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In 1877 Harriet Prescott Spofford, writing for Harper's New Monthly Magazine, rode on one of the first trains to San Antonio and declared "On a more enchanting spot the eye of poet never rested.There is probably nothing like it in America." Spofford wrote: In and out among these houses slips the San Antonio River, clear as crystal, swifter than a mill-race; now narrow and foaming along between steep banks with luxuriant semi-tropical growth, and with the tall pecans on either side meeting above them in vaulting shadows; now spreading in sunny shallows between long grassy swards starred with flowers, twisting and turning and doubling on itself, so tortuous that the three miles of the straight line from its head to the market-place it makes only in fourteen miles of caprices and surprises, rapids and eddies and falls and narrow curves, reach after reach of soft green and flickering sunshine, each more exquisitely beautiful than the other.All of the dry-weather flow of the San Antonio River in the downtown area used to come from two major groupings of Edwards Aquifer springs, both with their own separate pages on this site: San Antonio Springs and another nearby grouping of springs, the San Pedro Springs.For over 11,000 years native American hunter-gatherers utilized the lush and varied ecosystems of the Olmos Creek basin, these springs, and the rivers they created. In both locations, their stone and flint tools attest to thousands of years of use, and their burials have been found in caves and rock shelters.On June 13 of that year they pitched camp alongside a group of friendly Payaya Indians at the River's headwaters.
It flows by the Mexican jacal, and through the wealthy garden, around the churches, across the business streets with its delightful glimpses.(Image from By 1850, San Antonio had made a servant of its River.It powered waterworks and mills, fed irrigation ditches, provided drinking water, put out fires, and carried sewage downstream (Mc Lemore, 1980).Few cities have had such an intense love affair or such an intimate relationship with their river as San Antonio.Year round bathing in the River was a San Antonio tradition and was described by Frederick Marryat in 1843: The temperature of the water is the same throughout the year, neither too warm nor too cold for bathing, and not a single day passes without the inhabitants indulging in the favourite and healthy exercise of swimming, which is practised by everybody, from morning till evening; and the traveller along the shores of this beautiful river will constantly see hundreds of children, of all ages and colour, swimming and diving like so many ducks.