a "genuine snow white opossum", and it was the only place in town to see Chinese waltzing mice and an anteater taught to walk a slack wire.

Some other interesting features in the Park at that time included a strange little conical building that some say was built as a Victorian summer home and became known as the "Grotto".  Others say it was used as a cage for bears. Through a pipe in the center, spring water rose to the top under artesian pressure and ran down the sides, creating a habitat for moss and ferns. There was also a large star-shaped rock structure that had an interesting fountainhead at its center, and a very popular, picturesque path called Lovers Lane that began at the east end of the bridge that spanned the lake. Some of the large trees that lined the path are still there. It would be difficult to guess how many romantic interludes occurred here!

Another important element of San Antonio's love-making was bicycling in the Park. After paths were improved and smoothed, the Light newspaper reported the site had become a mecca for cyclists, with large numbers gathering there every night. At San Pedro, "more than one happy love was born on a bicycle built for two." There was also a race track for cyclists - an eighth-mile course made of boards with curves so steeply banked that riders had to get a running start to acquire enough centrifugal force to make it. One Sunday afternoon, the entire town turned out to see "Human Pitted Against Beast", in which two cyclists outran a horse that galloped around the outside of the track.

During these years, the Park was in what we may retrospectively call its "heyday".

In 1886, the temperant Christian women were pretty much correct in their assessment of San Antonians; one need only attend any of today's Fiesta events to be convinced the people here have not changed very much:

The "Bulletin Board" published at Hempstead by the Women's Christian Temperance Union of Texas as an official organ, in its issue of the 21st ultimatum, strongly intimates that the people of San Antonio are given over to ungodly fun, guzzling of beer, and reprobacy of mind, the recent picnic by the Lone Star brewery employees at the San Pedro Springs moving it to such painful conclusions. In one place it says:

"The owners of the Lone Star Brewery, San Antonio, gave a Gambrinus picnic on Sunday, the 11th installment. Part of the entertainment a fat woman's race. What a spectacle for a civilized land!"

The "Gambrinus" referred to was a legendary culture hero of Europe, celebrated as an icon of beer and joviality. The article is from the San Antonio Daily Express, August 7, 1886. Today, we don't really race fat women anymore, but that's about the only difference.

San Pedro Springs beer garden

San Pedro Springs ad

From Edward King's 1873 article in Scribner's Monthly Magazine. In the late 1880s, this ad appeared in the San Antonio Light newspaper almost every day.

The Grotto, 1921 postcard and 2008 photo

Concrete star, 2008 and 1912 photo
In the 1880s this star shaped structure in the Park had a spring-fed fountainhead at its center. The photo from 1912 reveals the feature at the top of the fountain was what appears to be...a cows head?

San Pedro Park balloon ascension

Miss Stella Robbins was a regular performer in the many balloon ascensions and parachute leaps at San Pedro Park. On December 11, 1893, fully 1,500 people were on hand to watch and were entertained by a practice game of football while the balloon was filling.

At 5 o'clock the balloon ascended, and after attaining a very respectable height, the parachute was cut loose, and the fair aeronaut dropped gracefully down to mother earth, amid great applause. She then took up a collection and received $69 for her afternoon's work.

In early February of 1894, Miss Robbins injured her ankle in a leap, so she employed Charles Girard to do it on February 18:

He was too heavy for the "shute" and came down very fast, landing in the top of a tree and injuring his right lower limb badly. His costume was badly torn. Girard was seen by a reporter last night and seemed to be suffering some pain, but is not seriously hurt.

Other regular performers included Professor Romig, who would make the leap with his monkey before crowds of more than 1,000.

The Cradle of San Antonio Sports

Almost every single sport that became popular in early San Antonio started at San Pedro Springs. Many of them were played for the first time in Texas at San Pedro. In 1935, the Express newspaper offered a look back at the beginnings of sport in San Antonio:

Old San Pedro Springs harbors many traditions, and not the least of these is sports. It is here that practically every branch of sport in San Antonio was born. San Pedro Springs used to be the logical center of recreation from the time the first Union troops arrived here shortly upon the close of the Civil War and staged the first baseball game in San Antonio. Here the first fair and exposition was held with a program of horse races as the sport feature, run on a half-time track that used to extend along San Pedro Avenue down past Evergreen Street, turned westward and back north to the place of beginning, forming an oval on which the fastest ponies in Southwest Texas showed their stuff.

It is here the first polo match was played between a team of cowboys and a crack English four and it is here cricket matches and football games were played. The first golf links were laid out just north of San Pedro Springs, as may be recalled by William Aubrey and Frank M. Lewis, both of whom were among the early devotees. The old St. Louis Browns under Charlie Comiskey played an exhibition game at San Pedro Springs 50 years ago, and even before that the Mascots, an outgrowth of the old comic opera of that name, produced here at the time, as recalled the other day by Billie Rote, played ball here with Billie Tobin pitcher.

Here the old Alamo Gun Club, of which August Thiele was a charter member, used to shoot clay pigeons, and Dr. Carver, Dr. Penrose, and Captain Bogardus used to engage in competitive shooting matches in an old gravel pit near the car barns, before San Pedro Avenue was extended northward. Willie Ivy Baldwin used to walk a high wire and make balloon ascensions here. Walking matches, in which Dan O'Leary took part, and dancing contests used to be staged in the old pavilion and tub races were held on the lake. Competitive drills were staged in the old ball park, near the car barns, during the Volksfest, in which the Belknap Rifles won first prize against a field of crack militia companies from all over the state. Dr. W. F. Carver exhibited his famous diving horses here, one of which was white, mounted by a girl in red tights, diving off a platform 30 feet above the ground into a tank of water, and Jack Prince staged pursuit races here in a wooden saucer with Louis F. Birdson among the participants.

San Pedro Springs may truly be named the Cradle of Sports in San Antonio.

A Short List of San Pedro Events

The list of activities and events at San Pedro Springs during the heyday years is simply endless. From newspaper accounts, I assembled a very abbreviated list to illustrate the scope and importance of this place to San Antonio's 19th century social scene:

Date Event
September 23, 1877 A Rope Ascension and Gymnastic Exhibition by Miss Rosa Marretta, the wonderful lady gymnast.
October 13, 1877 The Eleventh Texas Saengerfest, with a banquet and Grand Concert.
November 1, 1881 The Ninth Grand Fair of the Agricultural, Stockraising, and Industrial Association of Western Texas.
March 11, 1882

Miss Nelly Burke, champion lady rider of the world, in a 10 mile race against Miss Molly Taylor.

April 11, 1882 The Bexar Benevolent Association Easter picnic.
April 23, 1882 A grand open air concert, public invited.
April 27, 1882 The Odd Fellows 63rd anniversary celebration, with music by the Italian band.
May 5-7, 1882

The Mexican Benevolent Association celebration, with several addresses in the Mexican language.

June 19, 1882 Emancipation Day celebration, with music by the brass band.
June 27, 1882 A complimentary banquet to the survivors of Hood's Brigade.
August 17, 1882

Fine orchestral music under the direction of Professor Katzenberger.

August 17, 1882 "Cups and Saucers" is performed in the new ampitheatre.
August 19, 1882 A moonlight picnic and hop.
August 30, 1882

Entertainment for the benefit of the sufferers of the Yellow Fever, with illumination furnished free by Mr. Kerble.

September 7, 1882 Competition for the Donaldson Prize for skill in dancing, won by Miss Ella Welsh.
April 1, 1883 A grand concert by the Eighth Cavalry Band.
April 18, 1883

The reception of the Grand Commandory.

May 26, 1883 The Sons of Hermann Annual Picnic, with dance until the small hours of the morning, and abundant ice cream cakes.
July, 1883 The Tyrolean Troupe sings every Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights.
August 18, 1883

A match game between the Austin Red Stockings and the San Antonio Blues.

December 9, 1883 The San Antonio Gun Club adjourns to San Pedro Springs for their usual Sunday afternoon shoot.
March 19, 1884 A great deal of amusement is created by the removal of the animals to their new cages.
July 19, 1884

Georgie Guerrero makes another attempt at suicide by taking a vial of morphine in the presence of her lover; the druggist from whom the morphine was purchased had a suspicion and humanely dispensed a harmless preparation.

July 31, 1884 The ladies of the Bexar County Auxiliary Exposition gave an entertainment, with tableaux, music, and dancing.
August 7, 1884 The Beethoven Maennerchor and the Mendelssohn mixed choruses give a grand picnic to commence at 6 o'clock.
August, 1884

The United States Military Band plays every Sunday afternoon.

June 1886 The Spanish Kings, gymnastic and trapeze performers, the famous Irish Comedians, and the Champion Clog Dancers, every Thursday, Friday, and Sunday nights.
September 19, 1886 A free Mexican Supper, with theatrical performance.
September 20, 1886

The Grand Celebration of the Italian Society of the Sixteenth Anniversary of the Capture of Rome.

December 25, 1886 The colored coachmen of the city formed in procession to San Pedro Springs, mounted on elegant steeds and dressed in broadcloth, red sashes, and plug hats.
April 29, 1887

The teachers and children of the Third Ward Public School take dinner at San Pedro Springs.

May 30, 1887 A balloon ascension at 4:30, with minstrels at the Springs this evening, and a grand ball after conclusion of concert.
February 21, 1888 William Delvy accepts the challenge from Edward Loon for a high rope walk at San Pedro Springs on February 26.
March 24, 1888

A Leap Year Ball.

June 3, 1888 The public is invited to see the pavillion illuminated with electric lights.
July 4, 1888 Fourth of July celebration with grand display of fireworks.
September 25, 1889

The First Batallion of the Colored Volunteer Guards hold their annual encampment.

February 10, 1890 The world's champion trap shooters, East versus West, under the auspices of the United States Cartridge Company.
August 30, 1890 Professor Alphonse King, the Water Walker, gives an exhibition of his art.
August 30, 1890

A Duck Chase in concurrence with Professor King's exhibition promises to create lots of amusement.

September 18, 1890 Nineteen head of cattle belonging to C. C. McClinton are caught in San Pedro Park and driven to the pound.
October 11-12, 1890 Two days of revelry in the mammoth German Day celebration, with 12 great wagon floats to represent important epochs in German history.
March 29, 1891

Fully five or six hundred citizens, mostly young people, took in the San Pedro Springs where the Trevino family gave a performance on horseback.

April 11, 1891 The greatest attraction in San Antonio is the three baby lions born April 7 at the Zoo in San Pedro park.
July 16, 1891 On order of city council for removal of the carp, Mr. Frank Krisch will commence a seining of the lake, followed by a grand fish barbecue.
August 13, 1892

Today's events at San Pedro Springs: Free! Balloon Ascension. See the Dancing Skeletons and Chinese Bell Ringers. See Baby Deaves, the Phenominal Child Artist, in Song and Dances. See the wonderful exhibition of Shadowgraphs. See Professor Davis' Royal Marionettes. Laugh as you never laughed before.

December 10, 1893 A large crowd witnessed the balloon ascension and parachute drop by Miss Stella Robinson.
January 14, 1894 Professor Kearney P. Steddy made a "leap for life" from a tower 75 feet high into a tank containing but three feet of water.
March 25, 1894

A rattlesnake and a vampire bat engaged in a terrible fight, from the effects of which both died.

October 19, 1895 The Italians of San Antonio celebrate the 403rd anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus.
February 29, 1896 The Original Wild West Show.
March 17, 1896

Dr. Carver's exhibition of fancy shooting, with feats of shooting glass balls, silver coins, rocks, and oranges.

April 24, 1896 The final performance of "Seven Old Ladies of Lavender Town".
May 3, 1896 The Electrical Workers union annual picnic.
February 6, 1898

The Norris Brothers Dog and Pony Show gives two performances.

September 29, 1898 Grand Roping and Riding Contest, with infuriated Texas steers, and the Wonder of the World Will Pickett.
December 8, 1898 Japanese waltzing mice at the San Pedro Springs Museum. Performances every day.
January 22, 1899

Mr. Dave Menck of the San Pedro Park Zoo has secured a genuine snow white opposum.

March 19, 1899 Famous trick cyclists Rube Shields and George Phillips give an exhibition.
May 3, 1900 Mr. Dave Menck has just received two young bald eagles at the San Pedro Springs Zoo.
May 4, 1900

Mr. Dave Menck has an anteater which he has taught to walk a slack wire.

September 23, 1904 The Ivy Club Hay Ride.


The Beginning of the End

By 1891, wells were being drilled into the Edwards Aquifer.  On August 1 of that year, the impact of one well was documented in the San Antonio Daily Express. The event created great excitement, but it was not recognized as the harbinger of the Spring's end: 

Although the completion of this particular well actually increased the flow, the drilling of many others was about to ensure a long, slow decline of the Springs towards intermittent and meager flow, and then long-term cessation.

Also in 1891, upon expiration of Kerbel's lease, the City Council voted to assume management of the Park.  Over the next few years, both springflows and the Park itself suffered serious deterioration.  In 1897 Mayor Bryan Callaghan was elected for a second term and took a great interest in renovating the Park.  The lake was cleaned and its stone walls repaired, Duerler's ponds were filled in and his pavilions demolished, and a new bandstand was constructed.  Grass, tropical plants, caladium, and water lilies were added, and driveways, bridges, benches, pathways, planting beds, and a boat landing were built. Several of the smaller springs were artistically walled in with rock and pretty little canals were built to carry water to the lake. 

San Pedro Lake Swan Boat, 1891  
San Antonio firemen in one of the swan boats on San Pedro Lake, July 4, 1891. Photo provided by Hector Cardenas.

The Park formally reopened on August 11, 1899, but by this time it was surrounded by San Antonio's rapidly growing residential neighborhoods, and the drilling of numerous wells ensured that springflows would never again be as vigorous and reliable as in the past. 

Scenes on San Pedro River, 1880's

1880s engraving entitled Scenes on San Pedro River, near San Antonio.


The Alamo Cannon (cannons?)

In August of 1899, seven cannons were recovered during excavation for the foundation of the Maverick building at the corner of Houston Street and Avenue D (now Broadway), which would have been within the Alamo compound during the famous 1836 battle. The largest of these cannons, covered with a rust and with a broken muzzle, "was placed in San Pedro Springs Park near the bandstand as an ornament of historical interest." It was about six feet long, having once fired a ball of about 3 1/2 inches. At the time it was suggested that all seven cannons were probably spiked and buried by Texian rebels, who had more guns than ammunition, to keep them from falling into the hands of the Mexicans in case they lost (The Daily Light, August 8, 1899).

Only four months later, on Christmas Day, an idiot rammed a big charge of powder down the cannon's throat, drilled the rust out of the old fuse hole, placed a fuse in it, and set it off.

The Daily Light reported "the boom was followed by the sounds of pieces of iron falling in all directions and when the excited residents of that part of the city arrived at the point where the gun had lain, they found only part of the muzzle - the back end had been blown to pieces."

The next morning Mr. David Menck, custodian of the Museum and Zoological garden, "visited the gun and to his astonishment found a fresh charge of powder in the back of that part of the gun which was left and upon closer investigation, a few feet away he found an iron cannon ball, covered with rust, which fit exactly in the rear end of the unexploded part of the gun, where fresh powder could be seen."

The Light reported that Mr. Menck " once solved the problem. The old gun while in use in the Mexican war was loaded when spiked and buried. It had lain under ground all that time charged for mischief. When the mischief maker of Saturday night charged the ancient gun his load of powder only went down the barrel as far as the rusted ball and it was this charge which Mr. Menck found after the explosion. When the fuse-hole was drilled out and the fuse inserted, instead of setting fire to the fresh charge of powder it had set fire to the charge of powder placed there 63 years ago. The ball could not be forced out of the rusted muzzle, consequently the rear part of the gun exploded." (The Daily Light, December 28, 1899)

Mr. Menck displayed the ball and some pieces of the exploded cannon in his museum.

What happened to the cannon after that is an enduring mystery that Alamo enthusiasts are still trying to figure out. There are a handful of pictures and postcards that show a cannon in the Park, but none can be affirmatively dated to a time before the 1899 explosion incident. It is unclear if a second cannon was moved to the Park or if the first cannon was somehow reconstructed and displayed.

In 1917, confederate veteran Charles T. Smith told a local newspaper tales of what it was like in old San Antonio, and he claims that he and several boys, imagining the cannon full of gold, set about to break into it:

We worked with a sledge hammer for some time, but that was not effective. A woman told us to pour an acid over it, then to saw it with a yarn string. Of course, we did as we were advised. We kept up the work for days, taking turn about doing the sawing. After we had made a dent a half-inch deep all round the cannon we decided to try the sledge hammer again again, and were successful in breaking it open a little above the point where we had been laboring on. There was nothing in the old thing but empty cartridges, and our idea of getting rich that way faded away. That old cannon is now in San Pedro Springs, in front of that Indian fort. The indentation which we made with that yarn string is still there. I am the only one of those boys living that did that piece of work." (San Antonio Express, Sep. 7, 1917)

Researchers are skeptical of Mr. Smith's story. Sawing an indentation with yarn seems like a yarn in itself. And there are no other accounts of a cannon front of the "Indian fort" (the Block House); all other accounts place the cannon near the bandstand. Also, the original newspaper account from 1899 when a cannon was dug up and moved to the Park reported the muzzle as already broken.

San Pedro Park cannon
Mr. Fernando Raven with a cannon in San Pedro Park.

San Pedro Park cannon mount
The cannon mount in the photo above is still partially buried near the bandstand.

The Block House

Several hundred feet east of the Springs is a very old small stone building with vertical slits for rifles thought to have been used as an early refuge against hostile Indian attacks. It's date of construction has not been firmly established, but some believe it may be the oldest structure in Texas.

One theory is that it was built by Spanish soldiers between 1690 and 1716 and was the southwest corner of a stockade, the rest of which was made of cedar and was burned by the Indians. If this is true, it would predate Olivares' 1718 mission. Casting doubt on this theory is the fact that no mention of the building is made by the friars who carefully recorded descriptions of the land. There is some evidence that at least a portion of the building pre-dated the arrival of Canary Islanders in 1731. When the San Antonio Daily Light reported on the death of Thomas A. Rodriguez on April 9, 1903, it mentioned his grandfather was the head of one of the Canary Islander families and owned all the land between the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek. The paper mentioned the elder Rodriguez had a flax farm at San Pedro Springs and "built a portion of the old stone house still standing in the park." The implication is that a portion of the building was already there when Canary Islanders arrived.

Another old San Antonio legend says the structure was built by the Texas army to store powder. Others say it was only a hay barn. In later years, J. J. Duerler used the little building as a smokehouse.

The Block House, 2008 photograph and 1909 postcard

San Pedro Park Powder House

This image presents a complication to the legend of the Block House being used to store powder. The publisher of this circa 1910 postcard referred to it as the Powder House. The building no longer stands and I haven't found any other published references to it.

Santa Anna's Old Home

An early divided back card by the Acmegraph Co. identfies the Block House as "Santa Anna's Old Home." Santa Anna definitely never lived here.

Old Mexican Dwelling in San Pedro Park

Another vintage postcard view of the Block House, this time referred to as an "Old Mexican Dwelling".

Legends of San Pedro Springs

There are many haunting legends and mysterious tales associated with the San Pedro Springs and Park.  For example, Francisco Rodriguez, a Canary Island immigrant to Texas in the 1730's, is reported to have buried several chests of gold and silver coins near the Springs, perhaps in caves under the northern edge of the Park.  He died before telling anyone the location, and they have never been found. (Brune, 1975).  The same caves were reputed to have been used as hideouts for bandits in the mid 19th century. 

Another legend that persists to this day concerns a tunnel that once connected the Alamo and San Pedro Springs Park.  The passageway was supposed to have been formed by a cave that ran much of the distance between the two sites, beginning in the Flag Room at the Alamo.  Some say the opening at the San Pedro Park end was in the "bear pit", a small quarry that was a part of San Antonio's first zoo and that has been covered since 1897.  Others say the tunnel emerged under the gazebo and was so large one could ride a horse through it.  Geologists say it's highly unlikely such a tunnel ever existed because it would have had to go underneath the San Antonio River. Today, there is a tunnel under the Alamo, but it wasn't built until the 1980s, for the purpose of flood control (see the San Antonio River page).

The Lure of Lolita

One of the legends of San Pedro Springs, The Lure of Lolita, appeared in a 1911 newspaper short story and involves the inhabitants of the old Block House. The article says that about 60 years earlier, around 1851, a man named Vincent Boone sought shelter from a storm at the Block House.  A very old, dark man who called himself Pedro Lara answered the door and, noticing that Boone carried a fat money bag, offered him food and the opportunity to stay the night in a hut nearby.  He introduced Boone to Lolita, an extremely beautiful young girl that Lara said was his daughter.  Boone was wary of Lara, and decided to spend the night with his gun on his chest and his clothes on.  During the night, Boone heard noises in his hut, struck a match, and saw Lara approaching with a knife.  The match went out, and Boone shot into the darkness.  He lit another match, but Lara was nowhere to be seen.  Then, Lolita ran up to the hut and revealed a trap door that led to a shallow cave where Lara lay dead.  She begged Boone for mercy, saying she was not Lara's daughter but had been bought by him as a young child and had been used time and time again to lure travelers into staying in the hut so Lara could rob and kill them.  She said the cave already contained the bodies of two people Lara had killed.   Whether or not any of this is true no one can say.  But in 1900 city workers were extending San Pedro Avenue past Dwyer Street and found a shallow cave with three skeletons.

This illustration appeared with Richard Wallace Buckley's The Lure of Lolita in the San Antonio Express on April 16, 1911. I transcribed the entire short story and you can read it here. Several small portions were not readable on the microfilm, so I did the best I could.

The "Second Oldest Park" Legend

You will often hear reputable news outlets claim that San Pedro Park is the second oldest in the nation, behind only Boston Commons. This notion derives from a plaque near the Springs that declares it to be the second oldest municipal park.

This is one of the few San Pedro legends that we can definitively state is not true. There are at least nine other city parks in the nation older than San Pedro Park. The Trust for Public Land currently lists it as number 10 (see their list).

The "bandstand moved from Alamo Plaza" legend

There are many published accounts from well-regarded authors that the bandstand in the Park was moved from Alamo Plaza sometime around the turn of the century.

One problem: it didn't happen.

Newspaper accounts from 1899 clearly report the bandstand as being new and built on the spot, noting that it "resembles the bandstand in the centre of Alamo plaza park very much." (The Daily Light, Aug. 3, 1899)

One account even provides the construction cost of $511.50. (San Antonio Daily Express, Sep. 12, 1899)


20th Century Decline and Renewal

As the 20th century began, an exploding number of Edwards wells intercepted greater and greater volumes of water that would have been destined to become springflow at San Pedro.  Still, the Park remained popular, and another major renovation began in 1915 and extended into the 1920s.  The zoo animals were moved to a new facility in Brackenridge Park and tennis courts, a library, and a community theater were constructed. In 1923, San Antonio's first municipal swimming pool was built in the old lake bed, it was a sort of naturalistic lake replenished by the Springs. A formal opening was held on April 17, 1923 as part of the city's annual San Jacinto festival, and newspaper advertisements promised "a remarkable program of aquatic events." The city built the pool and two Chamber of Commerce organizations cooperated in erecting a bath house.

The idea for a swimming pool came from children in 1913 who expanded on Mayor Clinton Brown's suggestion that some swimming holes could be created in the San Antonio River using artesian well flow. Instead, they suggested a pool at San Pedro. On July 10, the Light newspaper published one of these letters from young Raymond Turner of 742 Leal Street:

Mr. Clinton G. Brown, Mayor of San Antonio, Texas:

I must thank you for being so kind an thoughtful of the little boys and girls of San Antonio and hope you will put a bathing pool out at San Pedro Springs grandpa promise me the nickels I wish I had a nickle to send you today. I have my Brown ribbon granma give me I will ware it to the bathing pool the first time I go in bathing.

The nickle referred to in young Turner's letter referred to Mayor Brown's suggestion that if the city could not see its way clear to provide the money for the upkeep of a wading and bathing pool, it could be made self-sustaining by making a minimum charge.

San Pedro Park swimming pool, circa 1923

Almost all the very best postcard views of San Antonio and south Texas were produced by Nic Tengg, who operated a book and stationary store on West Commerce St. for over half a century, from 1874 until his death in 1927. He had a keen eye for color and composition, and this card is a prime example of Tengg's knack for capturing the human element in local scenes. With a 'divided back' and a white border, this card straddles the time period between the two postcard styles, so I am dating it to approximately 1923, when the pool was new. In several decades of collecting, I have only seen two examples of this card.

Before the first swimming pool was constructed, there was very little recreation based on actually getting wet. Not a single one of the more than 50 early postcards I have collected, nor any early stereoview cards, show anybody actually in the water. Apparently, there were a lot of alligators. In 1887, the Daily Light newspaper reported on an accident:

A crowd of about 40 people were at the San Pedro Springs yesterday in the bath house, looking at the alligators in the spring below, suddenly the bath house floor gave away with their weight and all were let down into the water. They were more frightened than wet when they scrambled out, but were not hurt. The 'gators never offered to harm anybody, probably so benumbed as to be unable to do so.

By 1922 when the swimming pool was constructed, the alligators had been moved to what appears to be the main Spring outlets, and a full-blown kerfuffle erupted when the Evening News reported that dogs from the city pound were being fed to them alive:

Miserable Cringing Beasts Are Hurled Into Yawning Jaws Under Mantle Of Night

For the sake of one dollar, would you sacrifice you faithful dog pal to satisfy the voracious appetite of the reptilian monsters in the alligator pond at San Pedro Springs? With license unpaid, branded as "strays", Giant, guardian of the household, Rover, playmate and protector of helpless children, and Brownie, constant companion of man, become bait for lazy, ugly, repugnant reptiles that, alive, have contributed nothing but terror to the human race. It is admitted by city officials that living dogs have been thrown alive into the den of beady-eyed monsters at San Pedro Springs and eaten by the hungry reptiles, while human beings, calling themselves men, watched with boisterous laughter, their courageous but futile battle for life, and heard their last agonizing yelps as their backs were broken and their bodies crunched by the snapping jaws. This "sport of knaves" was indulged in under cover of darkness. Only a select few were witnesses.

Part of what I do here is deliver long-forgotten history to the present. I am only showing this disturbing image so that we, as civilized people, never let this thing happen again! Photo from the San Antonio Evening News, September 14, 1922.

By the early 1920s, springflows became meager and intermittent, but until then the Park remained a central San Antonio attraction. An astonishing variety of early 20th century postcards depicting San Pedro Springs can be found in area antique stores and on eBay (see collection below).  Mostly produced between 1900 and 1920, they attest to the popularity and importance of the Park during these years.  Their complete disappearance after about 1925 confirms that springflows and the Park itself were in serious decline by then.  Crawfish and other aquatic life that was previously reported to be in abundance began having a difficult time surviving. Uses of the Park began to focus less on the Springs and pool and more on other activities like theatre-going and seasonal ice skating.

On October 15 of 1930, the first airmail flight out of San Antonio to the West was celebrated when Miss Jacke Hendricks broke a ribboned bottle of water from San Pedro Springs over the propellor of a Stearman biplane at Winburn Field. From here, planes intercepted the east-west transcontinental airmail route at Big Spring.

San Pedro Park Iceland ink blotter, 1940

Until the ball-point pen was invented in the 1950s, people used quill or fountain pens, and ink blotters were a popular form of advertising that were almost as common as business cards. The Iceland skating rink was across Myrtle St. from San Pedro Park, where the VIA bus parking facility is today. Iceland was a long-lived tradition - the newspaper archives contain advertisements for the event from 1926 to 1963.

Some clues about the year this blotter was made can be found in the art deco style, the admission price, and the opening date of November 30 falling on a Saturday. The art deco style was most popular in the 1930s and waned sharply after World War II. The newspapers advertised an admission price of 25 cents in 1935 and 30 cents in 1940, which is the price shown here. The next year that November 30 fell on a Saturday is 1946. They didn't advertise a price that year, but it was probably more than in 1940, and by that time the art deco movement was fading. So all things considered, 1940 seems like the year.

By the 1940s, springflows were reduced to almost zero by drought and pumping, and there was no longer sufficient water to fill the natural swimming pool, so it stood empty for a decade.  In 1954, with assistance from philanthropist and grocer Howard E. Butt, it was replaced by a smaller, rectangular pool that was filled with chlorinated municipal well water.  In the same year, the bandit caves where Rodriguez may have buried the gold were destroyed by construction of the McFarlin Tennis Center (Rybczyk, 1992).

The Springs remained mostly dry for the next 35 years, and several new generations of San Antonians grew up swimming in a municipal pool much like any other, without much remembrance or personal connection to the Springs.  But after record rain events in 1991 and 1992, the main Springs flowed profusely again and dozens of long-forgotten tiny springs bubbled up all over the Park.  For several months, the Spring pools were once again a magnet for swimmers and waders, although such recreation was officially disallowed.

A view of the main San Pedro Springs, 1992

Children swimming in San Pedro Springs when they flowed after record rains in the spring of '92.  These pools contain springs d, e, f, and g in the graphic at the top of the page.  A nearby sign commanded "NO SWIMMING". The view is looking down the bluff towards the spot where the fisherman in the Gentilz painting is seated.

In 1993 the City adopted a Park Master Plan that called for showcasing the Springs and restoring the original lake as a swimming pool, and voters passed a bond issue in 1994 to fund renovations. In 1996 disputes erupted between citizens groups and city staff over what to do with the McFarlin Tennis Center and several baseball stadiums that impeded open-space views to the Park's interior.  Many considered the Tennis Center an aesthetic eyesore - it's stadium riser seating and light towers loomed over and dominated the Springs.  Another controversy involved placement of a fence around the restored lake.  Almost everyone agreed a fence around a natural-looking lake would look stupid.  In 1996 city legal staff decided no fence was needed and noted "...the city will incur the same type of liability that exists with Woodlawn Lake and lakes and ponds in other city parks."  But at the last minute in 1998 the city attorney's office changed its mind, describing great liability exposure for the city if no fence was built.  A design for a permanent stone pier and metal fence was presented, and neighborhood objections were loud and immediate.  A compromise was reached - the fence was redesigned for easy removal and storage most of the year and would only be left in place when city swimming programs take place during the summer.

In July of 1998 work was finally set to begin on the makeover of the historic Park and Springs.  Showcasing the Springs and restoring the pool were priorities, along with a new network of wide walkways, new lighting, removal of parking to the fringes of the Park, removal of old drainage channels to create more open green space, and reconfiguration of the McFarlin Tennis Center to reduce its visual impact.

Park Reopening

On Saturday May 20, 2000, the beautifully restored San Pedro Springs Park reopened for public use. To give the new pool the feeling of a natural lake, it was finished in dark plaster and surrounded by a broad limestone walkway.  At the opening festivities descendants of the native inhabitants, the Yanaguana Drummers, shared a tribal ceremony and a mesmerizing, riveting drum performance.  Then there were many long speeches about everything the waters and Park have meant to people over the years.  It seemed ironic that at the last minute no one was allowed in the water.  It had been announced that when the ribbon was cut, swimmers would jump in.  But just before this was to occur it was announced this would "send the wrong signal" because no lifeguard was on duty and the other city parks did not officially open for swimming until May 27, a week later. 

On opening day, with swimming disallowed at the last minute, this young lady was the only person who got to go in the water and experience the watery promise of the new Park. While dignitaries made <yawn> long speeches on the other side of the pool, she peeled off her socks, dangled her feet in the water, and then quietly slid in and stood for a moment before her dad made her get out.  Such is the history of San Pedro Springs Park - it has been defined mainly in terms of many small, everyday moments for thousands of people, not by any grand historical events such as decisive battles. The new pool was finished with a dark colored bottom and sides to give it the feel of a natural lake, but people didn't get it, so the city shortly re-did it with a more conventional blue.

As part of the 1998 restoration, designer and fabricator Jack Robbins created this series of panels, each referencing a historical segment of the history of San Pedro Springs Park. They are attached to the lightpost bases around the Park.


Jack Robbins also created the medallion at right using a projectile point actually found at the Springs. These medallions are attached to the sidewalks in various places throughout the Park and point the way to the Springs.

The Springs and Park today

Since the mid-1990s, limitations on Edwards Aquifer pumping have been in place and world-class conservation efforts have been undertaken by the San Antonio Water System and local residents.  These measures have resulted in longer periods of springflow than have been witnessed in many decades.  While the renovated Park still has plenty of fans, as seen below, it has never regained its former prominence as San Antonio's most beloved playground.  Many long-time residents have never even visited the park - most are completely unaware it even exists and know nothing of its history and importance to San Antonio. A group of volunteers is working to change that. The Friends of San Pedro Springs Park is a non-profit support group under the umbrella of the San Antonio Parks Foundation, and their mission is to help with the restoration and preservation of the Park, and to communicate its long history. Membership is open to the public, and you can get more information from their website.

San Pedro Park swimming pool, June 2008  
A very busy Saturday afternoon at San Pedro Park swimming pool.

The Westside Creeks Restoration Project

Below the Springs, San Pedro Creek was a vibrant part of early San Antonio, with many residents relying on it for both food and recreation. The Creek wound its way from the Springs for about six miles to its confluence with the San Antonio River. As late as the 2010s, many old-timer residents could still relay stories of fishing and swimming and spoke of a diverse and fruitful ecosystem.

A series of devastating floods in the first half of the 20th century resulted ia a federal project, the 1954 San Antonio Channel Improvement Project, which brought vast changes to San Pedro Creek. In those days, “improvement” referred to straightening and concrete-lined channelization. While this provided flood-control benefits, the channels are, well, butt-ugly, and they offer zero habitat for any sort of wildlife.

USGS map, flood of 1921

A map from the United States Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 488, showing the areas that were inundated on San Antonio's west side in the flood of 1921.

San Pedro Creek channelization

To control floods, all of the creeks on the west side were straightened and channelized with concrete-lined ditches.

Nowadays, environmental engineers know you really don’t have to destroy a creek to get flood control benefits – it can be done in an environmentally sensitive way that gives the community an aesthetic amenity instead of a ditch.

There is a strong community desire to fix the 20th century modifications and restore San Pedro Creek to something that resembles a natural ecosystem.

Toward this end, in 2009 the San Antonio River Authority launched the Westside Creeks Restoration Project to accomplish restoration of San Pedro Creek and also Alazan, Apache, and Martinez Creeks. The goal is to apply design improvements in the flood control channels, create stable banks during flooding events, ensure erosion control, protect water quality during normal flow, and create habitat for fish, water fowl, and other birds and wildlife.

Working with consultants and the public, a Westside Creeks Restoration Project Conceptual Plan was offered in June of 2011. The overall cost was estimated at about $175 million (get the complete Conceptual Plan here).

In May of 2013, Bexar County Commissioners Court said it had $125 million available to start the project. After engineering designs are complete, it is hoped that construction could start in 2016. By 2018, the Creek would have walkways, landscaping, small pocket spaces for gathering spaces, and perhaps even a performance venue at Confluence Park, where San Pedro Creek meets the San Antonio River. In December of 2013, Commissioners Court approved a contract for design, and there were widespread hopes the work would provide a catalyst for urban revitalization of the entire west side of downtown.

Proposed San Pedro Creek restoration

A graphic from the Conceptual Plan showing the proposed restoration of the San Pedro Creek channel downstream of Nueva Street. The red line that is the concrete ditch of the existing topography will be removed, and walkways and plantings will be added, along with connections to the surrounding streets.

San Pedro Springs photo gallery

San Pedro Springs  
Another view of San Pedro Springs in '92, showing discharge of springs D and E.

Bubbling sands at San Pedro springs
A tiny Spring bubbling up from sands in San Pedro Springs Park after record rains in 1991 and 1992. At that time the Park exploded with dozens of long-forgotten tiny Springs such as this.

Alazan Ditch at San Pedro Springs
This is a remnant of the Alazan Ditch (Cardenas, 2008), built in 1874 by Anglo businessmen, not the old world experts that engineered most of San Antonio's acequias. It extended off the Upper Labor acequia and was intended to carry water north and west around San Pedro Springs to irrigate areas to the west. It's design was dictated by City Hall, not natural contours, and it never functioned correctly (Cox, 2005).

Flowing canal at San Pedro Springs
Visitors explore some of the canals in the Park, fed by bubbling springs that still flow during wet times.

New swimming pool at San Pedro Springs Park
The new swimming pool is vastly different from the old one. Compare this to some of the postcards below to get an idea of how similar it is to the 1922 swimming pool that was demolished in 1954.

San Pedro Playhouse
The San Pedro Playhouse is located in the Park and has a facade modeled after the old City Market House that once stood on West Market Street. The San Antonio Conservation Society was unable to save the original downtown structure; the City threw them a bone by building the Playhouse with a replicated exterior.

Monument to Philip Nolan
Monument to Philip Nolan, who brought his pack train here in 1785 and is credited with establishing American-style trade in Texas.


San Pedro Springs in 3D

Get out your 3D glasses and view these San Pedro Springs anaglyphs, created from late 19th century stereoview cards. Click to enlarge - it's just as if you were really there.

San Pedro Springs, by the San Antonio View Company

Sold by Nic Tengg at his legendary stationary store on Commerce Street.

3D stereoview, San Pedro Park

Photograph by C. H. Harrison

Doerr & Jacobsen stereoview

From the Scenes at San Pedro Park collection. The back says:

San Pedro Park is situated two miles from San Antonio and is city property. Used as a pleasure resort, it is justly celebrated for its lovely scenery. The San Pedro river, which runs its course through the west part of San Antonio, originates here. Many springs spend their pure refreshing waters, to combine to a beautiful little river, whose banks form a delightful promenade to health-seekers and the public. The park is connected with the city by a street railway, terminating at the Menger Hotel.


The San Pedro Springs Postcard Collection

A large variety of early 20th century postcards depicting San Pedro Springs and Park can be found in area antique stores and on eBay.  They attest to the popularity and importance of the Park. A large percentage of them were never mailed, which suggests that in an era before color photography, they were popular keepsakes of a visit to the Park.

The more than 40 postcards here represent almost as many different publishers - there is no doubt the Park was a popular and well-known landmark.  Only two of these cards were produced after about 1920, which suggests the Park and Springs were in serious decline by then.

Moss-covered trees in San Pedro Park, never mailed
This postcard appears to be the oldest in this collection, probably from before the turn of the century. It shows a tree-lined ditch in San Pedro Park.

Circa 1905 postcard, never mailed. 
Titled "A view in San Pedro Park, showing the Swans". Includes a rare view of the covered pavilion that was on the bluff above the Springs. Published in San Antonio by Sam Rosenthal, a very early maker of photographic postcards.

1906 Real Photo postcard

This card appears to have been the most popular by far, and there are at least seven different versions. Almost all of them are colored lithographs, but this one is a very rare Real Photo actual photograph of the scene. It was mailed in 1906, the same year that Eastman Kodak introduced the Real Photo postcard. A group of young boys are piloting a canoe, and 10 young girls look like so many flowers sprouting from the bank. There is a goose and a dog, and adults dressed in their finery are lounging and conversing on benches.

Hand-colored version

This version, also mailed in 1906, was very lightly colored by hand. Most versions of this card were produced by Nic Tengg.

Lithographed version

By 1908, a screened lithograph version was being produced. The colors are complete fancy - other versions have the girls wearing dresses of completely different colors and they variously portray the water as blue or green.

Hand-colored Albertype view 
A fabulous hand-colored view of the Springs and pool produced by Albertype, famous as makers of very high-quality cards. Published by the Alamo Chapel and was probably offered for sale in the gift shop on the Alamo grounds.

Another Albertype view 
Another early Albertype view of the pools containing the largest of the Springs. Hand-colored over a photographic base image.

Albertype view for Fischer's Drug Store  
Also hand-colored over a photographic base.

1906 photo postcard 

On May 24, 1906 Josephine wrote to Miss Stella Huffert in Schulenberg, Texas:

How are you? I am having a delightful time. Goggan did not have "First Violets" but will send it later. How is Melba? Give her one for me. Just one week last night since our callers. I suppose you go driving every day. Love to all, Josephine

1906 postcard

San Antonio's first municipal swimming pool was built on the lake bed in 1922.  In 1954 Howard E. Butt provided the financial backing needed to build a new swimming pool that existed until the 1998 reconstruction got underway.  Since 1954 the pool has been filled using municipal well water, not from springflows. Although it was always very popular and highly functional, it was not nearly as picturesque as the first pool or lake that existed before it.  The 1998 reconstruction restored a more natural look to the pool.

1907 postcard 
By 1907 another manufacturer had produced a colorized version of the card above. It would be difficult to say whether the maker added the additional people or the first maker removed them. Long before Photoshop, early 20th century postcard producers took great artistic liberty in modifying their images.

1907 postcard, version 2

A further example of the artistic modifications that card makers seamlessly accomplished. The base image here is the same as in the two cards above, but the foliage has been changed, the colors are more saturated, and a bench was added in the foreground.

San Pedro Park, circa 1907

A Real Photo view of the Park around 1907. This card and the one below are among only three I have found that include a view of the covered pavilion that used to stand above the spring outlets, where the entrance to the Park is today.

San Pedro Park, circa 1907

An early 20th century view that includes the "Famous Tree".

1908 postcard

Mailed to Miss Annie Pfluger of Indian Gap, Texas on Nov. 22, 1908.

1908 postcard, never mailed. 
A nice view of the bathhouses in the Spring fed lake that disappeared from later postcards.

San Pedro Lake, circa 1908

Another view of the bathhouses that all disappeared a few years later.

Photographic view of the pool, 1908
Most postcards of the time were produced with a lithographic technique - this one is photographic, not printed. Mailed January 29, 1908.

Hand-colored view of the pool, 1906 

The same photograph as above, this time very nicely hand-colored. Mailed in March of 1906. A note on the back written to Miss Mable Funks says:

This is a true view I saw it a few days ago. It is beautiful.

The bandstand in 1908 
The tree pictured in front of the bandstand is the "Famous" one shown in the card below. The tree is still there and much larger now.

San Pedro Springs, 1909

A hand-colored Real Photo card postmarked May 10, 1909.

Postcard from 1913

In over two decades of collecting, this is the only example of this card I have seen. Very unusual because of its size and configuration. Mailed on May 31, 1913.

The "Famous Tree" in San Pedro Springs Park 

Mailed from Luxello, Texas on Oct. 28, 1915. Luxello was located 18 miles northeast of San Antonio and had a population of 35 persons in 1915.

1917 postcard

Circa 1910 postcard, never mailed

How many differences can you find in the two postcards above? They illustrate how printers of the time embellished black-and-white photos to produce color postcards. They use the same photograph as a base image; for example, notice the two men standing on the bridge and other details like the cactus in the lower foreground are identical. Yet, the picture on the right has completely different clouds, all the trees appear greener and lusher, the water is much bluer, and flowers were added to the bush behind the cactus.

Man on Bridge, version 3

And yet another version of the same card as above.

1909 postcard 

On July 31, 1909 the Griffins wrote to Fred Osterkamp of St. Louis, Missouri:

The Galveston storm gave us the "go by" - for which we are grateful. It really was not as bad as papers reported. Sea wall certainly proved a success. It is delightful here now, so much cooler than when you were here. Kindest regards from "The Griffins"

1909 postcard
This postcard mailed in 1909 shows the original Spring-fed lake after improvements made in the 1880's. The bridge across the narrow portion of the lake was excluded from the 1998 restoration so as not to encourage people to jump from the bridge into the shallow water. Note there are several bath houses in front of the bridge that have disappeared from all the other postcards below mailed about a decade later. On the back, Effie M. Crauss wrote to her friend Mrs. Schumalkoke on East Commerce St:

"I cannot tell you how sorry I am that I forgot to send you an invitation to the graduation. We had so much to think of is the only excuse I can offer. Believe me I am your sincere friend."

Sunset version

Apparently, publishers would share base images and add their own embellishment. This sunset version was produced by Nic Tengg and the daytime view above produced by Curt Teich. Mr. Tengg also shared his best-selling canoe postcard with other publishers.

Circa 1910 postcard, never mailed. 

This card, printed by Geo. M. Bearce in Germany, has a caption on the back that says:

San Pedro Springs consists of several cold water springs situated in the central part of San Pedro Park. The waters from these Springs supply a large lake in the Park, and also a stream named San Pedro Creek, which pursues a winding course of about 10 miles through the City, and in olden times was used as an irrigating ditch. This ditch was constructed in 1738.

Circa 1910 postcard, never mailed. 

Another card by Geo. M. Bearce with a caption that says:

San Pedro Park was given to the City by Royal Spanish grant in 1729. Here the Mexican Army under General Santa Anna was encamped on its way to besiege the Alamo. The Park embraces 40 acres and contains a zoological garden with a large collection of wild animals and also several large springs.

Most historians do not assert that Santa Anna actually camped here.

Circa 1910 postcard, never mailed. 
An excellent view of the bridge that spanned the lake until the 1998 reconstruction when it was removed.

Circa 1910 postcard, never mailed. 
A view of the gate showing the discharge from the lake to the irrigation canal. It looks like there may have been some sort of smaller pool below the main one, although I have not seen any other images of it.

Circa 1910 postcard, showing headwaters of San Pedro Creek

A Nic Tengg card showing the headwaters of San Pedro Creek, where flow from the Springs leaves the swimming pool.

Circa 1910 postcard, never mailed

A view showing a portion of the rock walls that surrounded the lake.

Circa 1910 postcard, never mailed. 
The large number of unmailed postcards I have found seems to suggest that people often had no intention of using them.  In an era before color photography, they appear to have been popular keepsakes of a visit to the Park.

1914 postcard 
Looking downstream between the Spring discharges and the lake. A nice view of the lakeside area where the concession buildings are today. The swans in the lake were a well-known San Antonio attraction.

Circa 1914 postcard

I am unsure if this card was actually produced commercially - I have only seen it once, and the back of this one is stamped "Sample from the Acmegraph Company".

Palms in San Pedro Park, circa 1915

There are still gardens in this area of the park and the planter is still there, although it now has colorful native plants in it instead of palm trees. The bridge that used to span the lake is in the background.

Postcard mailed in 1917
This postcard was mailed to my great-aunt Barbara Eckhardt in 1917 and shows another view of the original Spring-fed lake. 

Two more postcards from the collection of Rachel Beissner:
Circa 1915 postcard  Circa 1910 postcard, never mailed

On the card at left, note that bath houses appearing in earlier postcards are gone.  On the back, Mrs. Nellie C. Evans' daughter wrote from Dallas:

"Dear Mama: Arrived safely.  Had a nice trip but the train was about two hours late.  Will try to write you a letter right away."

1935 postcard

By this time, there were no more postcards of the Springs and pool, but there was a tourist lodge with 110 rooms across the street. On March 11, Kurt Dawson wrote:

Dear Folks:

Am here at last and everything is grand. Here is the picture of where I am living. Have a cabin all my own. Will write a long letter soon. I'm ready to go to work this morning.

1938 postcard view of the Block House

The youngest postcard in the collection, mailed in January 1938. Refers to the Block House as an "Old Mexican Dwelling".