Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday advanced two initiatives aimed at showcasing formative events in San Antonio’s early history.
Commissioners gave conceptual approval to a monument commemorating Canary Islanders’ historical influence on the city’s formation and granted funds for the ongoing development of interactive web pages outlining historical periods on the Bexar County website.
In June, members of the Canary Islands Descendants Association had proposed the implementation of five large, bronze statues next to a memorial plaque in front of the County Courthouse that would honor their ancestors’ contributions to the city.
They returned to Commissioners Court Tuesday to present up-to-date fundraising figures. So far, the group has raised $130,000 for the $675,000 project from donors both in the United States and abroad.
Commissioners committed to providing half of the funding needed for the project so long as the group could provide the other half. Funding for the statues was not a budgeted item.
The statues would include a Native American person, a Spanish presidio soldier, a Spanish friar, one male and one female Canary Islander in order to communicate the history of the Canary Islanders in San Antonio’s formation.
“Many times people think that the [1836 Battle of the] Alamo was the beginnings of San Antonio, and quite honestly the beginnings were with these four founding communities who did the hard work,” said Mari Tamez, president of the association. “Those groups figured out how to get along to start what is now the San Antonio and Bexar County region.”
Tamez asked commissioners to provide a letter of support for the project that the association could then present to Canary Island officials who wish to contribute funding for the statues. Commissioners unanimously agreed to provide the letter of support, which grants the group its desired location for the statues.
Students and faculty in the University of Texas at San Antonio’s history department are currently developing interactive story maps that present information on the history of the region’s people, places, and events. Once completed, the pages will be hosted on the Bexar County website and accessible to the community free of charge.
Commissioners allocated $54,922 for the first phase of the project in December and on Tuesday granted an additional $72,926. UTSA history professor John Reynolds, who is leading the effort, presented work completed under the first round of funding, highlighting the graphics, video vignettes, and expandable maps that depict the region’s earliest stories leading up to the 19th century.
While observing a page explaining how colonial water distribution through acequia systems worked, Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) asked the group why San Antonio’s roads are so curvy.
“We have discovered that it was not a drunken padre [who designed the roads],” Reynolds said to laughter. “It turned out to be related to the entire acequia system.”
Reynolds said the next round of funding will allow the team to elaborate on the period between Mexican Independence in 1821 and the introduction of rail service in 1877. The key themes and topics in this period include the abolition of slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, Tejano and Anglo relations, Native American populations, and changes to the community caused by immigration, agriculture, landholdings, transportation, and the built environment at the time.
County staff said the new pages will offer residents and visitors easy access to historical information during San Antonio’s Tricentennial year. None of the pages are currently accessible, but Reynolds estimates the site will be live by October 2018.
Individuals interested in making a donation to the Canary Islanders’ monument may do so here.