I recently visited San Antonio, Texas again. The famous historic sites in town are, of course, the Alamo and perhaps the Spanish missions. But I explored a beautiful area of town once called “Sauerkraut Bend” with a main street named for Prussia’s King Wilhelm I (during World War I the German name was changed to Pershing Avenue until a few years after the war ended).
The King William historic district sits along the San Antonio River on land once owned by the Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo). The property was subdivided and laid out in the residential grid in the 1860s, just when many Germans began to settle the area. The streets are lined with imposing Greek Revival, Italianate and Victorian homes with beautiful gardens. One of the homes, Villa Finale, is a National Trust property and open to visitors. A paved path along the river allows glimpses of back yards and offers a bucolic wander slightly beyond the city’s bustling Riverwalk area.
In 1950 after years of decline, dedicated preservationists recognized the value of the faded properties. Slowly but surely the area was restored to much of its former glory. The King William neighborhood was listed as a National Register Historic District in 1972.
Just on the edge of the neighborhood looms the towers of the Pioneer Flour Mills, headquarter for C. H. Guenther and Son, Inc., the oldest family-owned business in Texas and (according to their website) the oldest continuously operating milling company in the United States. Truth be told, my initial reason for being in the King William District was not history, but food. A friend had taken me to the Guenther House restaurant a few years earlier and I wanted to return. Today, the 1859 house is a combination museum, restaurant, banquet facility and retail store.
While my friends and I waited for a table (and looked at the pastries and pondered what delicious baked item we would soon be eating), we perused the small museum filled with Pioneer Flour Mills memorabilia.
The museum stands in the former library. A store is located in the former upstairs music room and a bedroom. Other rooms in the house have been restored to reflect the Victorian influences of the early days of the house and the Art Nouveau style of later periods. The entire upper floor of the house is a former ballroom with a connecting terrace overlooking the San Antonio River.
Finally our table was ready and we sat down. But the clock had just crossed the magic hour and we could order breakfast or lunch. I had come for breakfast but Champagne Chicken Enchiladas sounded pretty tempting. I watched servers carry plates of sweet cream waffles by my table. Decision time. In the end I ordered the pumpkin pancakes and was not disappointed. I forgot, of course, that everything, including serving size, is bigger in Texas.
If you find yourself in San Antonio, be sure to visit this historic place on the river. Your stomach will thank you and your inner history geek will appreciate this great neighborhood.