Walking the winding streets of downtown San Antonio, Texas, is like tracing America's historical entry into the Wild West. And just like the natural ebb and flow of the San Antonio River, so goes the city's turbulent past and future acceptance into the Union in 1846.
The city's namesake was given by Spanish explorers in 1691, who discovered its river on the feast day of St. Anthony. At the time, the area was inhabited by Native Americans, who were converted to Christianity when the city was officially founded by Spain in 1718. This fight over land foreshadowed endless struggles for control of San Antonio for more than 100 years.
Spain established five missions along the San Antonio River, including San Antonio de Valero (now the infamously named Alamo), many of which have been preserved and maintained by the city's park and recreation department. A nine-mile trail can be traced beginning at the Alamo down south to the 879-acre San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.
The missions were secularized by 1795, and the Alamo became a military barracks for Mexico's soldiers who fought Spain for independence, which they declared in 1821.
Due to American immigration to Texas and struggles over the Mexican constitution, Mexico's reign was short lived, and the Texas Revolution began in 1835. The anglo settlers in the state were fighting the Mexican army for democracy, with the Alamo serving as the central backdrop in the fight for freedom. Its siege by Mexico is historical by many accounts--not only was the defense of the Alamo represented by some of the Union's greatest military figures such as Sam Houston and David Crockett; but their courage to fight against all odds led to the famous battle cry, "Remember the Alamo," which represents the 189 men who gave their lives during the great siege of 1836. Even though the Alamo was initially lost to Mexico, Texas did eventually enter the Union 10 years later and began rebuilding on the former battlegrounds.
Much of the city's parkland is historical, with most of the parks either created on military battleground or named after military figures. Crockett Park was established in 1875, and has since been held in perpetuity as a public space; Riverside Park sits on land that Theodore Roosevelt visited during the Spanish American War; and Milam Park is home to the remains of Ben Milam, who was killed defending San Antonio against Mexican forces in 1835.
San Antonio's population grew rapidly after it joined the Union--mainly due to the influx of German immigrants. The Germans mixed well with the Hispanics, as well as the Southern Anglo-Americans who arrived soon afterward. The architecture around the city reflects this cultural diversity. …