San Marcos has a rich and unique history. Well, what would you expect from an area considered the longest continuously inhabited site in North America? San Marcos has been a popular spot for visitors and locals since roughly 12,000 years ago! Check out our guide to learn more about some of the historically significant sights in San Marcos, and experience for yourself on your next SMTXperience.
Did you know Texas State University (it was Southwest Texas State Teachers College at the time) is the only Texas university to graduate a future President of the United States? (It’s the only one for Vice Presidents as well, actually…) The LBJ Museum of San Marcos showcases the legacy of Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th President of the United States and focuses on his years spent as a student in San Marcos. See mementos up close, learn about our Presidential past and, if you’d like a good photo opportunity, hike up the hill to the Texas State University Quad for a photo with the LBJ statue on campus. A fun tidbit is that the statue resides at the bottom of the steps to Old Main (where LBJ would have had his classes) and it is said that he was plagued by bad dreams of running up the stairs at Old Main for a class he was late for well past his days at school. There's one more nod to the 36th President of the United States is the LBJ MLK Crossroads Memorial. The memorial is a visible monument at the corner of LBJ and MLK Drives honoring the historic efforts of LBJ and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in forging the most significant Civil Rights legislation since the Civil War.
The Calaboose African American Museum is dedicated to African American history and culture within San Marcos and Hays County. Open on Saturdays from 10am-3pm (and by appointment), the museum is a great place to learn about Buffalo Soldiers, Tuskegee Airmen, WWII, Civil Rights, Ku Klux Klan and general San Marcos area history. They also have lots of Eddie Durham memorabilia! Eddie Durham was a renowned composer and musician who was born in San Marcos in 1906. Durham is considered one of the pioneers of the electric guitar in jazz and the successful San Marcos local and his impact can be found by the events and park named in his honor: Eddie Durham Park, Eddie Durham Jazz Celebration and Eddie Durham Jazz Tribute. You can listen to some of Eddie Durham’s recordings HERE. And while you're visiting the Calaboose, venture to the other side of the street for a look at Cephas House - the home to Ulysses S. Cephas, a blacksmith and community leader at the turn of the 20th Century.
Military history lovers absolutely must stop by the Commemorative Air Force Central Texas Wing Exhibit. The 1943 vintage wooden hangar is full of airworthy historic military warbirds. One of our personal favorite planes in the collection is the “That’s All, Brother.” “That's All, Brother” is a Douglas C-47 Skytrain and led a formation of more than 800 C-47s to Normandy in World War II. The C-47s then dropped more than 13,000 paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions into battle. The name, which is painted on the front of the aircraft, was a message to Adolf Hitler. By the end of D-Day, approximately 156,000 Allied troops had successfully landed on the French beaches. The Battle of Normandy, which lasted from June 1944 to August 1944 resulted in the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany control. The D-Day invasion has been called the beginning of the end of war in Europe.
"That's All, Brother" was discovered a few years ago in an aircraft boneyard in Wisconsin with plans to be cut apart and remanufactured. Money was raised to save the plane and restore it to its former glory. The CAF returned "That's All, Brother" to flying conditions, as well as outfitted the aircraft to its exact configuration on D-Day with rare parts, including radios and navigation equipment. Some of the other notable planes in the collection include a B-25 Mitchell Bomber (Yellow Rose), the only flying Bell P-39 fighter plane in the western hemisphere (Miss Connie), a restored C-45 (Lone Star Lady) and more. The hangar also features an excellent military museum and the Stokes Library, with one of the largest collections of military books – many out of print.
Spring Lake is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in North America. Core samples of the sediment show that humans lived around the lake 11,500 years ago and there have been findings (everything from mammoth tusks and arrowheads to more modern tin cans) showing inhabitation during every known period. In 1849 General Edward Burleson acquired the San Marcos Springs and created a dam to operate a gristmill, which formed the lake. The lake formation created a time capsule of artifacts which were then discovered between 1979 and 1982 – you can find some artifacts on display in Discovery Hall at The Meadows Center.
Mr. A.B. Rogers purchased the property around Spring Lake back in 1926. His son, Paul, built Springlake Hotel in 1928 and introduced the glass-bottom boats that have become iconic San Marcos landmarks. The submarine theater and pool additions led to the site becoming the amusement park, Aquarena Springs, in the early 1950s. Texas State University purchased Aquarena Springs in 1994 and turned the site into a $10 million center for water and environmental research. While the site is no longer home to mermaid shows and swimming pigs, you can visit what’s now called The Meadows Center to visit the nature center and still enjoy a Glass-Bottom Boat Tour!
Wonder Cave was discovered by Mark Bevers in 1893 when he was drilling for water and the water well drill fell 158 feet. W.S. Davis began operating the cave as a tourist attraction in 1903 and charged 10 cents for a candle and a guided tour. At that point in time, there was also a medicine show and a South American anteater. (Doesn’t sound as fun as a petting zoo in our opinion…) The cave was bought by, you guessed it, A.B. Rogers in 1916 for $50, a gray horse and a saddle. Mr. Rogers then installed electric lighting, handrails and ladders for slightly safer exploration. In 1958 the cave was sold to the Mostyn family, who have owned, operated and expanded it ever since!
Today's visitors can expect a journey into the Balcones Fault Line Cave for an educational and entertaining cave tour. You’ll see fossilized prehistoric life embedded in the formations and learn about the Edwards Aquifer. After the cave tour, you have to visit the park’s other quirky attractions. Visit the Anti-Gravity House where water flows uphill. See the Texas Hill Country from way up high in the Tejas Observation Tower. And our personal favorite, go see our furry friends at the Texas Wildlife Petting Park!
Veramendi Plaza is a charming little park that is full of local history! You can find both the Charles S. Cock House and the Merriman Cabin at the forefront of the park. The Charles S. Cock House was built in 1867 and is the only stone residential house in the Greek Revival style left in San Marcos. The Dr. Eli T. Merriman Cabin is a log cabin that was built in 1846 and belonged to the first physician in the San Marcos area, Dr. Merriman. One of the most iconic parks in San Marcos, Veramendi Plaza is also home to a beautiful gazebo, fountain, large magnolia trees and access to the San Marcos River just a short stroll down the path.
History lovers with a penchant for pop culture will really enjoy a trip to the Wittliff Collections, housed on the Texas State University campus. The exhibitions tell the stories of the Southwest and Mexico, taken from the diverse collections of work by writers, photographers, filmmakers and musicians. While the exhibitions change continually and there is always something new to discover, the Lonesome Dove exhibition remains on display year-round. The costumes, props and other memorabilia used in the miniseries is a must-see for any TV buff.
The current Hays County Courthouse is actually the fourth building to serve as the courthouse. The first building burned down in 1868, seven years after being built. The second building was damaged by the earth shifting so it was torn down in 1881 and the third building was demolished after a fire consumed the top floor in 1908. The courthouse you see today was completed in 1909 and was restored in 1972. Take a look at the statue of justice at the top of the courthouse, at one point she fell through the dome and rotunda underneath and crashed into the basement. Today you can pop on by to see the interior of the courthouse (it really is very cool) and find historic exhibits that are housed in the lower floors.
While exploring Downtown San Marcos, you may notice some buildings have interesting local legends displayed in their windows. From a local canine hero to a notorious bank-robbing gang, and lots of interesting stories in between, history comes alive in the heart of San Marcos. You can also read about some of our favorite local legends here.