The Old San Antonio Road in North Bexar County

The Old San Antonio Road route drawn by Zively came in from Comal County on Nacogdoches Road, crossed the San Antonio River headwaters near Alamo Heights, and stopped at San Pedro Springs, the hub of the various routes of El Camino Real in Texas. From there, the route known as the Lower Road passed through downtown San Antonio on Laredo Street, then went south toward the Rio Grande and Mexico.

San Antonio's population was well over 100,000 in 1915, when Zively made his survey, so most of this section of the OSR was populated, and a large part of it was fully urban. Today, almost the whole route is urban. A great deal of Zively's route in northern Bexar County still exists today, but some segments in have been lost due to residential and commercial development.

Map of the Old San Antonio Road in North Bexar County

[-]Collapse Map [+]Expand Map
map legend

Route Details

The route of the Old San Antonio Road in north Bexar County is plotted as follows:
  • Nacogdoches Road from the Bexar-Comal County line at Cibolo Creek for 11.9 miles to Tuxedo Avenue in Alamo Heights. From Cibolo Creek to Thousand Oaks Drive, the route is also designated as FM 2252. It has four lanes, plus a center turning lane, with curbs and sidewalks, and follows Zively's route exactly. At Thousand Oaks Drive, Nacogdoches Road is severed, requiring a short detour onto Thousand Oaks. On the southwest side of Thousand Oaks, Nacogdoches Road reduces to two lanes, undivided, striped, with no shoulders. It is severed again at Naco Perrin Boulevard. It then becomes a divided four-lane road again from Naco Perrin Boulevard to Harry Wurzbach Parkway. It then loses its median and is a four-lane, undivided road, with curbs and sidewalks, from Harry Wurzbach Parkway to E Basse Road. Its strict conformance to Zively's surveyed route begins to loosen north of Interstate Highway 410, around Lovelace Boulevard. From Lovelace to Basse, its conformance to Zively's route is close, but not exact. Nacogdoches Road from Basse Road to Tuxedo Road is a wide, two-lane, unstriped road with curbs and sidewalks. The conformance to Zively's route here is very close. At Tuxedo Avenue, Nacogdoches Road turns south and departs completely from Zively's route.
  • Route lost from Nacogdoches Road at Tuxedo Avenue in Alamo Heights for 3.7 miles to N Flores Street at Weymouth Street at San Pedro Park.
  • N Flores Street from Weymouth Street in San Pedro Park for 0.4 miles to N Laredo Street at E Fredericksburg Road. It has two lanes, a center stripe, shoulders for parking or turning, and sidewalks. Exact conformance.
  • N Laredo Street from N Flores Street at E Fredericksburg Road for 1.0 miles to N Santa Rosa Street at San Pedro Creek. Parts of this segment are shown on some maps as Pecos Street or La Trinidad Street. Exact conformance.
  • From Santa Rosa Street at San Pedro Creek for the next 0.9 miles to El Paso Street, most of Zively's route has been developed over and is now lost. It ran parallel to and slightly east of Santa Rosa Street. Three blocks of it still exist as S Laredo Street, between W Houston Street and W Nueva Street.
  • S Laredo Street from El Paso Street for 0.6 miles to I-35 at W Cevallos Street. S Laredo Street is one-way northbound and serves as a service road for I-35.
  • I-35 from S Alamo St for 1.1 miles to US Highway 90. I-35 has four lanes, divided by a median, plus outside shoulders. It represents Zively's route only in the roughest sense; this segment could arguably qualify as "route lost."
  • Route lost from I-35 at US 90 for 1.8 miles to Mission Road at Hart Avenue.
North Bexar - Nacogdoches Road
Top (l to r): Site of OSR Marker #81; site of OSR Marker #82.
Second row: Capital Cement plant.
Third row (l to r): Undeveloped Nacogdoches Road between Wurzbach Pkwy and I-410; site of OSR Marker #83.
Bottom (l to r): Alamo Quarry Market; upscale neighborhood near Alamo Heights.

Nacogdoches Road / Northeast San Antonio

The Old San Antonio Road enters Bexar County from Comal County on Farm-to-Market Road 2252. This road is known as Old Nacogdoches Road in Comal County and as Nacogdoches Road in Bexar County. Cibolo Creek has been the boundary between the two counties since 1846. OSR Marker #81 is on the Bexar County side of the boundary.

San Antonio has grown steadily ever since its founding, but its greatest expansion in the northern part of Bexar County occurred between 1970 and 2000. In the 1960s, the city limits on San Antonio's northeast side went about as far as where Harry Wurzbach Parkway is now. The period of rapid northeastern expansion began in 1974, when the city annexed Nacogdoches Road all the way to Cibolo Creek, taking in a thin corridor of pavement through the mostly open countryside. Today, only about the last mile of Nacogdoches Road remains undeveloped - the rest having been transformed into a dense suburban landscape of housing developments and shopping centers and their accompanying traffic signals, utility poles, and overhead cables. Nestled among these modern developments at a street intersection is OSR Marker #82.

Nacogdoches Road is depicted on an 1887 map of Bexar County. Its route has changed little since then, but there are a few exceptions we must take note of. The first change occurs at Thousand Oaks Drive. Here, Nacogdoches Road has been severed, and its northbound approach has been moved slightly so that its two segments do not connect. If you are driving southwest and stay on FM 2252, you will find yourself diverted onto Perrin-Beitel Road after you cross Thousand Oaks. If you wish to remain on Nacogdoches Road and continue following Zively's route, you must turn northwest onto Thousand Oaks, drive past Nacogdoches on the divided road, and then make a U-turn. Staying on Nacogdoches Road driving northeast from downtown San Antonio is less complicated, but it still requires making a zig-zag at Thousand Oaks.

A similar interruption occurs less than a mile later, at the intersection of Naco Perrin Boulevard and Bulverde Road. This time, people traveling southwest have the easier maneuver: when you reach Naco Perrin, turn right, then turn left again at the next intersection to continue on your way. If you're traveling northeast on Nacogdoches, however, be aware that you need to make a detour onto Naco Perrin, or else you'll inadvertently find yourself going straight on Bulverde Road.

Because of these breaks in continuity, Nacogdoches Road ceases to be a major throughway south of Thousand Oaks. Instead, it is a back road where development has been spotty and haphazard. Between Thousand Oaks and Interstate 410, Nacogdoches Road changes character numerous times - a tattoo shop here, some houses there, a vacant lot or city park here, some heavy industry there, etc. The Capital Cement plant at Nacogdoches and Naco Perrin bears witness to San Antonio's long association with the cement industry.

Except for the two breaks mentioned above, the modern route of Nacogdoches Road corresponds exactly with Zively's surveyed route of the Old San Antonio Road from Cibolo Creek all the way to Lovelace Boulevard. At that point, the modern road shows some bends and angles that Zively does not, and vice versa. One such place of disagreement is at the road's intersection with Interstate Highway 410. Zively placed the survey post for OSR Marker #83 here, but between the subtle changes in the path of Nacogdoches Road and the construction and numerous expansions of the interstate highway, it is impossible to know for certain how close the matching granite marker really is to it.

South of I-410, Nacogdoches Road passes through a mature residential neighborhood. The neighborhood and houses tend to be more upscale, similar to those in the nearby municipality of Alamo Heights. The name Alamo Heights is often applied to this part of town, and it is within the boundaries of the Alamo Heights Independent School District, even though it is in the San Antonio city limits.

When Zively was coming close to the end of Nacogdoches Road in 1915, he looked to the west and saw a little town called Cementville, Texas. This was the company town of the San Antonio Portland Cement Company, which moved there in 1908 after exhausting its original quarry in what is now Brackenridge Park. At its peak, Cementville had about 90 cottages for workers and their families, a commissary (which Zively noted on his sketch), an elementary school, an auditorium, and a baseball field. A Catholic church, St. Anthony de Padua, was built in 1925 to serve the community. As with many company towns in the United States, the homes and public services at Cementville were basic. Indoor plumbing was not available until the city of San Antonio annexed the community in 1956 and installed a sewer line.

The cement factory continued to operate until 1979, when a Swiss company bought the operation, renamed it back to its old name of Alamo Cement Company, and moved it to its current location outside the northeast corner of Loop 1604. By that time, the expansion of San Antonio and the greater ease of modern travel had made the company town unnecessary, but even so, a few families were still living at Cementville when the plant closed.

The former area of Cementville - near Jones-Maltsberger Road, E Basse Road, and US Highway 281 - was redeveloped in the late 1980s as a shopping center called Alamo Quarry Market, or, colloquially, "The Quarry." The developers retained the smokestacks and some pieces of equipment of the cement factory, turning them into structural and artistic features. St. Anthony's Catholic Church is still open at the corner of Lorenz Road and Peter Baque Road, the latter street named after the church's founder, Friar Peter Baque.

The third and last discontinuity in Nacogdoches Road occurs at its intersection with Broadway. Regardless of your direction of travel, if you wish to remain on Nacogdoches Road, you must take E Basse Road for about a tenth of a mile. On the west side of Broadway, Nacogdoches Road follows Zively's route for only five more blocks, to Tuxedo Avenue. There, Nacogdoches Road bends to the south and departs completely from Zively's route, as well as from the route depicted on the 1887 Bexar County map referenced earlier.

Alamo Heights and Midtown San Antonio

The original city limits of San Antonio when it was organized as a Spanish villa were a 6‑mile by 6‑mile square. The northern city limit line ran just beyond present-day Hildebrand Avenue. These were the same city limits it had when Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836. Another hundred years later, San Antonio's city limits remained unchanged, even though the city's population had grown from around a thousand in 1836 to nearly a quarter of a million in 1936. Meanwhile, the more affluent residents of the area bought property north of the city limits, forming the communities of Alamo Heights, Olmos Park, and Terrell Hills. In the 1920s, San Antonio attempted to annex these communities without holding elections. The residents successfully sued to stop annexation and subsequently incorporated into separate municipalities.

The short section of Nacogdoches Road between E Basse Road and Tuxedo Avenue forms part of the boundary between Alamo Heights and San Antonio. At Tuxedo Avenue, Nacogdoches Road turns to the south and no longer preserves Zively's route. La Jara Boulevard, which passes through Alamo Heights, approximates Zively's route for about five blocks from Lamont Ave to Alta Ave. The route is then lost again. It probably crossed Olmos Creek near Jones-Maltsberger Road. This is the terminus of Nacogdoches Road as shown on the 1887 Bexar County map referenced earlier. It is also the western boundary of Alamo Heights.

One reason we can know that La Jara Boulevard is on or close to Zively's route is the notation on his sketch of the "West Texas Military School." The West Texas Military Academy was founded as a boys' preparatory school by the Protestant Episcopal church in 1893. The valedictorian of its first graduating class in 1897 was none other than Douglas MacArthur, the future five-star general. In 1911, the West Texas Military Academy - later called the Texas Military Institute - moved into a new campus in Alamo Heights. Its entrance was about 1,000 feet west of where present-day La Jara Boulevard and College Boulevard intersect, just west of Ciruela Street.1 Alumni from this campus include Apollo astronaut David Scott, "Bonanza" actor Dan Blocker, and U.S. Congressman Lamar Smith. (Contrary to some reports, President Kennedy never visited the TMI campus.2) The TMI's Alamo Heights campus closed in 1989, after the school moved to a new campus northwest of San Antonio. The land was then subdivided, and single-family houses were built on it. No trace of the campus remains today.

Approximately the last three miles of Zively's route as it approaches San Pedro Springs are now lost. Using modern points of reference, it went in a relatively straight southwest line from the crossing of Olmos Creek at Jones-Maltsberger Road, through Olmos Basin Park and the municipality of Olmos Park, and crossed Hildebrand Avenue approximately at Shook Avenue. It then continued southwest to Ashby Place at approximately Breeden Street, then cut across the northwest corner of San Pedro Park to intersect with Flores Street near Weymouth Street. Assuming Zively's survey is accurate, this was one of the main routes leading northeast out of San Antonio until the early-to-mid 1800s. After Austin was founded as the Texas capital in 1837, however, travel to the northeast moved to a newer road now represented by Broadway and Austin Highway. The older route was developed over.

North Bexar - San Pedro Park
Top (l to r): The terraced section of the springs described by Friar Espinoza in 1709; the emergence of the collected springs south of the swimming pool. Man-made canals carry the water underneath Myrtle Street and the next few city blocks. The canals empty into San Pedro Creek's natural channel after crossing Fredricksburg Road.
Middle left: A restored blockhouse of unknown age. Some claim it is the oldest Spanish building in Texas - predating the founding of San Antonio in 1731 - while others estimate it was built around 1850.
Middle right: Site of OSR Marker #84.
Bottom: A view of the northern springs and the swimming pool, looking south.

San Pedro Park

The first recorded visit by Europeans to San Antonio took place on June 13, 1691, which was the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua. An expedition headed by Governor Domingo Terán de los Rios and Friar Damian Massanet was on its way from Mexico to east Texas and arrived on that day at a camp inhabited by nomadic Payaya natives near the headwaters of a river. Terán and Massanet found the location pleasant and the Payaya peaceful and friendly. The Payaya called their village "Yanaguana." Terán named it and the river it was on San Antonio, because he discovered it on St. Anthony's day.

Terán's expedition then continued on its way to east Texas. While other Spanish expeditions had gone to east Texas before, they had taken a more southerly route across the state, as they had been tasked with finding and destroying La Salle's French settlement on the Gulf Coast. Terán's expedition was the first one to travel through present-day San Antonio and the first to follow what would become known as the Kings Highway, or El Camino Real, to east Texas. Thus, Terán's 1691 expedition is considered to be the official birth year of El Camino Real.

The springs near the river's headwaters were named San Pedro on April 13, 1709 by an expedition led by Spanish Captain Pedro de Aguirre. One of the friars on the expedition, Isidro Felix de Espinosa, described the site as follows:

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 or sluices of water, the earth being terraced. We named it San Pedro Spring...

The Aguirre expedition also visited with the Payaya at the springs. The other friar on the expedition, Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares, was so moved by his visit with the Payaya that he felt a burden to establish a mission among them, and he spent six years in Spain lobbying the king for his permission.

Friar Espinosa's observation that the springs and river at San Antonio could supply a town was echoed by Captain Domingo Ramón, who led another expedition through the same location two years later. Like his predecessors, he was impressed with what he saw. On May 14, 1716, Ramón wrote in his journal, "This is sufficient to support a city."

Friar Olivares' request to build a mission at San Antonio was finally granted in 1718. On May 1, an expedition of 72 people, including ten families, led by Governor Martín de Alarcón and Friar Olivares arrived at San Pedro Springs. They erected a temporary hut of mud, brush and straw on the east bank of the springs and named it Mission San Antonio de Valero. A presidio, or fort, named San Antonio de Bexar was placed on the west side of the San Antonio River, about a half mile from the mission. Both the presidio and mission were named after the viceroy of New Spain, the Marques de Valero, and his Spanish hometown of Béjar. Alarcón also constructed a canal, or acequia, to irrigate the lands belonging to the mission.

After a few years, the mission and presidio were moved south about a mile and a half. The city of San Antonio grew up around that location. The area surrounding San Pedro Springs remained, however, a popular spot to camp, rest, and socialize. It was set aside as a public square in 1729, making it one of the oldest public parks in the United States.3 Since then, it has been many things, including a rodeo arena, an army camp, a gypsy camp, an amusement park, a racetrack, a shooting range, and a menagerie. Special events held at the park during its history have included a stunt bicycling exhibition, a performance of waltzing mice, a balloon launch and parachute jump, and a fight to the death between a rattlesnake and a vampire bat ... which both animals lost.

The springs themselves are scattered around the park. Originally, the water seeped out everywhere and formed a marsh, but early on, man-made basins, canals, and culverts were installed to channel the water toward an alligator-infested pond in the center of the park, allowing the rest of the surface to remain dry. The largest springs, at the terraced area written of by Friar Espinosa, were at the north end of the pond.

The flow of the springs became severely reduced with the proliferation of water wells in the late 1800s. Nowadays, the springs are usually dry. A swimming pool was built over the dwindling pond in 1922, and the alligators were moved to the north springs. A newspaper article from September 14, 1922 reported, with horror, that city workers were disposing of live stray dogs in the alligator pit at night, laughing as the dogs yelped in terror and pain. Today, San Pedro Park has, in addition to the swimming pool, a library, a library, tennis courts, a garden, and an 18th or 19th-century blockhouse ... but no alligators.

The growth of San Antonio south of San Pedro Park resulted in the formation of some new roads to Nacogdoches and east Texas, but the original route around the north end of San Pedro Springs also remained in use, especially for heavy wagons and large pack trains that could not use the lightweight bridges that were built in the city for local traffic. Beginning in the 1850s, several businesses for shipping goods, delivering mail, and providing passenger service put their headquarters in the neighborhood around San Pedro Park. The exact route or routes of the roads leaving the springs to the northeast have been lost, but the routes leading up from the south are well-preserved as present-day N Laredo and N Flores Streets. These merge at the so-called "Five Points" intersection south of the park and continue up to the springs on N Flores Street. Zively placed the survey post for OSR Marker #84 at the corner of N Flores Street and Weymouth Street, where the road bent to the northeast. This point was, for a few decades, the hub of transportation in Texas.

Laredo Street / Downtown San Antonio

As explained in the previous section, the city of San Antonio was founded with the establishment of a mission and a presidio on El Camino Real near San Pedro Springs in 1718. As the new Spanish outpost grew into a town, however, it relocated south of the springs, where downtown San Antonio is today.

North Bexar - Downtown San Antonio
Left: San Fernando Cathedral.
Top right: San Fernando Cathedral as seen from behind, looking east. There was once a line of sight between the cathedral bell tower and the Alamo, which is on the opposite side of the San Antonio River.
Bottom right: The Spanish Governor's Palace. The stone over the door is dated 1749 and bears the coat-of-arms of King Ferdinand VI.


Mission San Antonio de Valero relocated to present-day downtown San Antonio in 1719, within a year of its founding. The following year, a new mission, San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, was founded even further south. Presidio San Antonio de Bexar relocated in 1722, so as to be closer to the missions it was there to protect. Its new location was on the west side of the San Antonio River and east of San Pedro Creek. After Mission Valero was destroyed by a storm in 1724, it was rebuilt on the east side of the river, directly across from the presidio and about a half a mile from it.

The year 1731 was one of major growth. On March 9, about 55 colonists from the Canary Islands arrived to begin a town at San Antonio. It was named Villa San Fernando de Bexar after the Spanish prince, Don Fernando, who succeeded to the throne in 1746 as King Ferdinand VI. The town was located on the west bank of the San Antonio River, in between Presidio Bexar and Mission Valero. Also in 1731, three missions relocated to San Antonio from east Texas, spreading themselves out downriver from the town.

After all of this activity, San Antonio consisted of a town, a presidio, and five missions. The town was centered at present-day Flores Street and West Commerce Street, in the same neighborhood where the San Antonio City Hall and the Bexar County Courthouse are today. The most notable surviving landmark of the town is the San Fernando church, which was built in 1738. It is the oldest cathedral in Texas and one of the oldest active cathedrals in the United States. Presidio San Antonio de Bexar was to the west. Despite being called a presidio, or fort, Presidio Bexar had no walls or fortifications, and was really only a cluster of houses and huts where soldiers and their captain lived. The captain's house, built in 1749, survives today. The colorful, albeit exaggerated name "Spanish Governor's Palace" was attached to it in the early 20th century. It is found at the corner of Commerce and Camaron Streets. Mission Valero was, as stated earlier, about a half a mile east of town, and the other four missions were at various stations downriver. In all, there were about 500 people living in San Antonio de Bexar in 1750.

San Antonio was originally founded on El Camino Real, but after the above developments, it was a mile and a half south of the Kings Highway. Naturally, new roads were made. According to a map made by presidio Captain Luis Antonio Menchaca in 1746, the main road went north-to-south through the center of town - possibly present-day Flores Street. The road to Nacogdoches crossed the San Antonio River about 3,000 varas - or 1.5 miles - north of the villa. This would put it at about the south end of Brackenridge Park, meaning today's Broadway could have been Menchaca's "Camino Real de Texas." There were two roads to San Juan Bautista on the Rio Grande. Menchaca drew one as a nearly straight line to the southwest. This could be4 the route now known as the Camino Pita, which was abandoned during the mid-to-late 1700s because Apache raids from the north and west of San Antonio made it too unsafe to use. The other road, labeled the "Camino Real de Abaxo," or "Lower Royal Road," left the south side of town and crossed San Pedro Creek about a half a mile from its mouth at the San Antonio River. Again, this could be Flores Street.

In 1755, the town of Laredo was founded on the Rio Grande, about 50 miles downriver of San Juan Bautista. The Lower Road out of San Antonio was used for both destinations.

The presidio was responsible for protecting everyone in San Antonio from hostile natives. Its importance as a military outpost was further strengthened in 1772, when Spain closed all of its presidios in Texas except for Bexar in San Antonio and La Bahia in Goliad. The garrison at Presidio Bexar was increased from about 45 men to 80. Additionally, San Antonio was made the capital of Spanish Texas, with the presidio captain serving as governor.

Mission San Antonio de Valero operated until 1793. After it closed, the buildings of the walled, 3-acre mission compound were converted to government and military use. Presidio Bexar kept its garrison, but the repurposed mission, which came to be known as "the Alamo," became the city's main military post, as it was more defensible and tactically sound than the presidio's grouping of houses and huts.

Early 1800s

In the 1700s, all burials in San Antonio were done at the cemetery on the grounds of the San Fernando Church. Around the turn of the century, however, the need arose for another cemetery. A block was set aside west of San Pedro Creek, not too far out of town. The cemetery, called Campo Santo, was on the south end of the property now occupied by Santa Rosa Hospital, north of Houston Street. Campo Santo was a Catholic cemetery that belonged to the church, but since all Spaniards at the time were Catholic by law, it was essentially a public cemetery.

San Antonio's population in 1820 was about 2,000. By this time, the roads had moved again. The Apaches and Spain had a peace treaty, so travel from San Antonio to the Rio Grande on the indirect, boggy Lower Road was no longer necessary. The new road to San Juan Bautista led west out of San Antonio on the main east-west street, which has been called Commerce Street since 1867. Prior to that, this street had several names, one of which was Presidio Street. The road to the Rio Grande was called the Presidio Road or the Upper Presidio Road. A small, wooden footbridge over the San Antonio River gave pedestrians and light carriages a dry path across to the Alamo and the east side of the river. Roads on that side of the river led to Nacogdoches, Gonzales, and Goliad.

The road to Laredo also moved west. It came into San Antonio on a route now approximated by Interstate 35. It passed by the west side of downtown, in between San Pedro Creek and the Campo Santo, and intersected with the Presidio Road. The Laredo Road followed the west bank of San Pedro Creek up to San Pedro Park.

When conflict erupted between Texas and Mexico in the early 1830s, San Antonio could not help but be in the middle of it, for it was the gateway between Texas and the rest of Mexico. In October 1835, the Mexican president, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, sent General Martín Perfecto de Cos into San Antonio to put down the rebellion. Texian forces led by Stephen F. Austin then put San Antonio under a siege that lasted two months. The siege ended when Colonel Ben Milam rallied the Texians and led them in an advance into San Antonio. Cos retreated inside the Alamo. After a battle lasting five days, he surrendered. The Texians allowed Cos to take his men out of San Antonio and across the Rio Grande, having obtained his promise to never return.

In February 1836, a portion of the victorious Texian force was still in San Antonio. The Texians were preparing for a Mexican reprisal, which they expected was months away. On February 23, however, a lookout stationed in the San Fernando church bell tower - the highest elevation in town - alerted the Texian commander, Lt. Colonel William Barrett Travis, that a Mexican force was on its way. The Texians hurried into the Alamo while Santa Anna's army took over the town. Santa Anna had his men place a red flag meaning "no quarter" - i.e., no surrender will be offered or accepted - from the church tower, where the rebels in the Alamo would be sure to see it. On March 6, 1836, after a 13-day siege, Santa Anna attacked, and all defenders in the Alamo were killed. The bodies of the Mexican soldiers, plus one of the Tejano defenders, were buried at Campo Santo. The bodies of the other defenders were burned.

Six weeks later, inspired by Travis's eloquent written appeals for aid and emboldened by the sacrifice made by their fellow patriots, the Texian army defeated Santa Anna, and Texas won its independence from Mexico. The Mexican forces stationed at the Alamo and at Presidio Bexar left Texas. The presidio, at that point, was disbanded.

North Bexar - Laredo Street
Top left: Ben Milam Park. Santa Rosa Hospital, seen in the background, is on the site of the Campo Santo cemetery.
Top right: The Alamo chapel in context of modern downtown San Antonio.
Bottom left: View of Laredo Street downtown. The intersection in the center is Commerce Street.
Bottom right: This marble tomb inside the entrance to the San Fernando Cathedral contains unearthed burned human remains purported to be those of Travis, Crockett, Bowie, and the other Alamo defenders.

Middle and Late 1800s

San Antonio began its transformation from a dusty Mexican villa into a bustling American city in the 1840s. In 1841, a bridge suitable for heavy carriages was finally built across the river on present-day Commerce Street. Ten years later, a heavy-duty bridge was built over San Pedro Creek at present-day Houston Street.5 More improvements - iron bridges, railroads, improved streets, steel and concrete bridges, etc. - came at a rapid pace for the rest of the century.

By 1840, San Antonio needed new spaces for burials. The Catholic church opened a new cemetery that year a mile southwest of town. Now known as San Fernando Cemetery #1, the new cemetery still exists at 1100 S Colorado Street. In 1848, the city set aside the vacant lot on the south side of present-day Houston Street, across from Campo Santo, as a municipal cemetery, as there were a fair number of non-Catholics in the city by then. The remains of Texian hero Ben Milam were moved to the new cemetery.

Conflict renewed between Mexico and Texas in 1842. An army led by Mexican General Adrian Vásquez captured San Antonio for a few days in March. General Adrian Woll returned in September and captured 52 prisoners, which he took back to Mexico. The conflict was not ultimately resolved until after Texas was annexed to the United States in 1845 and Mexico was defeated in the Mexican-American War in 1848.

The U.S. army moved into the Alamo in 1846, during the war. The army made some repairs, changes, and improvements to the complex, including placing a roof over the chapel and giving it its iconic facade. After Texas seceded from the United States, the army surrendered the Alamo to Confederate volunteers on February 16, 1861. The U.S. army returned to the Alamo in 1865 after the end of the Civil War. By 1876, the army needed a larger facility and relocated to the new Fort Sam Houston.

In 1860, San Antonio was Texas' largest city with 8,235 people.6 The increased population brought yet more cemetery-related growing pains. Campo Santo ceased accepting burials in 1860. The bodies buried there were moved to San Fernando Cemetery #1 in 1869, and the Santa Rosa Hospital was built over the former cemetery grounds. Also, the municipal cemetery across from Campo Santo stopped accepting burials, and some of the bodies were moved to newer cemeteries built further from the center of town. Ben Milam's body was not moved, however. In 1883, the city council turned the old cemetery into Milam Park. Milam's remains were located in 1993 and buried under a statue of him at the west end of the park.

After the army moved out of the Alamo in 1876, the Catholic church reclaimed ownership of the remaining buildings, some of which were sold, and others were rented out. By 1893, only two buildings remained - the chapel and the so-called "long barracks." The Daughters of the Republic of Texas waged a successful campaign to keep the long barracks from being demolished next. In the first half of the 20th century, the two remaining Alamo buildings and the grounds around them were turned into the "shrine of Texas liberty" that they are known as today.

1900s and later

After falling behind Galveston, then Dallas, population-wise, San Antonio, with over 50,000 residents, regained its position in 1900 as the most populous city in Texas. It held that title for 30 more years.

In 1915, when Zively made his survey of the Old San Antonio Road, Laredo Street was still continuous, starting south of San Pedro Park, then following the west bank of San Pedro Creek for 2.5 miles, all the way to one block past Tampico Street, where Laredo Street intersects with Interstate 35. At that point, Laredo Street now turns to become an east-west street. The S Laredo Street on the west side of I-35, however is not part of either the historic highway to Laredo or Zively's Old San Antonio Road. Today, parts of Laredo Street have been developed over, but enough of it remains to make it easy to see how it all used to connect. Zively also drew San Pedro Creek, the San Antonio River, Houston Street, Flores Street, and the Alamo on his sketch of downtown San Antonio.

The concrete bridge that spans the San Antonio River at Commerce Street today was built in 1915.

In 1936, some burned human remains were found under the San Fernando Cathedral. Without performing any serious historical or archeological analysis, the archbishop declared them to be the remains of the Alamo heroes. They were placed in a marble tomb that is now displayed inside the entrance to the cathedral.

The original city limits of San Antonio as defined by Spain were a 6-mile by 6-mile square. These boundaries were unchanged as late as 1940, when the population was over a quarter of a million. Since then, the city has grown to 465 square miles, meaning it has, on average, doubled in land area every twelve years. It now occupies 37 percent of the land area in Bexar County. In terms of population, San Antonio was Texas' third-largest city, behind Houston and Dallas, from 1930 to 2000. In about 2003, however, it passed Dallas. San Antonio's population of 1,409,019 in 2013 makes it currently the second-largest city in Texas and the seventh-largest in the United States.

San Antonio has been a military town since its early days. The U.S. army is still at Fort Sam Houston, and there are now two air force bases in town, plus two army training camps outside the city limits. Tourism is also a major industry, with the most-visited attraction of all being the battleground that history will never forget: the Alamo.

North Bexar - Lower Road
Top (l to r): South Laredo Street; the confluence of San Pedro Creek and the San Antonio River.
Bottom (l to r): Site of OSR Marker #85; Mission Concepcion.

The Lower Road

The map of San Antonio referenced in the previous section, drawn by Captain Antonio Luis Menchaca in 1746, shows the Lower Road from San Antonio to the Rio Grande crossing San Pedro Creek about a half of a mile upstream of its mouth at the San Antonio River. It then stayed near the west bank of the San Antonio River, passing Mission Concepcion and Mission San Jose - apparently coming within yards of San Jose's western corner. It then broke to the south-southwest, passing Mission San Juan and Mission Espada in the distance. It passed by the west side of a small lake and crossed the Medina River about 5 miles upstream of its mouth at the San Antonio River. No single modern road matches this route, but parts of it may have been on present-day Mission Road, Flores Street, and Pleasanton Road.

This Lower Road went through especially rough, boggy terrain and was only used during a few decades in the mid-to-late 1700s, when troubles with the Apaches made easier, more preferable routes to the west unsafe. By 1800 or so, travel to San Juan Bautista used the straighter, easier Upper Presidio Road. Travel south out of San Antonio to Laredo used a route now substantially preserved in San Antonio as Laredo Street and Interstate 35. The Lower Road had no more use as a royal road or main highway. As with other parts of El Camino Real, sections of it remained used for local traffic and are preserved today by modern roads, while other sections became lost.

Despite the Lower Road having a limited lifespan, it is the route Zively surveyed in 1915 for the Daughters of the American Revolution's Old San Antonio Road project. This is because his primary source was the expedition diary of Friar Juan Agustin Morfi, who traveled from San Juan Bautista to Mission Espada in December 1778, during the Lower Road's brief period of usage.

In a foreword Zively wrote for his book of sketches and notes, he stated that Morfi's diary was "about the only guide I had" for the route from San Antonio to the Rio Grande. Since Morfi's diary only goes as far as Mission Espada, we can only speculate at how Zively computed the route between downtown San Antonio and Espada. One thing that is obvious is that he began on the Laredo Road. Zively followed Laredo Street out of downtown until the point where it presently intersects with Interstate 35. That much of Laredo Street existed in Zively's day, just as it does now. Zively then took a route that has no counterpart on early 20th-century maps of San Antonio, but which is now approximated by Interstate 35. He was probably reconstructing a lost part of the Laredo Road for this section. Then, at approximately where I-35 and US 90 intersect today, Zively cut to the southeast, crossed Flores Street, and ended up at the east end of Hart Avenue, where Mission Road intersects it today. This is where he placed the survey post for OSR Marker #85. The path that Zively surveyed between I-35 and Marker #85 has no counterpart on any known map of San Antonio. It seems pretty obvious that this is where he jumped the gap between the Laredo Road and the Lower Road. His placement of survey post #85 appears to be a signal that, after a few thousand feet of guesswork, he believed he was back on the right track. And while Zively labeled Laredo Street and his cutover to Mission Road as "The Kings Highway", he also drew South Flores Street all the way from Houston Street to past San Pedro Creek. This may also have been a signal that he knew South Flores Street was an old, important road.

The Lower Road - whether it was Flores Street, Mission Road, or another route now lost - passed by Mission Concepcion, which is on the east side of the San Antonio River, across from the mouth of San Pedro Creek. Originally founded in east Texas in 1716, Concepcion is one of three missions that moved to San Antonio in 1731. It is notable among all the Spanish missions in North America for being exceptionally well-preserved. Its magnificent stone church, completed in 1755, has neither fallen into ruin nor undergone major structural restoration.

In 1762, there were 207 natives living at Concepcion. The following decades saw a decline for a variety of reasons, but chiefly because the Spanish government was winding down its mission work in North America. In 1794, much of Concepcion's land was sold off, and the remaining operations were made a subsidiary of neighboring Mission San Jose. After Mexico won its independence from Spain, it "secularized" the San Antonio missions, meaning they were converted to parish churches, and their management was transferred from the missionary orders of the Catholic church to the archdiocese.

As a defensible structure on the outskirts of San Antonio, Mission Concepcion played a military role at several periods of Texas history. Most notably, on October 28, 1835, the Texian army commanded by Stephen F. Austin enjoyed a major victory over Mexican General Cos at Concepcion. Cos retreated to Bexar. The Texians held Concepcion and advanced to San Antonio, placing Cos under a siege that ended in his surrender on December 10.

Mission Concepcion became a national park in 1983. It is also still an active Catholic church, where Mass is held every Sunday.

Page last updated: November 13, 2014

1In later years, its address was 800 College Blvd. According to David P. Green in Place Names of San Antonio, "Developers jumped to the conclusion that it would become a college."

2Kennedy's motorcade passed through Alamo Heights via Broadway on November 21, 1963, the day before his assassination. The motorcade paused for a moment near the intersection of Broadway and College Drive so that Kennedy could receive a salute from TMI cadets who were lined up along the motorcade route. Kennedy exchanged greetings and handshakes with the cadets, and then the motorcade continued on its way.

3A bronze plaque in the park proclaims it "the second oldest municipal park in the United States." This oft-repeated claim is false; according to The Trust for Public Land, there are at least nine other parks in the U.S. that are older than San Pedro.

4There is some guesswork about interpreting Menchaca's map. Even though it contains quite a bit of detail, such as individual buildings in the town and the missions, the various acequias (canals), and a scale, the courses of the rivers are grossly oversimplified. For example, Menchaca depicts the San Antonio River as a straight north-south line all the way from its head to Mission Espada.

5Houston Street received its present name in 1871.

6San Antonio had historically been Texas' largest city throughout the periods of Spanish, Mexican, and Republic rule, but after statehood, Galveston emerged as Texas' most populous city, holding that title in the 1850, 1870 and 1880 Censuses. San Antonio won the title in 1860 by more than doubling its population since 1850.

Previous page: Comal County
Next page: South Bexar County