The Future Starts Here: San Antonio’s 300-Year Anniversary

The Future Starts Here is a multi-part series linking the city’s history to innovation in medicine, aerospace, information technology, engineering, construction, manufacturing, tourism, education, and the arts.

San Antonio. What do you think of?

River Walk.
Tejano music.

Visitors by the millions are drawn to San Antonio’s meandering River Walk, the eighteenth-century Spanish missions, and the Alamo. The city is often defined in the hearts and minds of tourists and locals alike by the archetypes listed above.

The city’s story of medicine links charity, tourism, education, research, and the military to form a pioneering story that shapes the world today.

On May 5, 2018, San Antonio marks the 300-year anniversary of the founding of the Alamo, the Presidio, and Villa de Bexar. As the city turns its attention to celebrating its culture and heritage, the Tricentennial Commission is working diligently to organize key events for May 1-5, 2018, and throughout the year.

According to John Tafolla, a native of San Antonio and owner of Rio Design,, “This celebration marks an opportunity for the city’s businesses, public institutions, and citizens to celebrate and tell our story of innovation as a continuous path from past to present.”

With San Antonio being long known as the “Biggest Small Town in America,” John sees the Tricentennial as a platform to enhance the image of the city to include the concept that the future starts here.

Like Disney’s Epcot starting with early human hunter-gather tribes using stone and flint tools and ending with high technology fiber optic communications and computing, San Antonio is one of the oldest cities in the Americas bolstered by thousands of years of human presence and technology use. San Antonio is today a living laboratory for what is next in the grand experiment of American cultural transformation.

Linking Water to Innovation

According to the Edwards Aquifer website, Harriet Prescott Spofford, writing for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1877, 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.”

In 1691 Spaniards camped with the Payaya Indians on the stream they called Yanaguana. It was the day of Saint Anthony de Padua, and the Spaniards held mass and named the stream San Antonio. San Antonio is a city of springs and rivers from which culture and technology flow from the past to the future.

Excavations in 2013 unearthed a dam in the northern area of Brackenridge Park estimated to have been constructed in 1719. According to UTSA, archeologists interviewed by the Express News in May of 2013 determined the dam to be part of the Acequia Madre serving the Alamo, Mission San Antonio de Valero.

The acequias, or aqueducts—the utilization of waterways for irrigation forming a public water system—are the key innovation in San Antonio’s history of technology. While not the first acequias built by the Spanish in the Americas, San Antonio’s system of waterways was the most elaborate. The fifteen-mile system of ditches and dams form what may be considered the first metropolitan water system in the Americas.
Modern aquifer innovations include Twin Oaks, an Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) system, and expansion of the River Walk north and south. The ASR system, according to the San Antonio Water System web site, pumps water from the Edwards Aquifer to the Carrizo Aquifer in southern Bexar County. Later, during the hot, dry months, the drinking water is pumped back into the existing distribution system to help meet summer water demands. Once desalination starts at Twin Oaks, it will likely be the first ASR location in the United States providing water from three different sources flowing from one site.

San Antonio recently unveiled a much-anticipated extension to its celebrated River Walk, one of the top tourist attractions in Texas. This 1.3 mile, $72 million addition nearly doubles the River Walk length. Attractions along the extended River Walk include the San Antonio Museum of Art and the historic Pearl Brewery featuring restaurants, shopping, a hotel, and urban living.

Bio-Medical-Life: Seeds of San Antonio’s First High Technology Economy

In 1853 the Bexar County Medical Society (BCMS) in San Antonio was the first county medical society formed in the state of Texas. Today, San Antonio’s bio-medical-life industry cluster contributes $30 billion to the local economy and employs approximately 165,000 people, according to the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.

The city’s story of medicine links charity, tourism, education, research, and the military to form a pioneering story that shapes the world today. In 1869 Sisters St. Madeleine Chollet, Pierre Cinquin, and St. Agnes Buisson, journeyed from Galveston on a bumpy stagecoach ride to the Alamo City to heal the sick and start what would become Santa Rosa Hospital. Undaunted by a fire that destroyed the center they planned to use on arrival, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word rebuilt and opened Santa Rosa Infirmary, San Antonio’s first private hospital (Santa Rosa Hospital).

According to Mary Pat Moyer, CEO and Chief Science Officer of, San Antonio’s original tourism economy was based on health resorts and chronic disease recovery starting in the late 1800s. Early examples include the Terrell Wells Preventorium, Hot Wells Lodge, and Harlandale Hotel and Bath. The Hot Wells Lodge was a lavish 190-room, Victorian-style resort hotel. Originally built in 1893, the site along the San Antonio River on South Presa Street featured pools, a bathhouse, and a spa fed by hot sulfur spring water.

The Army brought medicine to the city in 1879 by opening a small medical dispensary in a single story, wooden building with the first permanent hospital built in 1886. The Army medical presence would grow to become today Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, housing the Brooke Army Medical Center and the San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC). SAMMC is the Defense Department’s largest inpatient hospital.

In 2016, the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, founded in 1941, houses the world’s largest computing center dedicated to statistical analysis of the human genome. The facility is affectionately known as the Ranch. The Ranch is co-located on the Texas Biomed campus with a Biosafety Level 4 lab studying deadly viruses such as Ebola and the Southwest National Primate Research Center. The institute is leading the transition from live animal research to computer modeling, ultimately enabling the phase-out of many live animal research programs.

Medical innovations flowing from the Alamo City include creating a template to speed the indexing of genome for the Human Genome Project (Naylor and Garcia, UTHSCSA collaborating with Baylor College of Medicine); invention of the Palmaz-Shatz Stent, revolutionizing the care of heart disease and one of the top-ten patents of all time (UTHSCA and Brook Army Medical Center); and the use of an excimer laser to indent eye tissue by Dr. John Taboada, leading to Lasik eye surgery.

BIO: For more than a decade, Jim Brazell, CEO of, has carried San Antonio’s story of innovation around town and across the world. From 2003 to 2016, Jim delivered speeches on San Antonio’s story of innovation from Norway to Nicaragua and from Hawaii to Portugal. His speech audiences include the World Congress on Information Technology, the International Conference on Technology Policy and Innovation, the Texas Economic Recovery Conference, Fort Sam Houston, and the International Society for Performance Improvement. The speech, “San Antonio: The Future Starts Here,” is available for local groups and conferences. Jim and his wife Lisa and daughter Ava live in Leon Springs, Texas. Learn more at

Author: Jim Brazell

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