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"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

Looking back at
Spanish Pass

Michael Barr

Spanish Pass is a narrow gap through the hills northwest of Boerne. The pass marks the southern limit of the Edwards Plateau. The area is not well known today, but Spanish Pass has been a gateway into the Hill Country for centuries.

Driving out of San Antonio on I-10 in the direction of Comfort, the land begins to churn and roll while still within the San Antonio city limits, but the hills become visibly more formidable to the north and west of
Boerne. Migrating animals and nomadic humans naturally sought out the lowest passes and the gentlest slopes through the hills. For that reason, Spanish Pass became the preferred route from San Antonio into the upper Guadalupe River valley.

One of the first automobile roads into the Hill Country went through Spanish Pass. The railroad from San Antonio to Kerrville and Fredericksburg used the pass from
Boerne over to Welfare on Joshua Creek. Because a freight train pulled by a steam locomotive could only climb a 4% grade (a 4 foot rise in a 100 foot length of track), it is unlikely the railroad from San Antonio to Kerrville and Fredericksburg would have been possible had the pass not existed.

The origin of the name is a mystery. One story said Comanches ambushed and massacred 180 Spanish soldiers at the pass in 1722.

TX - Spanish Pass Road Sign
Spanish Pass Road Sign
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, July 2017

The real story may have been that Germans encountered a group of Mexicans at the pass while traveling between San Antonio and Sisterdale. To the early Germans, anyone who spoke Spanish was a "Spaniard." After the encounter the Germans called the place Spanish Pass and the name stuck.


In the early 20th Century, after the railroad from San Antonio to Kerrville came through, a group of businessmen bought 800 acres on Lookout Mountain, 250 feet above Spanish Pass. The businessmen wanted to build a resort town, 5 miles north of
Boerne.

Dr. Frank Fanning of San Antonio was a major investor in the town of Spanish Pass. Dr. Fanning was one of those colorful and controversial Texans who, as Dr. Harry Ransom wrote, "held lively opinions about everything from God Almighty to county politics to cures for rheumatism."

Dr. Fanning, known as the Magnetic Healer, used magnetism to treat a variety of ailments including rheumatism, pneumonia, heart disease, cancer, paralysis, dropsy, female complications and blindness.

Hoping to sell enough town lots upfront to finance the Spanish Pass project, Dr. Fanning and his partners announced grand plans for Spanish Pass. First they would build a swanky granite hotel on Lookout Mountain. They would also construct an artificial lake stocked "with all kinds of fish" and build dozens of "cozy cottages" for people looking to escape the summer heat and dust of the city.

TX Kendall County 1920s Map
1920 Kendall County map showing Spanish Pass NW of Boerne
(From Texas state map #10749)

Courtesy Texas General Land Office

But lagging sales called for desperate measures. Stories in San Antonio newspapers began to circulate that were pretty far from the truth. Lookout Mountain, at 1600 feet above sea level, was said to be free of heat, dust and airborne impurities. Other stories suggested that bugs, especially those pesky mosquitoes, could not survive at that altitude. Summer nights at Spanish Pass were so cool, visitors were told to bring long johns and a blanket.

If all that wasn't enough, developers advertised Spanish Pass as a health resort. Evidence "suggested" that a mineral spring on the property contained "curative elements for both the stomach and liver," and that a daily dose of miracle water from the spring made "positive cures of stomach and liver trouble on several different occasions."

In April1925 Spanish Pass made national headlines when prohibition agents raided a whiskey still in the hills between the pass and Sisterdale. The operation was one of the biggest the agents had ever seen. The raid disrupted supply lines for a hundred miles. Half the speak easies in San Antonio closed.

Then as travel patterns changed, Spanish Pass lost its importance as a path for humans. The town of Spanish Pass turned out to be nothing but false claims and hollow promises. By the 1970 the railroad was gone, and I-10 connected San Antonio and Comfort, skirting the pass to the south - leaving Lookout Mountain to the heat and those pesky mosquitoes.


Michael Barr
"Hindsights"
July 15, 2017 Column


Sources:
The Handbook of Texas, "Spanish Pass."
"All Nights Cool And No Skeeters At Spanish Pass," San Antonio Light and Gazette, August 28, 1910.
San Antonio Express, July 12, 1936, p12A.
"Moonshiner' Latest Occupation Listed," The Mexia Daily News, April 16, 1925.


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