Texas History 101

What was early San Antonio really like?

March 2003By Comments

UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF GENERAL Martín Perfecto de Cos, the Mexican army took over San Antonio de Béxar in September 1835. When the Texan army attempted to take back the city, battles erupted in the streets. In December 1835, after 44 days of combat, the Texans were victorious, but the price was high. Private supplies and livestock had been drained, homes had been invaded, and the Texans had no way of paying their troops. Colonel James C. Neill was left with no food, no clothing, and only 104 soldiers, which soon decreased to 80 when the paymaster did not arrive by the following month.

But the city survived. By 1860, the population of San Antonio had grown to eight thousand, making it the first city in Texas. San Antonio was made up mostly of European immigrants, with more than five thousand German-born citizens living in the city. During this time, the immigrants, who were middle class, constructed many buildings in the Southwestern style and built the first large mercantile and financial centers in South Texas.

The city’s first railroad, the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio, opened in 1877, and shortly thereafter the tourism industry took off. The Alamo was the prime attraction, appearing on the covers of guide books. However, many visitors found the landmark a disappointment. But other endeavors in the tourist industry got folks interested in San Antonio. The opening of the Menger Hotel gave the wealthy a luxurious alternative to the wagon yards where the average traveler lodged. The Menger, which was two-and-a-half stories tall and constructed by European artisans, was built beside the crumbling walls of the Alamo. Furnishings were imported at the exorbitant cost of $16,000. Confederate General Robert E. Lee often stayed in the hotel. New restaurants and shops began popping up, and luxuries such as jewelry, clothing, and fine liquors were also available. The mixture of European cultures gave San Antonio a cosmopolitan air unlike that of the rest of Anglo-Texas. It still feels that way today.

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