‘Skyscrapers Soon to Stand Where Wolves Once Howled’

The 1928 headline was a bit premature for the neighborhood, but we did live in their shadow briefly. Or at least the shadow of the freeway. Right there on their street. Ostrom. As close to 281 as possible. Yet in the midst of a neighborhood of fairytale cottages.

You’ve probably driven by it often, yet not through it. The freeway, the golf course, Mulberry and the river cut it off from any through traffic.

The River Road neighborhood. Filled with eccentric little cottages inhabited by some of San Antonio’s most wonderfully eccentric characters.

Some of these modern-day opinionated residents quickly would have taken sides in the “Goat Case” as covered by the San Antonio Daily Light on June 8, 1889:

Mrs. V.C. Ostrom, a well known lady of San Antonio, who has made herself quite famous in San Antonio by her untiring efforts in the cause of temperance and prohibition, was in court yesterday afternoon and all hands concerned had a lively time of it. This lady sued Jose Rodriguez, a neighbor living near San Pedro springs for damages for allowing his flock of goats to devastate her garden. Rodriguez’s goats have long been a nuisance to dwellers of the new fourth ward, even down to Marshall street, and time and again the city, through its recorder, has imposed light fines upon him for violating the ordinance in allowing said goats to run at large. Alone and unaided the lady attempted to defend herself against the evil and, what with the lawyers of the defendant and the crowd of spectators whose sympathies, on account of her prohibition sentiments, were decidedly against her, she had a hard time of it, and it may as well be mentioned, Rodriguez’s lawyer also had a pretty hard time of it.

But Sarah Hummer Ostrom and her daughter Frances were firm in their beliefs. They were willing to put their money on the table to spread the Good Word. They helped build and run a place of worship in their yard on Jones Avenue to minister to those who lived in the quarry area in “houses of tin strips, flattened-out tin cans and waste lumber.” According to a November 23, 1913, article in the San Antonio Light, they:

…set up a little mission among the jacals of Mexican squatters in the rock quarry district and spread the Christian Gospel among the lowly sons and daughters of the Moctezumas.

…she (Mrs. Ostrom) “works at her religion.” She does not save it merely for Sunday use.

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But growing crops and saving souls on their farm soon yielded to the surrounding pressures to grow houses instead. Bess Carroll’s copy in an April 1928 edition of the San Antonio Light is so dramatic, I decline to edit her descriptions of a booming city stretching northward:

Over many a road blazed by adventurers, long ago, the huge stride of progress has marched into San Antonio, leaving great monuments in its footprints. And now this Titan whose breath is the stream of power, whose blood is an electric flow, has followed an old wagon road to the door of an ancient farmhouse.

Though phantom wolves may still howl their hymns to the moon there, San Antonio’s last prairie is being linked to the heart of her business being.

Beside the banks of the San Antonio river, where a tented city once stood buried in the mist of prehistoric oblivion, steam rollers snort and machinery does its superhuman work as the geographical end of St. Mary’s street is gradually dragged along by iron horses – the street-building equipment of the city of San Antonio – to meet Jones Avenue….

For the gigantic march of development is taking its parade of houses and money down an old Indian trail, across the path of the ragged Texas army of 1836, and along the course of what was, until recently, a shady country lane….

Along Jones avenue wide acres of oats and grain stretched out “once upon a time,” and only a short while ago the last remnant of the sole surviving farm gave way at last to development. That was when Miss Frances Ostrom, 1910 Jones avenue, converted the old Ostrom farm into a residence district known as “The French Village.”

When V.C. and Sarah Ostrom bought their nine-acre farm in ’69 they acquired water rights issued by the crown of Spain to this land when San Fernando cathedral was still young. But because it occupied a rise in the flat prairie surrounding it, the Ostrom farm very seldom “took the water” from the Upper Labor Ditch, a canal dug in early times for irrigation purposes….

(Miss Ostrom recalled) “The nearest store was Costanola’s, occupying the site of the present Robert E. Lee hotel; it was in the brush. Brackenridge park was largely a pasture. Later Rubiola’s ‘country store’ opened; soon after came a rural saloon. It was not until about 1885 that any houses were built on the North Side this far out. The mule car street ‘railway’ caused some development.”

The last stone of the Ostrom farmhouse was torn down in 1926. It had been a typical old stone house – four rooms and an eight-foot hall….

Land that had been green and virgin once was paved for the first time, in April, 1926. The last of the old prairie, plowed by oxen when at last its fertile acres were claimed by civilization, had its face covered over with a black veil of asphalt. It had been widowed, verily.

Now an avenue of trade will link the lost furrows of the Ostrom farm with San Antonio’s downtown district. In 1927 alone eight million dollars, according to real estate estimates, were spent in new building alone on St. Mary’s. Included in the principal buildings are: The Plaza hotel, Public Service building, Aztec theater, Smith Brothers-Young building – which is to be the tallest office structure in Texas – and the San Antonio Drug company, St. Mary’s Catholic church, The Gunter building, the Real estate building, Builder’s Exchange, Travis building, Lanier hotel, Commercial Loan and Trust company and the Brady building.

The picturesque houses of the “French village,” with roof lines mimicking those of major chateaus, albeit miniature in scale, still line several of the narrow streets, scarcely wide enough to accommodate two-way traffic, in the River Road neighborhood. Park in Brackenridge Park one day and follow trails across Mulberry to walk among the cottages and along the tree-lined banks of this natural portion of the San Antonio River. You will understand why the neighbors feistily defend this magical spot against any additional modern-day incursions.

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