History of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

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With the joint efforts of the United States Department of Interior, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio, and the San Antonio Conservation Society, the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park was founded on the 10th of November in 1978. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, preserved here are four Spanish frontier missions established during the Spanish Southwest colonization during the 17th, 18th, and 18th centuries.

These missions include Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada, and Concepción. It all started in 1718 when Spanish representatives and Franciscans founded Alamo, the first mission. The mission was created to introduce Christianity to the local natives and convert them into Spanish citizens. In the span of 13 years, four other missions (now covered by the park) were also established.

Mission San Jose

Dubbed as the Queen of the Missions, Mission San Jose (Misión San José y San Miguel de Aguayo) is the largest mission in San Antonio established in 1720 and was founded by Father Antonio Margil. Its construction was approved to cater to native American groups who declined to live with the other local natives already present in Alamo. Texas limestone and vibrant stucco were used to construct the site. At its apex, it became the social and cultural sanctuary of over 300 Indians. In 1941, it was designated as San Jose Mission National Historic Site and was included in the National Register on October 15, 1966.

Mission San Juan

Prior to its foundation in San Antonio, Mission San Juan (Mission San Juan Capistrano) was actually an existing mission from East Texas named Misión San Jose de Los Nazonis. In 1731, it was renamed and moved to the city. It stuck to the purpose of converting local natives to Christianity, acculturating them into the Spanish system, and establishing a community in the region. However, the mission was not successful compared to its counterparts as it suffered from Apache raids and lack of allotted lands for cultivation. By the 19th century, it succumbed to abandonment and neglect. Restoration efforts were only made in the 1930s and 1960s before it was formally recorded on the National Register in 1972.

Mission Espada

Like Mission San Juan, Mission Espada (Mission San Francisco de la Espada) was moved and founded in San Antonio in 1931. Its current location was strategically chosen to allow a gravity-powered irrigation system to bring water to the cultivation fields. In fact, the establishment of irrigation was more prioritized than the construction of buildings on the site. The Espada dam is the only surviving  Spanish-built dam in the city today. Situated on Espada Road, Mission Espada was officially included in the federal government’s National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Mission Concepción

Located about three miles south of San Antonio’s downtown, Mission Concepcion (Misión Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña) was founded in 1716 in East Texas before it was moved to San Antonio in 1731. About 300 Native Americans settled on the site on its grant and became responsible for constructing its building and cultivating the surrounding lands. Its main church was only built two decades after but still stands today as the oldest pristine stone church in the country. Diseases hit the mission while attacks from hostile, unaffiliated native Americans spelled the downfall of the mission. It was designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1970.

Takeaway

Today, the missions serve as a reminder not only of the Spanish rule’s extent outside Mexico but also the rich, diverse, cultural heritage of San Antonio. So, never miss visiting the park to look back in time and trace the roots of this beautiful city.

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