Lower Basin Day Trip

The San Antonio River originates in San Antonio, Texas. On the campus of the University of the Incarnate Word, waters bubbling up from the Edwards Aquifer form the Blue Hole. Historically, the waters of this mainspring join with those of Olmos Creek and Brackenridge Park becoming the headwaters of the San Antonio River. Flowing south from its birthplace, the San Antonio River moves through the city, through history, and into South Texas where it nourishes wildlife, waters thirsty crops and provides a cool respite for Texans and travelers exploring the River Basin.

The Lower San Antonio River Basin includes numerous points of interest certain to enliven a journey to the San Antonio area. There are historic routes connecting San Antonio to La Bahia/Goliad that were part of the Camino Real. Visitors to San Antonio may wish to tour the Alamo-La Bahia Corridor along the San Antonio River to experience the history and beauty of South Texas. Below is a day-trip suggestion leaving from and returning to San Antonio which is approximately eight to ten hours in length depending on the time stopped at each location. The suggested itinerary include stops at historic sites important in the history of Spain, Mexico and the Republic of Texas and links to find the great local places to eat and shop while traveling 92 miles south from San Antonio to Goliad.

Leaving on I-37 south and migrating to US Highway 181, one journeys to Floresville.

  • Floresville, county seat of Wilson County with a historic courthouse designed by Alfred Giles in 1884. The old county jail, designed by James Reily Gordon in 1887, now serves as the Jailhouse Museum. Both of these architects were noted for their courthouse designs throughout the state of Texas. Noted events are the Market Day held the first Saturday in May in conjunction with the Alamo-La Bahia Classic Cruise (antique cars) Along the Corridor. The first Saturday in December brings the Pony Express Dewees-Remschel is open to visitors on acreage that was part of the original Dewees Ranch. John O. and Tom Dewees formed a trail driving operation with Jim Ellison in the 1870s. Ellison and Dewees' herd driven by D.S. Combs pioneered the Western Trail to Fort Griffin and Dodge City in 1876. Ranching operations near Floresville have existed from the 1700s when Rancho de las Cabras was established as a grazing ground for San Antonio's Mission Espada on the San Antonio River north of Floresville; it is now part of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. It can be toured the first Saturday of the month; meet at the pavilion in River Park at 10:00 a.m. for the park ranger. The second full weekend in October is the Peanut Festival with parades, a carnival and craft fair and a street dance on Saturday night.

In Floresville, take State Highway 97 to the east, turn south on State Highway 1922, then turn east on County Road 401 passing by the San Antonio River Authority's Jackson Nature Park and over Cibolo Creek, turn east on State Highway 97/US Highway 87 and in Stockdale turn south onto State Highway 123.

  • Cestohowa, noted for its Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an 1878 Polish Catholic Church that rises out of the plain. The community is a daughter settlement of Panna Maria. In front of the church is a marker for El Fuerte de Cibolo that was on land at Cibolo Creek at Carvajal Crossing 2.5 miles to the north. It was established as a fort in Spanish Colonial times about halfway between the Alamo and La Bahia in Goliad. Soldiers from the fort escorted Texas cattle and horses to Gen. Bernardo de Galvez, who defeated the British in Louisiana and Florida during the American Revolution. The fort was destroyed in 1782; no physical remains are left.

Continue south on State Hightway 123, turn east on State Highway 81 and travel to:

  • Panna Maria, the oldest permanent Polish settlement in the United States was founded by Fr. Leopold Moczygemba who persuaded his four brothers and other fellow Poles to leave the harsh economic conditions and Prussian domination of Upper Silesia. Traveling to Bremen by train, to Galveston by ship, then oxcart to San Antonio, the settlers journeyed three months in 1854 to their colony site of tall grass, live oaks and rattlesnakes which they named Panna Maria (Virgin Mary in Polish). The 1856 church of St. Mary has received a mosaic of the Virgin of Czestochowa from President Lyndon B. Johnson to mark the 1966 millennium of Polish Christianity. In 1987 Pope John Paul held a special audience in San Antonio for the people from Panna Maria on the occasion of his visit to the United States.

Continue east on State Highway 81 to:

  • Helena, established in 1852 by Thomas Ruckman and Lewis S. Owings (and named for his wife) on the site of an old Spanish/Mexican trading post, Alamita, that was the most important location on the road between San Antonio and La Bahia (Goliad). Originally the county seat of Karnes County, founded in 1854, Helena features an 1873 courthouse and the John Ruckman Home as museums.

Turn to the southwest on State Highway 80 to:

  • Karnes City, the geographic center of Karnes County, was founded in 1890 by a group of businessmen who determined its location by its proximity to the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway line. It was named in honor of Henry Wax Karnes, a hero of the Texas Revolution. It has been the county seat of Karnes County since 1894 when the county records were moved in the middle of the night to the new courthouse from Helena. This settled the contest among Helena, Kenedy and Runge for the honor. The courthouse, a grand Romanesque edifice, and jail were designed by John Cormack. The celebrated annual event is the Lonesome Dove Fest, held the first weekend of the south zone dove hunting season. An event featuring a parade, noted top musical entertainment, educational seminars on a variety of topics and food, it is a very well-attended local event great for capturing a real South Texas flavor.

Turning south on State Highway 123 and south on US Highway 81, continue to:

  • Kenedy, established in 1886 as a railroad junction on the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway at the Y of lines that went to Houston and to Corpus Christi on land owned by Mifflin Kenedy, the principal owner of railway and partner of Richard M. King, founder of the King Ranch. The land was part of a 1788 land grant along the San Antonio River made to Carlos Martinez. Its economy is based on farming, ranching and oil and gas production. A big oil and gas boom is currently underway in this area with the development of the Eagle Ford Shale formation. In 2001, the Texas Legislature named Kenedy the Horned Lizard Capital of the World. Major festivals are Bluebonnet Days, the third weekend in April and Christmas in Kenedy on the first weekend in December, held in conjunction with the Pony Express mail ride in the Alamo-La Bahia Corridor.

From US Highway 181 south to State Highway 239 south to US Highway 59 east to:

  • Goliad, considered the birthplace of Texas ranching, is one of the oldest Spanish colonial municipalities in the state. Established in 1749, the fort, Presidio La Bahia, and the mission, Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga were relocated from the Guadalupe River to opposite banks of the San Antonio River to a site named Santa Dorotea where timber, sand and limestone were plentiful. Around the presidio wall grew the settlement of La Bahia. Men from the fort assisted the army of Bernardo de Gálvez, who supported the colonists in the American Revolution between 1779 and 1782. Spanish troops were garrisoned there in The Mexican War of Independence of 1810-21. In 1829, La Bahia's representative to the Government of Texas and Coahuila, Rafael Antonio Manchola petitioned the governor to change the town's name to Goliad, an anagram of Hidalgo, the priest who instigated the Mexican independence movement. (Also born near the presidio on 24 March 1829 was Ignacio Zaragoza, the hero of the Battle of Puebla where Mexican forces defeated the French on May 5, 1862. His birthplace may be visited.) After 1812, there were four attempts emanating from the fort to establish Texas Independence. In 1835, Goliad citizens and South Texas colonists signed the Goliad Declaration of Independence and hoisted the first flag of independence. In 1836, James Fannin took command of the post, but he and 500 men were captured in their evacuation by the Mexican army and later executed. There is a monument at the execution site. In 1836, Goliad County was established with Goliad the county seat; the town was incorporated three years later under the Republic of Texas. The present courthouse, designed by Alfred Giles, was constructed in 1894 and restored to original condition in 2006. On the north side is the Hanging Tree, or Cart War Oak, which was used for authorized executions and lynchings. They were brought about by the Cart Wars, which pitted the faster Mexican carters against their slower Anglo transportation rivals. The Texas Rangers stopped the hangings in 1857. Special events are: Goliad Market Days, 2nd Saturday of each month, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.; Goliad County Fair & PRCA Rodeo, usually 3rd weekend in March with a Saturday morning parade; and Christmas in Goliad, 1st weekend in December to coordinate with Pony Express ride.

Return trip: north on State Highway 239 to Kenedy, north on US Highway 181 to I-37 north to San Antonio. Enroute:

  • Falls City: Established near a switch and depot, built in 1886, on the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway and named after several falls on the San Antonio River. A number of people moved from Panna Maria and Cestohowa to be near the railroad and thus became a predominately Polish-American community.

  • Poth: Also established as a switch on the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway in 1886. First called Marcelina, but renamed Poth in 1901 after the owner of the cotton gin in town.

Places to Eat and Shop

There are numerous local eateries and shopping excursions to be had in many of the communities identified in the above itinerary. Please visit the following websites to choose the eating and shopping destinations best suited for your trip.