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some of the intricate stone carvings outside the San Jose church
Photo Credit: guyonthego

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

6701 San Jose Drive San Antonio, TX 78214
Open 9:00am-5:00pm all week
210-922-0543 Half day
July 2014 Fall, Winter, Spring
$0-9 San Antonio Texas
Website Historical Historic Sites
First review
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park features four Spanish Colonial missions built in the early 1700s to protect Spanish interests in the area and to convert local Indians to Catholicism. The present day Alamo historic site was also one of these missions but is now a Texas state park. The missions are still used as churches today, so they are periodically closed on weekends for services. In addition to the churches, the park includes a couple of museums, a gift shop and other historical structures like aqueducts and dams. The missions are each several miles apart, and the total park area is approximately 20 acres.

The present Alamo was built in 1718 and was both the first and northernmost mission in the area. San Jose was built a few years later. San Juan, Espada, and Concepcion missions were originally located in east Texas but were moved here to the San Antonio River Valley in 1731. The missions were generally successful and built farms, workshops, homes and of course churches. The labor that made it possible was supplied by Coahuiltecan Indians. They had sought protection from other raiding Indian tribes like the Apache and Comanche. In return for protection, food, and shelter, the Coahuiltecan were grossly exploited and forced to give up their traditional ways and customs. Also, European diseases decimated their numbers. The missions were secularized in the early 1800s and then mostly fell into disuse and neglect. Meaningful preservation efforts began in the 1920s. The park was established in 1978.

San Jose mission is the main historical structure and also includes the primary park museum. It's a good place to start your visit so you can get some maps and see what park events are scheduled. Walking tours of the San Jose mission are offered daily. The tour quality will vary a lot depending the docent, but you can always leave if need be. While the San Jose museum was missing some exhibits and was about average overall, the movie was excellent and is highly recommended. It's slightly sad but also touching and memorable. If you only have an hour or two, then spend it at San Jose. The San Jose church is the most interesting historical structure and has detailed stonework around the exterior. There is also a model of the historic mission in a building next to the church. Most of this mission was rebuilt in the 1930s so walking around here provides a good sense of what the community would have looked like. A watermill behind the church was closed for renovations at the time, but is worth a visit too. The next most interesting mission is Concepcion, which has a beautiful church and original artwork on the walls and ceilings. Next on the list would be San Juan, which had a small museum located in a former school house. Espada comes last though it should be noted that much of it was closed at the time due to renovations. Near Espada are well preserved dams and aqueducts. The visit took place in July, and the temperature was over 100 degrees with oppressive humidity to match. If you can visit at a cooler time of year it will enhance the experience. Nevertheless, this park was still enjoyable, informative and enriching. It offers a meaningful and rich perspective of the Spanish mission system in Texas. San Antonio Missions will be of greatest interest to history buffs, but also should appeal to Catholics and American Indians.
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