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A Special Place traces the history of the interaction between the natural and the man-made elements in the San Antonio River setting. The production explores the story of the river in the life of the city and the lives of its citizens. The San Antonio River laces through the center of San Antonio, TX, providing a green corridor through the city. A priceless environmental asset, this spring-fed stream comes to life in the northern part of the city, winds its way through downtown, proceeds south by the old Spanish missions, then leaves the city to continue its journey to the Gulf of Mexico. The story of the river is intertwined with that of the city whose name it shares. In fact, the river is the reason for the city's existence. By examining this history and functioning of this river and the city built around it, it is possible to gain insights into some of the issues that confront American cities today.

Text Transcript of the Video

Narrator: Flowing water. There is a saying: water that you don't drink, let it run free. A stream of good clear water running full and free draws people to its banks. It's a good place to live—a good place to build. With time, even a small stream can give life to a city. With care, even a little river can make an ordinary town into a special place.

My name is Jim Herald, and I'm a traveler. I am beginning a conoe trip through a special place in America. Looks like a clear river in the middle of a wilderneess, doesn't it? Well, no matter what it looks like, the fact is, we're on the San Antonio river, which winds its way through the heart of San Antonio, Texas. Just a few feet down below the streets and lives of 800,000 city folks, this stream weaves through parks, golf courses, neighborhoods, factories, right through the busy center of a major city. And that's the story we're going to tell—about a city and it's river. You see there's one thing about rivers: you can't ignore them. And throughout San Antonio's history, it's people have had to deal with this river face-to-face. Sometimes the river was a threat to the people, and sometimes the people were a threat to the river. On this trip, we'll hear how San Antonio has worked for a solution that will give them the best of both worlds—a ood city and a safe and beautiful river. We'll meet some of the people—old folks, young ones, people like you and me—ordinary citizens who cared about their city and their river. It all begins, as Henry Garrett tells us over 250 years ago.

Henry Garrett The real beginnings of the San Antonio river, under that name, began date form the 14th of June, 1691, when the first Spanish entrada came upon this river in what was really an oasis, because at that time this was a semi-desert. They came to this place that the Indians called, yana-wana. They called it San Antonio, because it was his day, the day of Saint Anthony of Padua, and it has born the name of San Antonio ever since, the city and the river. From the river were drawn waters that irrigated the fields, both for the town and for the five mission settlements that came to be developed here. The mission San Francisco de la Espada was founded in 1731. By 1737, the mission indians, under the direction of the Franciscan fathers and no doubt some of the engineers of the Spanish Army had developed a complete irrigation system for the mission farmlands. That irrigation system still carries water to irrigate what were the farmlands of the mission, San Francisco de la Espada. Many of the private owners of that farmland today are direct descendants of the mission indians, still benefitting from the marvelous engineering feat that this acequia system constitites. We should always remember that it is a priceless asset, this San Antonio river, because it reflects the entire course of the history of our people and of our state. From the quietly flowing stream, which occasionally floods, have come most of the great events of the history of Texas, in the Spanish Colonial Era, during the time of the War of Texas independence, through the Civil War, the Reconstruction, and the development of modern Texas. Progress is priceless, but even more valuable is the history of our people.

Narrator: From the missions, the town grew, and the river helped it along. The river was real important to that little village. People drank from it, in the hot Texas sun. They bathed in it, washed their clothes in it, and gave their buggies a once-over every day to keep their wheels from squeaking. They harvested the power of the river to build their mills and industries, but like a lot of things, time changed all that, and when the 20th century had rolled around with its noisy machines and contraptions, the city seemed to outgrow the little river. Automobiles sputtered over the forgotten stream on concrete bridges. Electricity and gas replaced water power. The tall buildings of this new age turned their back on the river to face the streets, which were getting busier and busier.

But if people can ignore rivers, rivers can ignore people, too, and their buildings, and their cities, in terrible ways. One dark night in 1921, the San Antonio river reminded the shocked city of its awesome power. The damage to the city seemed endless—buildings destroyed, bridges collapsed, and people in their homes carried away in the night. After clearing the wreckage from the streets and beginning to rebuild, the city's leaders looked hard for a way to protect the city from the river's future rampages. One of their big problems were the many bends in the river. The same thing that made it beautiful, made the water pile up and flood. The city's fathers were almost ready to adopt a plan to straighten the stream and channel it through a cement storm tunnel. Then, some folks decided that that was the same as destroying the river. Flood control was important, but people who had grown up on the sunny river banks wanted their children to share those memories. A concrete tunnel would not do. As usual, just a few people would take action. One was a young artist named Emily Edwards. Ms. Emily and her friends watched the debate about flood control and came up with a very unusual way to persuade the leaders to save the river.

Emily Edward: We thought that we would get on the good side of City Hall, so we gave the Goose that laid the Golden Eggs as a puppet show with the Goose as the river. And Mr. and Mrs. San Antonio were quarreling about their goose. He wanted to cut the head off—get his eggs all at once. Well, she had the eggs—she treasured the eggs, they were the Missions and the trees and the parks and the various things that the river had presented to the city. And she refused positively that he should kill her Goose. Then Mr. San Antonio and she agreed that they would take it to the city fathers and let the city fathers decide whether or not the Goose should die.

And when the inside curtain had been raised, there sat, in great dignity, the mayor and commissioners as puppets. And they were highly entertained to recognize one other and then finally themselves. There was great joy. Then the time had come and Mr. San Antonio told them, the city needs so much improvement. Needs better roads, needs bridges. There is just untold needs that the Goose could give us right now, instead of waiting until it chooses to lay an egg. Well, she then brought out her basket with the golden eggs in it, and she told the mayor and the commissioner what each egg was. Each egg was something that San Antonio values and must have and must keep. And, the goose was of our source. She made a good case, and the mayor put the question, "Shall the old goose die?" Everybody—you know, we had our friends in the audience—everybody said "No, no!" and the old goose did not die.

Narrator: But the puppet show was only a start. Ms. Emily decided it was time to let the river speak for itself.

Emily Edward: Afterwards, since the goose was not to die. We thought we'd educate the gentlemen and we asked them if they would explore the river with us. Well, it was a revelation. We got on the river where the Catholic High School is. And it was very loverly. Lots of trees, a beautiful little entry to it. And we went down around several curves, and around the curve at the [unintelligible] place and the Lewis place—places that had been chosen for their proximity to the river. I went in front with the mayor. The man had never seen it that way, because on both sides of the river were great trees. It was beautiful. It was like a park as if it had always been. The old houses were there. The river has been the soul and heart of San Antonio, and it's the principal reason that...

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Published in A Special Place