Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.

Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.
Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Old Spanish Trail, Six Flags, and My Birthday, Part 1 - November 12-24

On Tuesday morning, I slept in. It felt good. That afternoon, I had a Texas Trail Roundup meeting. The Texas Trail Roundup is a three-day International Walk Fest held February 21-23, 2020, in San Antonio.

For the next three days, Bob and I attended the Old Spanish Trail (OST) Centennial Celebration with the centennial reenactment of the 1919 OST Convention. These events took place in San Antonio, Boerne, and Comfort, Texas. All the events and meals were free except the opening banquet, which Bob and I did not attend.

History: The Old Spanish Trail movement organized to promote a paved automobile highway across the southern United States connecting six centers of historical interest: St. Augustine, New Orleans, San Antonio, El Paso, Tucson, and San Diego. We are going to learn about some of these historical places.

On Thursday, November 14, a cold, windy, rainy day, we participated in a Seguin Street Historic Walk. There was nothing fancy about this walk or the neighborhood, but we learned what life was like back in 1918-1919 when the OST was built. The homes were modest along Seguin Street would have been on the outskirts of the city. There was a Paris Cafe, a small motor hotel, the railroad, and some industry.

Charlotte Kahl, Executive Director of the Old Spanish Trail Centennial Celebration Association was our tour guide. She made a commanding entrance dressed in a full-length coat, scarf, and steampunk glasses. Here are some photos and narrative about our walk.

Back in 1918 and 1919, motorized vehicles were being used in war for the first time. When the war was over, a warehouse was needed to store the vehicles that had been used in the war. The warehouses below were just a few blocks from the U.S. Army's Fort Sam Houston and served the purpose well.


Fort Sam Houston's vehicle storage warehouses
which were in use after WW I.

Charlotte Kahl pointing out what used to be
the Frito Lay cottonseed oil manufacturing plant.
In the early 1900s, this was the Paris Cafe. 
Keep in mind that this area was on the eastern outskirts of town. People driving through on the OST needed a place to stay and places to eat. They had just driven through miles of open country.
One of the original homes. You can see
the shiplap siding.
Some recent siding is being pulled away to
reveal the old shiplap siding on his home.
This grocery store specialized in fresh foods
and produce.
This store was across the street from the store above
and specialized in hard goods. 
Our group braving the elements for this walk.
Charlotte is in the long coat and red & white scarf.
The walk was about a mile long one way.
The historic building below was the Frito Lay cottonseed oil manufacturing plant. The railroad had tracks coming right up to this building so they could ship their oil to the potato chip-making plants. To this day, cotton fibers are still found in the rafters of this building.

This building was previously owned by Frito Lay.
Below was a business that sold garden goods. It looks innocuous enough, but they used to get in large bags of DDT poison and on the side patio of the building, they would transfer the DDT to smaller bags for sale. DDT is a highly toxic powder. The winds would blow the DDT powder all over this area called Rattlesnake Hill. There are still traces of it in the soil here. It has a very long half-life.
Garden products business in the old days.
The OST started out in St. Augustine, Florida. Below, you can see the entry gates to Fort Sam Houston. A number of years ago, the fort wanted to put up new entry gates and asked for design ideas. The Old Spanish Trail Centennial Celebration Association suggested that since the fort is on the OST, it would be appropriate to put up gateposts that match the ones in St. Augustine, Florida. That is what they ended up doing. 

One of the Fort Sam Houston gateposts.
This viewpoint of the gates was the end of our Seguin Street Historic Walk. Most of us walked the mile back to our cars, although there was a vehicle available to pick people up and drive them back if they needed it.

On Friday, November 15, Bob and I picked up our nametags and lanyard at the El Tropicano Hotel in downtown San Antonio. Even today, progress marches on. A brand new high-rise condominium building under construction now dwarfs the El Tropicano Hotel. I guess one advantage of such a tall neighboring building is that El Tropicano Hotel will now be in the shade most of the day!

After we picked up our name tags, we helped ourselves to the free buffet breakfast. It was wonderful. They had biscuits and gravy, bacon, scrambled eggs, pastries, coffee, and fresh fruit. 

Having a little fun on the OST.

At 8:30 a.m., we had our first speaker who talked about the kinds of businesses you would find along the OST. People were doing leisure travel over long distances now so there would be curio stands, motels, cafes, and gas stations. Sometimes people would camp in tents in schoolyards or on farms.


Charlotte Kahl introducing
Dwayne Jones, our first speaker.
Dwayne Jones.
Bob and I thought our next speaker, John S. Blades was especially interesting. The topic was "Uvalde Asphalt Past/Present." His family goes way back in Texas history and owned a large amount of land. Cattle raising was their livelihood until they started noticing that rock the cattle trampled would break up and the more they trampled it, the harder it got! Some smart figuring on the part of the Blades family created some of the hardest asphalt roads in the nation. On their property was a huge deposit of Uvalde asphalt. The oil oozed right out of the rocks. Fascinating!
Free samples of Uvalde asphalt rock
were handed out to attendees.

In this photo, you can see the oil
oozing out of the rocks.
Next up was Paul Kahl, Charlotte's son. He has become an expert on concrete. You see, concrete being used in Europe was much harder than the concrete in the United States. Immigrants from Italy, John Pianta (who was chief plasterer on the Texas capitol) and his son Hannibal Pianta, came up with a technique for making "cast stone." He had a "recipe" for "cast stone" that changed how building embellishments like columns and decorations were made. In the distant past, building decorations were chiseled out of stone. Using concrete from molds made making the building decorations something that could be done faster and still maintain the beauty of the building.
 .
Paul Kahl.
Our other two speakers this morning were Melba Montoya who spoke on "Steps to Creating a Museum," and Keli Rylance whose talk was titled "El Dorado: OST in Texas."
Melba Montoya.
Charlotte Kahl took a few minutes to thank Barbara Hall, her co-chair, for all the work she put into the event. The accolades were well deserved for BOTH Charlotte Kahl and Barbara.

Charlotte Kahl and
Barbara Hall of the OST.
Keli Rylance
The "0-mile stones."
Working to save the
"Scenic Loop - Boerne
Stage Corridor."
It was lunchtime and a great sandwich buffet feast was set up in our meeting room. After lunch, we were able to peruse about 15 booths that had been set up showcasing everything from cities along the OST to artists, AVA: America's Walking Club (who have walks along parts of the OST), museums, and other points of interest.

AVA: America's Walking Club display.
Susan Medlin showing patches she
has earned doing AVA walks.
I will continue this blog in Part 2 where we'll take a walking tour on Historic Houston Street in San Antonio.

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