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The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is among the more interesting and historically significant sites in Texas. It preserves four out of the five frontier missions the Spanish established along the San Antonio River in the 1770s: Mission San José, Mission Concepción, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission Espada. The fifth one, the Alamo, is not included within the park as it is owned by the state. Spain established the missions to extend its empire from Mexico into what is now the Southwest United States. To do this, their approach was to proselytize and convert Native Americans to Catholicism—which was the basis of Spanish culture—and to establish forts (called "presidios" in Spanish) near the missions. Competition with France was another rationale for Spain's push into the Southwest. The missions founded in San Antonio represent the largest concentration of missions in North America and were among the most successful. Today, visitors can go to all four of missions, which still have active Catholic parishes.

  • The church of Mission San José is the largest of the missions and is referred to as the "Queen of the Missions."
  • Mission San Juan Capistrano's church was not completed.
  • Mission Espada's church was finished in 1756.
  • Mission Concepción church is the oldest unrestored church structure in the country.
Spanish explorers, who were primarily searching for gold, had made their way into the Southwest in the 1500s and 1600s. By 1690, Spain decided to establish a permanent presence in the region, as France was showing signs of expansion from what is now Louisiana. Spain first established missions in East Texas, but these failed and two of them (Mission Concepción and Mission San Juan Capistrano, both established in 1716) were moved to San Antonio in 1731, as well as Mission Espada (founded 1690), which was moved from present-day Alto, Texas. The Alamo (1718) and Mission San José (1720) were founded here in San Antonio. Mission San José's church is known as the "Queen of the Missions" and was completed in 1782. San Antonio was chosen because of it had plenty of water, timber, and wildlife. Its location in the upper San Antonio River Valley was also very suitable for agriculture.  

The missions became important religious, cultural, commercial, and military centers. As more Native Americans adopted the Spanish way of life and Catholicism, they were trained in various trades such as carpentry, iron working, and weaving. They also worked in the fields growing crops and raising livestock including sheep, goats, and cattle. Cattle ranching became a profitable enterprise and it was here that cattle ranching in the United States was developed. The missions were most successful between 1745-1775. By 1780, the number of people living at the missions had begun to decline as a result of intermarriage, disease, and acculturation. In other words, there was no longer much need to convert Native Americans. 

Efforts to preserve the missions began in the 1920s. In 1975, Mission Parkway was established as the original name of the historical park. It was named as the San Antonio  Missions National Historical Park in November of 1978, containing 84 historic places all down the San Antonio River and the south side of the city. The park is also a UNESCO World Heritage site
James Ivey & Marlys Thurber. "San Antonio Missions National Historical Park." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. 

"The San Antonio Missions." Visit San Antonio. Accessed March 8, 2018.

"San Antonio Missions." San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Accessed March 8, 2018.

Photos: Wikimedia Commons