San Antonio: Cultural Gem Deep in the Heart of
Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher
is a city of rich diversity and some fantastic attractions; a real
treat. The Alamo is the first attraction one thinks of when considering
, but the
is just a start. There’s the San
Antonio Museum of Art, representing one of the best collections in the
, covering several mission properties, is crucial for a proper understanding of
the area’s history and the role played by these Catholic missions.
There’s the River Walk and Rio San Antonio River Cruises.
For the best view of
and the surrounding area, a trip to the Tower of the
is a must.
Bright sunshine and a pleasant climate cause many to consider making
home. At least that’s what
happened with one area resident; James Jacobs, a retired Air Force officer who
“home” for a few decades now (Deborah’s uncle).
the small town feel, the slower pace of life, the weather, and no snow to
shovel. I got tired of shoveling
snow back east,” he said, when asked why he chose to live so far from
relatives along the Mid-Atlantic. Snow
is a very rare thing in this sun-baked landscape, deep in the heart of
A string of Spanish missions, established in the 18th century,
were crucial to the founding of
. Collectively, they formed the
largest concentration of Catholic missions in
. Each of the missions was a
the 18th century, nomadic, hunter-gatherer bands of Native Americans
roamed the regions that today make up south
. They moved with the seasons in
search of food. Missionaries brought area Native Americans into the missions
where they were taught useful trades such as stone-cutting, masonry, carpentry,
and weaving. Patterned after Spanish
villages, each mission had its own economy.
The missions’ primary purpose was to extend Spanish culture.
They did so by bringing scattered bands of Native Americans into a
central, permanent location in a church-based community.
The missions represented a welcome source of food and protection to the
y san Miguel de Aguayo, Mission San José, known as the “Queen of the
Missions,” is recognized for her unique architecture.
Protective stone walls encircling the community acted as a defensive
measure, discouraging enemy attacks. The
mission still holds active church services today.
We joined a “Mariachi Mass” that we enjoyed greatly, though it seemed
more Pentecostal than Catholic. The
most successful period for the missions was 1747-1775.
In 1793 the Spanish secularized the missions, which were closed.
The land was redistributed to the inhabitants.
The missions formed the foundation of what is
Spanish stationed a cavalry unit at San Antonio de Valero in the early 1800’s.
The unit referred to the mission as the
, Spanish for “cottonwood,” and the name stuck. The
was occupied by Spanish, Rebel, Mexican and finally Texas Revolutionary troops
before having its place permanently etched in history in March 1836.
The Texas Revolutionaries took over the mission in December 1835,
over-running the Mexican garrison stationed there.
Mexican General Santa Anna arrived on the scene February 23, 1836 and
began his siege. Santa Anna’s
troops far out-numbered the 189 men holed up in the
. This brave band held the Mexican
troops at bay for 13 days before the final fierce battle.
Early in the morning of March 6, 1836 the final assault began—as 1400
of Santa Anna’s troops stormed the
—by 6:30 AM, it was finished. Six
hundred of Santa Anna’s men were numbered as casualties that morning before
the mission’s walls were breached, the inhabitants slaughtered.
marks the sacrifice of 189 men who valued freedom above life itself.
historical significance of the missions resulted in Congress establishing
in 1978 through an agreement with the Arch Diocese of San Antonio.
The agreement with diocese was needed because the mission churches (with
the exception of San Antonio de Valero) remain active parishes. Five area
historic missions are included in the park; Conceptión,
, Espada, and San Antonio de Valero—better known as the
. San Antonio de Valero was the
first Spanish mission founded on the
. Today the Alamo is a state
historic site that has been under the care of the Daughters of the
is a museum focusing on the cultural diversity that formed
. An education center, the Institute
of Texan Cultures (ITC) is “dedicated to enhancing the understanding of the
history and diverse cultures in
…through exhibits, programs, and publications that encourage acceptance and
appreciation of our differences as well as our common humanity.”
The institute’s 50,000 square feet facility features an eye-opening
array of permanent displays illuminating the 26 various cultures that settled
in the 1800’s. This multitude of
various ethnicities formed the foundation of the multi-cultural society we find
today. We were vaguely familiar
with the German influence in the settling of
, but quite surprised to learn of other groups such as the Japanese, Lebanese,
French and Irish. The institute
offers daily tours of the exhibit floors, publications, audiovisual productions
and other teaching tools, a library focusing on ethnic and cultural history, an
historical photo collection (more than 3,500,000 photos documenting both special
events and everyday life from the 19th century to the present),
teacher training programs and workshops. What
started as a fair exhibit (an exhibit in the 1968 HemisFair, the World’s
Fair.) is now the state’s mandated center for the interpretation of the
history and culture of
The San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the old Lone Star Brewing
Company building (dating from 1884) features an amazing collection that spans
centuries of history. The museum
opened in 1981 and is one of the best collections in the southwestern US.
The 30,000 square foot
for Latin American Art that opened in 1998 was a welcome addition to the
museum. It was the first
center for the study of Latin American art.
museum contains a wonderful collection of American 18th and 19th
century paintings reflecting that period. The
Ancient Art section contains an impressive collection spanning 5,000 years of
history, with a great emphasis upon Egyptian, Greek and Roman pieces.
The Asian Art section includes paintings, ceramics, and sculpture from
. The European Art segment is a collection of French, Dutch, British, and
Italian works from the 12th through the 20th centuries.
The Latin American Art collection spans 4,000 years. The pre-Columbian
collection consists of treasures from the Andean region of South America,
Central America, and
. The Modern and Contemporary Art section is largely devoted to post-World War
II American painting and sculpture. The
Near Eastern and Islamic Art collection includes metal work, traditional
ceramics, jewelry and calligraphic works covering the birth and spread of Islam.
The Ocean Art collection comes from the Pacific—ranging from
. The San Antonio Museum of Art is
an unexpected cultural gem.
Located at the southern end of the
a mile below the
is the historically significant Guenther House.
The historic district contains a varied collection of 19th
century German family homes. The
Guenther House was built by Pioneer Flour Mills founders, the Guenther family.
Guenther’s Mill was renamed Pioneer Flour Mills in 1898 and continues
to operate today, claiming to be
’s oldest continuously operating flour mill.
Construction on the home started in 1860 shortly after German native Carl
Hilmar Guenther founded his mill. The
home was built of stone quarried from the current location of the San Antonio
In 1902 Carl’s youngest son Erhard Guenther, took over as president of
Pioneer Flour Mills. He also
undertook the remodeling of the family home where he and his six siblings were
raised. He changed the metal roof
for the green tile, added two stories and a side verandah giving it the look
maintained today. Originally
designed as the home library, the house contains a small museum of mill
memorabilia collected over the years. Located
on the second floor in what once was the music room and a bedroom, the River
Mill Store carries a selection of gourmet baking mixes produced at the mill
today. A good selection of stoneware
containers and cookware produced by local artisans is available in the store.
The house’s real treat however is the Guenther House Restaurant
featuring hearty traditional fare.
IF YOU GO: