Restoring Historical Connections
Since prehistoric times, the San Antonio River has been a vital resource to the inhabitants of the San Antonio River basin and has greatly contributed to the rich history of our area. Archaeological excavations have produced evidence that the first human habitation along the San Antonio River occurred as long as 10,000 years ago. In recent centuries, hunting and gathering groups, known collectively by historians as Coahuiltecans, lived along the river and named it Yanaguana. The first documented arrival of Spanish explorers at the river did not occur until the end of the 1600s. On June 13, 1691, members of a Spanish expedition celebrated Mass on the banks of the river, during which Franciscan priest Damien Massanet renamed the waterway San Antonio because it was the Feast Day of Saint Anthony. Throughout the 1700s, development of what is now the City of San Antonio occurred alongside five Spanish Colonial missions established near the river.
As the Mission Reach project restores the natural ecosystem of the river, it will also reconnect the river to the historic Missions that relied on it hundreds of years ago. This will be accomplished in the following ways:
Mission Portals will connect San Antonio’s four historic missions – Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan and Mission Espada – to the San Antonio River. These connections will feature historic and artistic interpretations of the story of the missions and highlight their social and cultural importance to the area. This will reinforce the importance of the river to the missions and encourage visitors to circulate between the Mission Reach and the river. Project planners are working closely with the National Park Service San Antonio Missions National Historic Park to ensure that there is a seamless transition between the Mission Reach and the historic missions. Bexar County is providing funding for the portals, with additional private funding being provided by the San Antonio River Foundation. Above: conceptual rendering of the Mission San Jose portal. See more conceptual renderings below.
The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park was established in 1978 to preserve, protect, restore and interpret the Spanish Missions of San Antonio and contains the most complete collection of Spanish Colonial Resources in America (possibly in the world). The National Historical Park represents the very fabric and essence of Hispanic Culture. In addition to the missions, the national park includes seven historic acequias, the oldest working Spanish Aqueduct and dam in the nation and numerous Spanish colonial frescos. In 2009, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park received a record 1.7 million visitors and anticipates as many if not more visitors in 2010.
Restoring River Remnants
Before the river was channelized in the 1950-60's, it meandered through the city, passing near San Antonio's historic missions. Today, you can still faintly see where the old course of the river used to flow. The Mission Reach project will restore two historic remnants of the river, increasing the sinuosity of the river and highlighting the relationship of the river and the Missions.
Right: This image depicts the river remnant near Mission Espada and the future path of this remnant once restored.
Mission Concepcion - Conceptual Renderings