Streets be­came cleaner; city was no longer as iso­lated

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Front Page - A longer ver­sion of this re­port by David Hendricks ran Aug. 6, 2017. Read it at Ex­ FROM EXPRE SS-NEWS ARCHIVE S

Cars put one-horse town of S.A. on the road to the fu­ture.

When the first au­to­mo­biles — or “horse­less car­riages” as they were called — ar­rived in San An­to­nio, res­i­dents were more than ready.

San An­to­nio lit­er­ally stank, es­pe­cially dur­ing the heat of sum­mers, be­cause of the an­i­mal­drawn bug­gies, car­riages, street­cars, om­nibuses and de­liv­ery ve­hi­cles.

“The ar­rival of the au­to­mo­bile got rid of all the horses, mules and oxen, mak­ing San An­to­nio more san­i­tary. The blight of ma­nure on the streets, the dis­ease and the flies, went away,” said Hugh Hem­phill, Texas Trans­porta­tion Mu­seum man­ager and au­thor of “San An­to­nio on Wheels.”

A San An­to­nio banker, J.D. An­der­son, pur­chased the first ga­so­line-pow­ered car in San An­to­nio in 1901, Hem­phill said. It was a Haynes-Ap­per­son model. An­der­son in 1903 be­came one of the 13 orig­i­nal mem­bers of the San An­to­nio Au­to­mo­bile Club.

Dur­ing the sum­mer of 1902, the Crothers & Bird­song bi­cy­cle store pur­chased the ga­so­line-pow­ered Curved Dash Oldsmo­bile, the na­tion’s first mass-pro­duced car.

Lewis Bird­song and Frank Crothers as­sem­bled the Curved Dash Oldsmo­bile in a back­yard. They added oil and fuel and used a hand crank to start the one-cylin­der en­gine un­der the seat.

They drove around in the yard be­fore tak­ing the car onto the few paved streets at the time, in­clud­ing South Alamo, go­ing 12 mph. They made it to a horse race­track on McDon­ald, now River­side Park, and “raced” the ve­hi­cle up to 30 mph.

“On the way back to the house, they were stopped by some­one who of­fered to buy it. In one day, these young men had built it, learned to drive it and sold it, in the process be­com­ing San An­to­nio’s first au­to­mo­bile dealer. They then or­dered an­other one,” Hem­phill said.

The San An­to­nio Au­to­mo­bile Club sched­uled ac­tiv­i­ties that helped pop­u­lar­ize the auto for a still skep­ti­cal pub­lic. Mem­bers or­ga­nized group ex­cur­sions. One of the club’s tasks was to bring elec­tion re­sults from out­ly­ing coun­ties to the San An­to­nio Ex­press news­pa­per.

Year by year in the first decade of the 1900s, car­mak­ers na­tion­ally strug­gled to dom­i­nate the bur­geon­ing in­dus­try, a com­pe­ti­tion fa­mously won by Henry Ford. The Ford com­pany opened an agency in San An­to­nio in 1908.

“The (agency) build­ing was lit­er­ally in the shadow of the Alamo,” at 720 E. Hous­ton St., Hem­phill said. The first Model T’s in San An­to­nio were sold and ser­viced there.

“The in­tro­duc­tion of the Model T de­moc­ra­tized ve­hi­cle own­er­ship. A mid­dle-class per­son could rea­son­ably ex­pect to own an au­to­mo­bile,” Hem­phill said. “The Model T was not only a low-bud­get car, it was made of steel, not wood.”

The au­to­mo­bile rev­o­lu­tion was on, driv­ing change in San An­to­nio.

“The au­to­mo­bile didn’t just make it eas­ier to get around town, it made San An­to­nio less iso­lated from the rest of the coun­try once the Old Span­ish Trail High­way and other roads, pre­de­ces­sors of the in­ter­state high­way sys­tem, be­gan link­ing San An­to­nio with other cities in the 1920s,” his­to­rian and au­thor Lewis Fisher said.

“Ear­lier, the au­to­mo­bile changed the face of the city as in­creased traf­fic caused the city to widen the nar­row Span­ish streets. It was usu­ally done by forc­ing prop­erty own­ers on one side to shear off their fa­cades and build new ones far­ther back,” Fisher added.

“The au­to­mo­bile helped ac­cel­er­ate the de­vel­op­ment of sub­urbs, the wealthy sub­urbs and the less-wealthy sub­urbs,” Hem­phill said. “It also al­lowed for zon­ing, with heavy in­dus­try, ware­hous­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing mov­ing from the city cen­ter. Be­fore trucks, these busi­nesses had to be down­town be­cause that’s where the rail­roads were. So au­to­mo­biles made the city cleaner.”

Cour­tesy pho­tos Texas Trans­porta­tion Mu­seum

Lewis Bird­song races a Maxwell in 1910. In a back­yard in 1902, he helped as­sem­ble a Curved Dash Oldsmo­bile, the na­tion’s first mass-pro­duced car.

Ford’s first San An­to­nio agency op­er­ated next door to the Alamo church build­ing. Model T’s sit in front.

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