ARCHIVE: Preserving Leon Springs’ Character

Story by Pamela Price

This article appeared in the Leon Springs Community News (June 2010).

Signs of encroachment in front of the historic von Plehwe property on Boerne Stage Road. (Image copyright 2010 Pamela Price)

 

For Mike Taylor, chair of the Leon Springs Business Association, the community’s authentic character and green spaces have value.

“From the perspective of a resident and business owner in Leon Springs, and chairperson of LSBA, I love to see all the new businesses coming to our area. Although with that comes more traffic, more pavement, etcetera,” observes Taylor. “Leon Springs still has a Hill Country feel. I hope it stays that way.”

Taylor notes that the community is outside San Antonio’s 1604 loop and has other “natural barriers” that mark Leon Springs as unique.

“Camp Bullis maintains a large amount of green space to the east of IH-10, and La Cantera and Crownridge also buffer Leon Springs from the city on the west. There is a lot of in-fill along the IH-10 corridor, but the fact that it is interstate highway means that we will never have the stoplights of a US 281, for example. It is also nice to see developers maintain, or regenerate, a native landscape when they build out here.”

Taylor’s reference to US 281 brings to mind the sprawling, fragmented Stone Oak area of NW San Antonio. And when it comes to envisioning Leon Springs’ future, Stone Oak is a bleak possible outcome shuttered at by business leaders, residents, activists and conservationists. Although it once had a environment similar to Leon Springs, much of Stone Oak’s natural character has been obscured or destroyed.

“When I used to drive out IH-10, I would become conscious of—surprised even—at how pretty it was as I came into Leon Springs. Oh, so pretty. The look of it suggests why it held such appeal to early European settlers,” says Marlene Richardson, a former Leon Springs resident who has dedicated over two decades of her life to chronicling local history. “If you look at pictures where John Meusebach came from in Europe, you see that it looks like Leon Springs.”

Baron Otfried Hans Freiherr von Meusebach, an early 19th century settler, founded Fredericksburg and resided on land now comprising Camp Bullis. But would Meusebach would recognize the community today with its suburban neighborhoods and shopping centers?

“The bottom line is this. Developers and major concerns are allowed to do what they wish in Texas counties,” says Richardson. “Where once one could look out and see hills and valleys in Leon Springs, there is a sea of rooftops. There’s no way to thwart ‘progress,’ but can’t we have some sensibilities about how we maintain our environment? For instance, in California [I’ve been told by a friend] that developers can’t destroy ridgelines and hilltops.”

Richardson points to efforts within downtown San Antonio by the San Antonio Conservation Society, of which she is a member, to facilitate the healthy co-existence of new construction and vistas alongside old. “Leon Springs doesn’t have to be another cookie-cutter place. We might use signs that tell about the history, too. That could help  mark Leon Springs as distinct.”

It’s an idea to which Taylor is receptive.

“We have only touched on this during LSBA board meetings, but I think everyone on our board would welcome any organization to work with us to put some of the history back into our community,” he comments. “This can be done by way of memorials, conservation practices, architectural design, green space planning, even naming and signage, anything that helps us to maintain heritage and remember the people who first settled or passed through Leon Springs, Texas.”

When one thinks of those who passed through the community, one cannot help but think of Boerne Stage Road, once part of the “headquarters section” for the Old Spanish Trail (OST). The driving route, established in 1915, ran from Florida to California.

“On Boerne Stage Road, from Toutant-Beauregard to the Kendall County line, we have the last four ‘green’ miles of the original 50-mile OST route through Bexar County,” says Charlotte Kahl, chair of the Old Spanish Trail Centennial. “I want you to drive along and see green hills, hear birds chirp, hear the water babbling in the creek. I want clear skies and starry nights. In fact, there’s an image on the Scenic Loop Café matchbook that shows exactly what I want you to see. It’s that vision of the hill country that drew that business out to there, you know.”

Kahl is “very happy with the dialogue, including the more difficult parts” at recent public meetings for San Antonio’s new North Sector Plan (http://www.northsectorplan.com/), part of the city’s overall Master Plan. “The creation of that plan has been important because we’re finally having the conversations we need about land use. In a way, the economic downturn has helped us. Cities and counties are forced to work together. TXDOT is out of money, so now funds must come from several places, including bonds and the federal government. Now we have to be more careful about what we do, and that slows things down.”

For Kahl, there are opportunities, too, for intact green spaces to be protected. She regards highly Frederick Wilderness Park and Crownridge Canyon Natural Area. When it comes to the most vulnerable spots in Leon Springs, she identifies, among others, the 125-acres behind the historic von Plehwe property on Boerne Stage Road. “That land goes up the hill and its viewable from the road and from the Stage Run neighborhood. It’s owned by George Strait. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to keep it green?”

To the end of preserving local character, Kahl encourages concerned residents to become involved in organizations such as their neighborhood association, the LSBA and the San Antonio Conservation Society.

“We need to talk to our elected officials, too—especially the ones with the county. Get on their email lists, and give them input. Attend local meetings of the political party of your choice,” Kahl says. “Be aware of what’s happening. That really helps.”

SIDEBAR:

According to Mike Taylor, the Leon Springs Business Association has applied recently for both federal and state grants for historic preservation projects. A complete list of sites targeted by LSBA for preservation can be found at http://leonspringstx.com/resources.asp. “We’re asking for donations,” adds Taylor. “It’s a start!”

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