San Pedro Springs Park was a source of agriculture, trade and entertainment.
By Christian Erevia
San Pedro Springs Park is a neighbor of this college, and many students walk past it daily. Despite the park’s proximity to this campus, its prolific history is often overlooked in favor of this city’s more famous landmarks, such as the Alamo and the River Walk.
“It’s really the birthplace of San Antonio,” history Professor Erik Anderson said.
“The original Mission Valero, which we now call the Alamo, was founded basically using the water from the creek.”
The springs were named in 1709 by the Spanish, said Hector Cardenas, president of Friends of San Pedro Springs.
“When they see the springs, they say, ‘You know what, this is a pretty good place to build a mission,’” Cardenas said. “The first mission is downstream from San Pedro, but we think the first presidio was above the springs.”
Presidios are fortified military settlements, and this city was home to many.
Mission Valero was moved in 1724 and then twice more until settling where the Alamo is now, Cardenas said.
San Pedro Springs was made a public commons in 1729 by the Spanish government.
The park is often referred to as the second oldest park in the nation. However, according to research and conservation group The Trust of Public Land, San Pedro is the 10th oldest. The park is, however, the oldest public park in Texas.
Travelers and townsfolk would water their cattle, trade and hold celebrations in San Pedro Park, which retained this function until the 1850s.
“It really was a good source of water for agriculture and irrigation.” Anderson said.
In the late 1800s, the city gave the park to a private contractor who turned the area into a public fairground. The park soon became a place for entertainment and relaxation.
“There were fairgrounds, there were bandstands throughout the park, you could go swimming, there was a zoo, there was a biergarten there,” Anderson said. “It really was the weekend spot.”
“There’s a pavilion for music and dancing and there’s food, so it really becomes the place for everyone to go,” Cardenas said. “The first of everything happened there: They had the first balloon rides, rodeos, the Wild West shows.”
The Comanches, Texas Rangers and Mexican caballeros would hold competitions, competing in horsemanship and arrow shooting.
“The Comanches would come dressed in their whole garb, and the caballeros in their stuff, and, of course, the Rangers would wear whatever their uniforms were,” Cardenas said.
In 1912, Brackenridge Park and its golf course were opened and quickly became the new weekend hangout. For years, the city’s funds were poured into Brackenridge Park and its attractions, leaving San Pedro neglected, Cardenas said.
“The history of San Pedro was forgotten about and they ended up putting a lot of asphalt in there,” Cardenas said.
In the early 20th century, the city switched its water supply to the artisanal water piped up from the aquifers that also provided water to San Pedro.
This switch caused the many pools and water features in San Pedro to dry up, Anderson said.
“There were some attempts to rehabilitate it (the park) in the 1930s by building the pool that is there now,” Anderson said. “But it really declined as a community public space.
“It has remained kind of a place that is no longer really the heart of our city; it’s something that even we, here at SAC, are disconnected from.”
This college has the distinct advantage of being so close to San Pedro Springs Park when it comes to exploring the park’s history.
“It’s useful to have a connection to both your community, including your SAC community, and the larger San Antonio community,” Anderson said.
“This town has so much history, but it starts there, it starts at San Pedro,” Cardenas said.
“San Pedro Park is an important part of this city’s history and without that history, we would be just another town,” Cardenas said. The city is planning for a revival of the park to preserve its extensive history and attract more visitors.
“If we think about how San Antonio is the original city of Texas and San Pedro Creek and San Pedro Springs are the beginning of San Antonio, then we’re right here, in the heart of Texas,” Anderson said.