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Part 3 of Historic Tours: Mission Reach

17 Mar 2022

The Mission Reach and its Riverwalk is a World Heritage Site, known for its reach to historical venues. We begin our ride from the Blue Star Arts Complex, a venue that itself gaining historic significance.

King William Historic District: Germans immigrated to San Antonio during the 1850s, influenced by the German Adelsverein colonization. Ernst Hermann Altgelt arrived in 1866 and built the first home and named the area after King of Prussia William I, German Emperor. This district became a German neighborhood that carried into the next century. One of the notables was Otto Meusebach, son of John Meusebach who led the founding of Fredericksburg, Texas.

John O. Muesebach photo—Source: unknown
John O. Muesebach photo—Source: unknown

Guenther House - Pioneer Flour Mills: The house was originally built in 1859 by Carl Hilmar Guenther, founder of the Pioneer Flour Mills. The house is a restaurant. The mills have been operational since 1851.

Mission Concepcion: Completed in 1731 by Franciscan Friars, the mission was originally established to convert the Hasinai to Catholicism and Spanish citizenship. It was the site of the Battle of Concepción, the first engagement of the Texas Revolution.

Mission Concepcion is situated near the Battle of Conception
Mission Concepcion is situated near the Battle of Conception—Photo: SRR

Mission San Juan: Completed in 1731 by Spanish Catholics of the Franciscan Order, it was established for the same purpose as the previously mentioned mission. It was named after Saint John of Capestrano, a Franciscan friar and Catholic priest from Capestrano, Italy. It was active until 1824 when its inhabitants disbanded. The mission was abandoned until diocesan priests took it over in 1840.

Mission San Juan, recently restored, is situated along the banks of the San Antonio River
Mission San Juan, recently restored, is situated along the banks of the San Antonio River—Photo: SRR

Mission San Jose: Completed in 1782 by the governor of Coahuila and Texas, it was built to serve as an overflow for the Mission San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo) for refugees from closed missions in East Texas.

Mission San Jose is situated inside walls that are still intact
Mission San Jose is situated inside walls that are still intact—Photo: SRR

Espada Aqueduct: The missions' need for irrigation for the crops necessitated an elaborate system of acequias, or irrigation ditches, to channel water. The Spanish constructed seven acequias, five dams, and an aqueduct, using American Indian workers. This system extended 15 miles (24 km) and irrigated 3,500 acres of land. The Espada Aqueduct was constructed in 1745 by Franciscans to serve the mission lands of Espada. It is the only remaining Spanish aqueduct in the United States.

Espada Aqueduct crosses over a creek
Espada Aqueduct crosses over a creek—Photo: SRR

Hot Wells Resort: Hot Wells was a health resort built on the banks of the San Antonio River in 1894. Not long after it opened, it was destroyed by fire. It laid in ruins then until German immigrant Otto Koehler, the founder of Pearl Brewery, bought the land and built a three-story 80-room luxury hotel and spa. The famous venue served the rich and famous including U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and Mexico President Porfirio Diaz. The Fall of the Alamo, a silent film was produced there. It rivaled other health resorts including Karlsbad, Germany and Hot Springs, Arkansas. The sulfur water popularity dwindled; the resort was sold to a Christian Science organization to be transformed into a school. It burned in 1925 and laid in ashes until 2015 when its ruins were preserved and grounds made into a riverside park.

Historic image of the Hot Wells Resort during its heyday
Historic image of the Hot Wells Resort during its heyday—Artwork: Univ. of Houston

Since 2019, the Stinson Airport (IATA code SSF) trailhead offered riders a refreshing new gateway to the Mission Reach trails, a World Heritage venue that is known for its four missions.

Stinson Airport, expanded during the first decade, is the 2nd oldest airport in the U.S.
Stinson Airport, expanded during the first decade, is the 2nd oldest airport in the U.S.—Photo: SRR Video

With a rich history that dates back to 1918, Stinson Airport is the second oldest operating airport in the U.S. It originally served as the center for training cadets in Curtiss JN-4 aircraft for operating out of nearby Brooks Field, one of the oldest military airfields in the United States.

Located directly across the street from the airport's main entrance, the trailhead connects the Mission Reach with a circular trail. The Mission Reach trail extends north to the Blue Star Arts Complex and south to where it connects the newly built Medina River Greenway, a path that runs through the Del Lago Golf Course and the Medina River Preserves. Along the way is Cassin Lake, a reservoir built for irrigation reasons in 1907 by rancher Richard Cassin.

Mission San Francisco de La Espada: Completed at the present location in 1731 by New Spain, its mission was to convert the local Native Americans to Christianity. New Spain had a quest to stake their claims in the area against intrusion from France.

The Mission San Francisco de La Espada is graced with evening sunset flowing through its bell towers
The Mission San Francisco de La Espada is graced with evening sunset flowing through its bell towers—Photo: SRR

Cassin Lake served as a reservoir for crop irrigation since early 20th century
Cassin Lake served as a reservoir for crop irrigation since early 20th century—Photo: SRR

—SRR News

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