The history of San Antonio begins with the year 1718, when, in pursuance of orders from the viceroy, a priest removed the old mission of San Francisco Solano from the Rio Grande to the San Antonio River and founded the mission of San Antonio de Valero on the right bank of the San Pedro, about three-quarters of a mile from the cathedral of San Fernando. There it remained until 1722, when it was removed, with the presidio, to Military Plaza. In response to the petitions of the missionaries for military reenforcement in order to secure the mission and assist in the subjugation of the Indian tribes, the viceroy in 1718 sent a governor with soldiers and mechanics into the province of Texas, and thus soon after the establishment of the mission was founded the presidio of San Antonio de Bexar. In the vicinity of these two institutions, the military post and the Indian mission, a number of persons located whose object was pennant settlement; instead of working directly and exclusively for the welfare of the mission, or acting in the capacity of soldiers, they built themselves homes, put a certain amount of land in cultivation, raised their small flocks on the common pasture, and became bona fide colonists. It is probable that some of the soldiers, their time of service over, were sufficiently attached to the locality to remain as settlers. This civil community, which was quite distinct but existed side by side with the mission and presidio, became known as the villa of San Fernando. Originally therefore three independent institutions — military, political and religious — existed at San Antonio, but eventually their separate identities became merged under the one municipal title of San Antonio. In consequence of the French invasion from Louisiana along the eastern borders of Texas, a large expedition under the command of Aguayo in 1720 came up from Mexico and after restoring the authority of Spain on the eastern border, the commander restored the old East Texas mission and in the course of his stay gave to San Antonio another mission besides the original San Antonio de Valero. San Jose de Aguayo, the most beautiful of all the missions about San Antonio, even in its present ruins, was "erected" (that is authorized) in 1720, and was the first of the missions outside of the city to be finished. It was completed March 5, 1731, and on the same date the other three missions south of the city were begun.
In the meantime as the attempts to colonize Texas had been attended with little success, Spain undertook to introduce settlers from the Canary Islands, and in 1729 a company of fifty or sixty persons left the Canary Islands, in response to the Royal order, arrived at Vera Cruz in 1730, and after a long journey northward arrived at San Antonio de Bexar on March 9, 1731. These colonists became the "Canary Island" settlers of San Fernando, whose members and descendants have since occupied so prominent a place in San Antonio history. The Villa of San Fernando, containing the settlers who had previously located and also the Canary Islanders, was located between the San Antonio and the San Pedro rivers, the building lots being grouped for the most part around the Plaza just east of the presidio or military plaza; in other words, the "main plaza," as known today was the central point of old Fernando Villa. Besides a lot assigned for residence to each family, there was common pasture land and a labor for cultivation, irrigated from the waters of the San Antonio or San Pedro. The pasture land lay both north and south of the villa, between the two streams. While the missions at the Alamo and also at San Jose were located conveniently to the villa, the settlers had demanded a parish church of their own, and in response to these demands the corner stone of the San Fernando Church was laid May 8, 1744. This church was used as the central place of worship in San Antonio for a century and a quarter. The present San Fernando cathedral, the building of which was begun in 1868, was constructed around and over the old church, which was removed when the new building was sufficiently completed, and all that now remains of the earlier structure is the curious polygonal western portion facing Military Plaza with its Mooresque dome.
As a result of an official inspection made in 1727, it was found that the old missions among the Indians of Northeast Texas were without warrant for existence, so few were their Indian converts. In consequence the three missions were ordered removed to the vicinity of San Antonio, and this removal brought the three remaining missions whose ruins still form such a picturesque feature of the country about San Antonio. Actual work of construction on these began in March, 1731, as previously mentioned. These various missions, and also the presidio establishments and colonies, for many years inaugurated and supported directly by the Spanish Government, were primarily for the purpose of maintaining the authority of Spain in the Texas country. But after the treaty of 1763 had removed the source of friction between the French and Spanish settlements along the Sabine, and the Louisiana country had been surrendered to Spain, the chief reason for colonizing Texas was removed, and for this and other causes the missionary work among the Indians was turned over to the secular clergy in 1793, resulting in the distribution of the mission lands, the dispersion of the Indians and the end of the labors of the Franciscan friars. At that time there were only four or five hundred Indians grouped about the dozen missions in Texas, while the families of soldiers and settlers in 1782 were estimated at about two thousand five hundred. A brief note as to the economic conditions of the people at San Fernando in 1778 is supplied from the testimony of De Croix, who said of the settlers that they "live miserably because of their laziness and lack of means of subsistence, which defects show themselves at first sight." Much was due to the environment and to the conditions under which the settlement had been founded. There were no attempts at public education, and there were no representatives of the learned profession, not even a physician.
In 1805 San Antonio, which with Goliad and Nacogdoches was one of the three important centers of Spanish civilization in Texas, had a population estimated at about two thousand. After the United States had acquired the Louisiana Territory in 1803, Spain's former fears of territorial aggression from the Northeast were renewed, and from that time forward San Antonio occupied a conspicuous position as the military headquarters for the forces engaged in the occupation of Texas, and also as the seat of the civil government for this province. The American explorer, Zebulon Pike, visited San Antonio in 1807, and describes the city as containing "perhaps two thousand souls, most of whom reside in miserable mud wall houses, covered with thatched grass roofs. The town is laid out on a very grand plan. To the east of it on the other side of the river, is the station of the troops." In 1809 Governor Salcedo, in his description of the province, stated the population of the capital of San Antonio and its jurisdiction as 1,700 souls, and concerning their economic condition said: "The inhabitants have no occupation; they are without means. One wonders how they cultivate the soil without implements; how they build their houses without tools; the houses are very crude."
In March, 1813, San Antonio was surrendered to the American forces comprising what is known as the Gutiorrez-Magee expedition, and the revolutionists were in possession of the city several months. During the subsequent advance of American settlement over Eastern and South Central Texas, San Antonio's population remained almost entirely Mexican, and the city was occupied by a large garrison of Mexican troops. It was for this reason that San Antonio became the objective point in the revolutionary campaign of 1835, ending with the storming and capture of the city in December of that year. The capture of San Antonio gave the Americans temporary control of practically all the province, and a garrison of Texans occupied the town and the Alamo mission until February, 1836, when the advance of Santa Anna's army from the South caused Travis and his followers to abandon the city and make their final stand in the Alamo. The Alamo massacre occurred on March 6th and San Antonio remained in the possession of the Mexican troops until after the battle of San Jacinto.
After the establishment of the Republic the City of San Antonio was incorporated, and in September, 1837, an American resident was elected as its first mayor.
Twice again was San Antonio captured by Mexican troops, but the period of occupation was very brief. In March, 1842, a force of 500 Mexicans suddenly appeared and without opposition took possession of the city, declared the authority of Mexico, and two days later departed. In September of the same year a second expedition came up from the Rio Grande. District court was in session at San Antonio, all the activities of the frontier town were in progress, and no thought of an enemy's approach was entertained by anyone. It was a complete surprise. Nevertheless the citizens did not surrender without resistance. They took refuge on the roof of buildings bordering Main Plaza and defended themselves for a number of hours. Finally realizing the presence of overpowering numbers, they surrendered. The number of prisoners was fifty-two, including the district judge, several lawyers, physicians and other prominent citizens. The capture of the city aroused the surrounding country, and in a short time hundreds of Texans were organizing, but the Mexican general soon departed.
San Antonio was the point of rendezvous for subsequent expeditions fitted out for the invasion of Mexican territory, but otherwise its existence was quiet and comparatively uneventful for a number of years. Early in the Mexican war a division of the United States forces under General Wool was concentrated at San Antonio, and one of his subordinate officers, George W. Hughes, afterwards published a book describing the campaign, including considerable matter referring to San Antonio and vicinity. As it was about this time that American influence and German colonization began making themselves felt in San Antonio, it will not be out of place to quote a few sentences from the description by this soldier. "The country around San Antonio," he says, "notwithstanding the general decay of agriculture, produces grass in great abundance, on which immense herds of cattle were feeding, and the Americans found no difficulty in obtaining supplies of forage and feed. The Town of San Antonio is supposed to contain about two thousand inhabitants, mostly Mexicans, the greater part of the males are agriculturists and herdsmen, so far as they have any occupation. It has no manufactures and but few mechanics, such as carpenters, masons, tailors, shoemakers and blacksmiths." Reference is made to the availability of the several buildings about the town including the Alamo, suitable for accommodating military forces and equipment, and a little later the Alamo became in fact a military post.
The same authority gives some description of local agriculture and stock raising: "Most of the land in the vicinity of San Antonio was formerly, and much of it still is irrigated from the river and the San Pedro. It is stated on the authority of the surveyor of Bexar County, that within the limits of our map nearly two thousand acres of land are now in corn, yielding on an average of about thirty bushels to the acre, but this is probably an over estimate. For a great distance around San Antonio the grazing is excellent and herds of cattle abundant. The cattle are of the old Spanish breed, the oxen large with immense horns; rapid walkers and strong."
At the census of 1850, when Bexar County had a population of a little more than six thousand, the population of San Antonio was 3,488. At that time the Mexicans were far in excess of all other classes of nationality, and the Mexicans in the county and city in 1856 were estimated at about six thousand. Of the city Olmsted wrote in 1857: "San Antonio, excluding Galveston, is much the largest city of Texas. After the Revolution it was half deserted by its Mexican population, who did not care to come under Anglo-Saxon rule. Since then its growth has been rapid and steady. At the census of 1850 it numbered 3,500; in 1853, its population was 6,000, and in 1856 it was estimated at 10,500.
Of these about 4,000 are Mexicans, 3,000 Germans, and 3,500 Americans. The money capital is in the hands of the Americans, as well as the offices and the government. Most of the mechanics and the smaller shopkeepers are Germans. The Mexicans appear to have almost no other business than that of carting goods, almost the entire transportation of the county is carried on by them, with oxen and two-wheel carts. Some of them have small shops, for the supply of their own countrymen, and some live upon the produce of farms and cattle ranches in the neighborhood." It was about that time that the so-called "cart war" was at its height, and San Antonio was one of the central points affected by the serious interruption of its former transportation system, and it was claimed that the Germans and Americans in San Antonio were among the most active in their attempts to drive the Mexican cart men out of business.
The trade and general economic resources of the city at that time were further described by Olmsted as follows: "The local business is considerable, but carried on without subdivision of occupation. Each of a dozen stores offers all the articles that you may ask for. A druggist or two, a saddler or two, a watchmaker and a gunsmith ply almost the only distinct trades. The country supplied from this center is extensive, but very thinly settled. The capital owned here is quite large. The principal accumulations date from the Mexican war, when no small part of the many millions expended by the Government were disbursed here in payment to contractors. Since then the town has been well to do, and consequently accumulates a greater population than its position in other respects would justify. The traffic, open and illicit, across the frontier with interior Mexico, has some importance and returns some bulky bags of silver. All the principal merchants have their agencies on the Rio Grande. All goods are brought from Matagorda Bay, a distance of 150 miles by ox teams, moving with prodigious slowness and irregularity. Prices are extremely high, and subject to great variations, depending upon the actual supply and the state of the roads. The government brings its army stores direct from the coast. But some hay, corn, and other supplies are contracted for in this region, and from this source and the leavings of casual travelers and new immigrants, the hard money for circulation is derived. Investments at present are mostly in land. There are no home exports of the least account. Pecan nuts and a little coarse wool are almost the only items of the catalog. The wealth and steady growth of the town depend almost entirely upon the rapid settlement of the adjacent country. The Alamo consists of a few irregular stuccoed buildings, huddled against the old church, in a large court surrounded by a rude wall; the whole used as an arsenal by the United States quartermaster."
It was in the decade before the war that many of San Antonio's most substantial institutions and business houses were established. A number of enterprising German colonists during that time began the foundations of stores and manufacturing that have continued to grow under the successive management of themselves and their descendants to the present time. San Antonio was already the commercial depot for all the country to the west and northwest, and many of its merchants were in a fair way to accumulate handsome fortunes. In 1858 the city was said to possess four churches, two Catholic, a Presbyterian and a Methodist; a free school, a college and two private schools; two institutions for the education of young ladies, and a music hall for concerts and occasional theatrical performances.
From the time of the Mexican war down to the late 1800s, San Antonio has had one of its chief resources in the military establishment. The quartermaster's depot was located in the Alamo for a period of nearly thirty years, except during the Civil war. While General Worth was in command of the department until his death in 1849, the headquarters were on the north side of Main Plaza. From 1869 until 1875 the military headquarters were located at Austin, but in the latter year were returned to San Antonio, and have remained ever since. The Maverick Hotel, on the south side of Houston street opposite Jefferson, was built originally for the military headquarters and so used for a number of years. The post garrison has been a permanent institution of the city almost continuously since the war. The troops were withdrawn to Austin in 1873, but came back when the department was moved to San Antonio. Various sites had at various times been offered for the construction of post headquarters, but none was accepted until early in the '70s, when Government Hill was chosen for that purpose and was thus given a name which means much in San Antonio. Construction work on the first buildings of this site was begun in the summer of 1877. Since then the Government has expended a great sum of money, and Fort Sam Houston, a name which was assigned to the post about fifteen years ago, is now one of the largest in the country, being division headquarters of the United States regular army. It is estimated that about a million dollars annually is distributed in the city of San Antonio through the military establishment. It is also worth noting that a number of the great military characters of the United States have at some time or other been stationed at San Antonio. It was usually while in the grade of lieutenant that they saw service in this section of Texas. Generals Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston did their tour of duty in San Antonio. Grant was stationed there before the war, and among other names of national reputation are those of Twiggs, Hood, Sheridan, Shafter, Lawton and Scofield. In recent years, as an addition to the San Antonio military establishment, there has been laid out the Leon Springs Reservation as an extensive manoeuvre ground and target range. While on this subject, it should not be forgotten that San Antonio was the rendezvous for the famous regiment of "Rough Riders" raised for service in the Spanish-American war.
Early in 1861 the military establishment was transferred to the Confederate Government, and the United States forces did not again occupy the city until the close of the war and the establishment of a provisional government. The war time in San Antonio as elsewhere was a period of neglect, when the improvements fell into disrepair and the city resources became impoverished. By 1866 San Antonio, in both its residence and business districts, was in a ripe condition to suffer severely from the cholera epidemic that visited it in that year, and the sacrifice of life from this scourge resulted in a revival of civic cleanliness and improvement in numerous ways. The proper cleaning of streets, filling in and paving and other sanitary measures inaugurated an era which eventually made San Antonio one of the cleanest and most wholesome cities of the South. It was in 1866 that the gas works were established and among other items of progress there was a revival of interest in private schools and efforts of a systematic nature to inaugurate free public schools. A view, perhaps somewhat optimistic, of the city about this time, is contained in the following extract from the Texas Almanac for 1867: "In San Antonio there are a large number of schools. At free school about two hundred pupils are regularly educated. A German and English school is admirably conducted, with about one hundred and fifty scholars, and a Catholic college has from two hundred to three hundred pupils. This college is for the education of young ladies exclusively. There are also many smaller schools. Two schools are devoted to the instruction of Negroes. The city of San Antonio contains two Catholic churches, one Episcopalian, one Presbyterian, one Methodist and one Baptist. This city is improving with great rapidity, not less than two hundred new buildings having been put up in this year or are now in process of erection. Five stone bridges span the streams in different parts of the city and suburbs. The population of San Antonio is about fifteen thousand, and rapidly increasing, consisting of about equal numbers of Americans, Germans and Mexicans, with a few French, Irish and Italians. In San Antonio is located the extensive tannery constructed by the defunct Confederate Government during the war at an immense cost. Five extensive flouring and corn mills are now in operation and another in course of erection. The markets are at Port Lavaca and Indianola, distant about one hundred and fifty miles, thirty of which are by railroad. The city of San Antonio is lighted by gas. An ice manufactory is in successful operation." At this point some mention should be made of the old educational institution that came into existence during the '50s and '60s. Many of the most successful men of San Antonio and other parts of the state acknowledge old St. Mary's College as their alma mater. It was founded by the Catholic Church in 1852, largely through the zeal of Father Odin, and the school was first conducted on the west side of Military Plaza, and in 1853 transferred to its present site on College Street. Under difficulties the school was conducted during the war and with only a short interruption during the cholera epidemic of 1866. The work of the college was from time to time improved and the institution held a distinctive place in old San Antonio until it was succeeded by St. Louis College in 1894, after which St. Mary's became a day school exclusively. Another Catholic institution is the Ursuline Academy, which was founded in 1851 and was the first school opened in that city and the second in the state for the education of young girls. Equally important with old St. Mary's as an educational institution was the German-English School, the corner stone of which was laid in 1859 on the west side of South Alamo Street. This school had been founded about 1855, and its activity was continued and it progressed until several circumstances combined to force it out of existence. The institution became burdened with debt, some years after the war the public schools began to compete and finally the introduction of the German language into the public schools resulted in the closing of the German-English school in 1897. The German-English school was but one of the various institutions originating with the German people of San Antonio, and others that should be mentioned are the Casino Association, the Turn Verein, the Beethoven Maennerchor, and others. The pioneer Protestant school for the education of girls in San Antonio is St. Mary's Hall, founded in 1865 by the Episcopal Church, but the epidemic of 1866 caused it to be abandoned and the work was not resumed until 1879.
During the decade of the 1870s San Antonio became the chief wool market in the Southwest. It is recorded that a home market for wool was established, the first wool bought and warehoused in San Antonio in 1859. Previous to that time George Wilkins Kendall had established his sheep ranch above New Braunfels and had published his successful results with sheep husbandry. From that time the sheep industry assumed increasing importance in Southwest Texas. The vast ranges were occupied by sheep men and cattle men alike, and though their relations were not always harmonious they recognized that they stood in close relation to each other as concerned the outside dangers that threatened their occupation. During 1874 the wool brought to market at San Antonio aggregated four hundred thousand pounds, and the following year about six hundred thousand pounds. Thus San Antonio became the market center for one of the greatest wool producing sections in the world, and continued as such until the reduction of the high protective tariff during Cleveland's second administration. This was a blow to the city's commercial prosperity and to the prosperity of Southwest Texas as well, the full results of which it would be difficult to estimate. Hundreds of sheep raisers were forced out of the business and one of the greatest sources of commercial profits was taken from San Antonio. During 1882-83, just after the subsiding of the cattle boom, the people of Texas went wild over sheep. In 1884 there were over nine million sheep in the state, but when the price of wool went down from twenty-five or thirty cents a pound to ten or twelve cents, there was no profit in wool-producing sheep and the industry rapidly declined, though in later years there has been a revival in the raising of mutton sheep and the figures for the last census reported upwards of two million sheep in Texas. In 1882 it was estimated that a third of the total wool product of Texas was marketed in San Antonio, the receipts for that year being about seven million pounds.
The city of San Antonio contained, according to the census of 1870, 12,256 inhabitants, and the population figures for succeeding decades has been: In 1880, 20,550; in 1890, 37,673; in 1900, 53,321, and in 1910, 96,614.
The decade of the 1870s marked the beginning of a new era for San Antonio, when it was first placed in communication with the outside world by railroad. Though one of the oldest cities of America, the capital of a province for years and since its earliest history the concentration point for military and exploring expeditions, yet, after railroads began building in Texas, uniting its chief cities to the outside world with bands of steel, San Antonio remained long isolated. It was the last important point in Texas, if El Paso be excepted, which at that time was only a village, to be given railroad communication. The original Texas railroad, which had begun building at Harrisburg in 1851 and had reached the Colorado River at Columbus before the war, was continued during the decade of the 1870s, and on February 19, 1877, the formal opening of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio was celebrated by an excursion train that carried many notable citizens to San Antonio. In the meantime the International & Great Northern Railroad had been extended to Austin in 1876, and in a year or so construction was resumed and the road was completed and put in operation as far as the Rio Grande in 1881. Since those two pioneer lines, San Antonio has become the center for several other roads which radiate in all directions. Most of the lines of the San Antonio & Arsansas Pass were constructed during the '80s. This road was open from San Antonio southeast to Beeville in 1886 and in the following year had reached Corpus Christi. In 1887 the same road was extended north from San Antonio as far as Boerne and later to Kerrville. San Antonio secured another railway outlet in 1901, when the Missouri, Kansas & Texas was extended from San Marcos. Within the last five or six years San Antonio has been the headquarters for the railway building intended to develop the territory to the south and west. The chief of these lines is the San Antonio, Uvalde & Gulf, extending south through Atascosa County, while the Artesian Belt Line is also closely connected with the San Antonio transportation system.
A pleasing picture of San Antonio about the beginning of this railroad era is found in an article written by Harriet P. Spofford in 1877. Arriving in San Antonio from the snow-bound north in the month of March, when the town was a wilderness of blooming roses, hedging in the gardens, latticing the verandas and clambering over the low roofs, she found a quaint beauty and interest at every turn. She describes the '' sinuosities of the countless streets of San Antonio, which are a complete maze, and among which one may wander a year and yet find intricacies unknown before. The streets in the old part of the city are exceedingly narrow, and by no means clean, and the sidewalks are narrower yet and worn in ruts by the tread of many feet. Many of the buildings on those streets are of adobe, all of them a single story in height, most of them with galleries, as the veranda and piazza and porch are called. Some of them have a curious front, the walls projecting a couple of feet above the line where eaves should be and pierced by rain spouts, forming a breastwork behind which the defender lay protected while through the rain spouts firing down into the streets which, in the furious old times that this town has known, with now one master and now another, were wont to run with blood. Narrow as the streets are, they are encumbered in every way and made still narrower. Here the incumbrance is carts full of huge blocks of un-hewn stone, which are handled by brawny Mexicans and Negroes, without derricks, and which the citizens patiently submit to be cut in the street day by day instead of in the stonecutter's yards. Here it is a train of clumsy Mexican wagons covered with canvas, drawn by oxen whose yokes are bound upon their horns, thus occasioning every jolt to jar the brain and shortening the term of service of the stoutest beast. Often the main plaza is entirely covered with these teams, the great ox lying all day in the sun there.''
This writer found San Antonio still a Spanish town, "and the only one where any considerable remnant of Spanish life exists in the United States." "It is true that there are large numbers of Germans, French and Poles here, that no shopkeeper employs a clerk who cannot deal with at least two of these nationalities besides his own, and the place is in a manner cosmopolitan; but Spain is at the foundation of the whole of it." Of San Antonio as a commercial center, this writer finds its contributing wealth consists in the great cattle ranches, but more still in the sheep husbandry. The wool clip "makes San Antonio one of the leading wool markets of the world, while the amazing increase renders it probable that she will soon become the chief. Her trade in hides is also immense, and she has merchants who do a business in general merchandise running largely into the millions every year. She is now the natural entrepot of a vast trade, not only with the states, but with that great and rich region of country lying farther to the west, that region just beyond the frontier."
Within a few years after the first railroad the process of modernizing San Antonio in harmony with the requirements of commercial enterprise had begun. In 1882 it was said, that while the older streets still bore the impress of their Spanish origin, being narrow, crooked and quaintly foreign in appearance, the modern streets were marked by handsome parks, broad avenues, stately mercantile houses, gas works, a street railway, water works, churches, and besides private schools there were four large ward schools and a central high school. At the present time San Antonio has seventy-five miles of electric street railways, traversing all important parts of the city and reaching well out into the suburban territory. The first street railroad, extending from Alamo Plaza to San Pedro Springs, was begun in February, 1878, and within a few years other lines followed, reaching to the west end and to Hot Wells. In 1890 the old mule cars were replaced by the electric trolley cars. San Antonio now has a complete water works system, the supply being drawn from artesian sources. Previous to the building of the waterworks the city had depended upon the irrigation ditches and wells. When the first contract for the construction of waterworks was made in 1877, the supply was drawn from the headwaters of the San Antonio River, and the plant was constructed by July, 1878. It required considerable time to educate the people to use the waterworks, but as years went by the older residents were weaned from the river and creek which early writers say were so commonly used for bathing and laundry purposes. In the older sections of the city the narrow, crooked streets have presented a tremendous problem for improvement and modernization. From the earliest times Commerce Street was the main thoroughfare of the city, and at this writing is in the process of being widened, at an expense borne partly by private subscriptions, partly by individual property owners and partly by city funds and districts bonds, amounting to nearly a million dollars. Houston Street, which until recently has been the widest business street and sharing with Commerce the honor of a principal commercial thoroughfare, is a comparatively new street. A few years ago it still had a number of one and two-story business blocks, typical of the older town, but beginning with the Moore and Hicks buildings, which were the first complete and large office buildings in the city, this street has since been rapidly built up on both sides with modern structures including the new Gunter Hotel and several office buildings from six to ten stories in height. Besides the widening of Commerce Street, the west end of Houston Street has also undergone similar improvements and other streets have been subjected to the same process. The windings of the San Antonio River and of San Pedro Creek necessitate numerous bridges. Before the war there was only one wooden bridge across the river, on Commerce Street, and the construction, during the Modern era, of about twenty iron bridges besides a total of over two thousand small bridges, culverts and other similar structures within the city limits, illustrates how remarkably the city has been improved during the last thirty or thirty-five years. San Antonio takes special pride in its parks and plazas, which have an aggregate area of about three hundred and fifty acres. The largest in area is Brackenridge Park, which contains 200 acres and in point of natural beauty is not excelled by any city park in the country.