Other Views of San Antonio

Other Views from 1886

Where is San Antonio?

Above: Augustus Koch (1840–?). Bird’s Eye View of San Antonio Bexar Co. Texas 1886 Looking East, 1886. Toned lithograph, 28 x 37 in. Lithographer unknown. Witte Museum, San Antonio.

San Antonio in 1886

The railroads were slow to build to San Antonio. In 1877, Galusha Aaron Grow, president of the International-Great Northern Railway, suggested that San Antonio was “perhaps the largest city on the continent today that had remained so long without railroad connection”—and when railroads did arrive on the evening of February 19, 1877, they transformed the “old dry bones of the Alamo City.”[1]

San Antonians had tried to lure a railroad to their city since before the Civil War; but apparent corruption, the war itself, legislation that limited land grants, and the Panic of 1873 had discouraged its construction. Finally, in January 1876 Bexar County citizens voted $300,000 in bonds to encourage the “speedy completion” of the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway to the city. The city had undergone almost a decade of change by the time Augustus Koch returned in 1886 for a second look.

San Antonio had surpassed 20,000 in population in 1880 and was building toward more than 37,000 in 1890, which would allow it to maintain its position as the second largest city in the state (behind Galveston in 1880, Dallas in 1890). It rapidly became a commercial center for livestock and mohair industries, as well as home to new flour and grist mills; foundries and machine shops; tanneries; brick, tile, and cement plants; and, in 1883, the brewing industry. Taking advantage of the railroad and good spring water, St. Louis brewer Adolphus Busch brought his technology to San Antonio and built the first large, mechanized brewery in the state. With the new transportation and distribution system, he sold his Lone Star Beer throughout most of the state and as far west as California and in Mexico.[2] A group of San Antonio businessmen started the competing San Antonio Brewing Association a couple of years later to produce Pearl Beer. Such successes inspired the San Antonio Express to write of “Our Tributary Territory…a triangle south of San Antonio to the Mexican border, formed by the Southern Pacific to Eagle Pass and the San Antonio and Aransas Pass railways to Corpus Christi, and pierced almost through its centre by the International and Great Northern Railway to Laredo.” This did not include the Hill Country to the north and west or the small communities such as Gonzales and Seguin to the east. And it led the San Antonio and Corpus Christi congressmen to cooperate to get the federal government to continue dredging Aransas Pass to insure that freighters could regularly enter Corpus Christi harbor with no suspension in service.[3]

Koch has depicted this growth in his large bird’s-eye view. Looking to the north, he showed the city’s expansion along the San Antonio River, where the large new breweries had been built, northwestward along the mule-drawn trolley to San Pedro Park (which greatly increased the land valuation along the route), and eastward with the business and housing developments around Alamo Plaza. Business still revolved around the Main Plaza and Military Plaza, and the Alfred Giles-designed addition to the Bexar County Courthouse (1 on map) is detailed on Soledad Street, just north of the Main Plaza.[4] Railroad depots flanked the city to the northeast, south, and west, pulling development with them.[5] Koch carefully delineated Fort Sam Houston, which had been established in 1876 and had become a beacon of development, along with the railroad in the upper right-hand corner of the print. As was his practice, he also called attention to the African-American community by identifying at least three of that community’s churches: St. Paul’s M. E. Church (35), Mt. Zion Baptist Church (36), and St. James American M. E. Church (37).