Walk in and step back to the early 1900s: a rope bed, adobe stucco walls, a collection of photos once held so precious. Floorboards creak beneath your feet. Josephine has invited you in for a cup of tea and a slice of peach pie. As you take your seat in the rocker next, Ernestine lifts her fingers off the piano keys and turns to join you outside on the porch.
Their home sits on a little rise off the street of a tiny neighborhood at Mission and Grove Streets, and it has been sitting there for over a hundred years.
The Yturri-Edmunds house has been resting quietly and securely in the pocket of the San Antonio Conservation Society since 1961, and many locals are discovering its old treasures for the first time. That's due to the San Antonio River Authority's Mission Reach expansion. When the trails of the River Walk opened next to Roosevelt Park, signage directing visitors to the historic Yturri-Edmund's house were added and the doors to this little gem have been opened wide.
What makes this old home a standout? It's one of the few left from the very first Canary Islanders who settled San Antonio in 1731. Sure, there were already missionaries here and soldiers, but these "Isleños" were sent under the order of the King of Spain to become homesteaders. The 16 families walked all the way from a small village near Mexico City to the banks of the San Antonio River. It took them one year.
But between 1793 and 1824, the Spanish were pushed out of Mexico and the Mexican government secularized church-held property, including the property surrounding the San Antonio missions. In 1824 the Yturri-Castillo family, as Canary Islander descendants and parishioners, acquired 160 acres on the banks of the San Antonio River as a Mexican land grant. The property used to be part of Mission Concepcion.
One of the stipulations was that they occupy the land for 5 years. And they may have had to do certain things as well.
"They had to go around yelling and screaming, as an announcement to the world that this property is yours,” said Wayne Bowden sneaks a smile under his handlebar mustache. "It's an interesting tale, but I've never seen it in writing."
Wayne Bowden knows every corner of the Yturri-Edmunds property. For about 2o years he has been in charge of the property that now belongs to the San Antonio Conservation Society. Bowden said the family also purchased an additional 129 acres. But by the time it was willed to the Conservation Society, the property had been whittled down to only two-thirds of an acre. But that little two-thirds holds a record of our rich heritage.
Bowden said that when the Yturri-Castillos first moved in, there was only a one-room adobe storehouse, a mill and an acequia, or irrigation ditch. The storehouse was partitioned off into to two-room home, and through the years, as the family grew, four more rooms were added. The small home, fronted by a white-railed veranda, is only a few yards away from the old mill, and the mill in turn is only a few yards from Mission Road. That's significant since, as Bowden pointed out, Mission Road is where the San Antonio River used to run.
So, now picture that little white house on the edge of the flowing San Antonio River.
As Bowden weaves the tale of the Yturri-Castillo family, he explains that the Yturri's sent their two kids off to New Orleans to be educated. Vincenta returned with a fiancé in tow...thus the name change: Yturri-Edmunds.
From there the story goes on to tell how Vincenta taught children in a little one-room schoolhouse outside the Mission San Jose granary. She had three children who lived through adulthood in the little Mission Road home.
"The brother, Edgar, supposedly invented a torch that took the prickly pear off cactus so that animals could eat them," said Bowden. Edgar was shot and killed on nearby Presa Street in the 1930s. Josephine maintained the Old Mill House plant nursery.
Ernestine, who began teaching at 16 in 1890, worked in the Harlandale school district, St. Hedwig, and Alamo Heights. One of the rooms in their home was converted into a school room in 1921.
It is what is in the little school room that Bowden seems to hold most dear: a massively over-sized scrapbook of all of Ernestine's students. Bowden says there is evidence there were two such books, but only one remains in the house. It is a wonder of newspaper clippings, marriage and birth accounts, gold stars and photos. Some visitors have found themselves in the pages of recollections.
There are other fascinating items in the house: Original and period furniture, a rolling pin rope bed (lift the rolling pin off the headboard to roll out your lumpy mattress), the dress worn in a vintage photo, Ernestine's paintings, and a highly unusual clock.
Inside the clock is a note, one side written by one sister, the other side written by the other sister."Mother died in 1924. The clock stopped when mother died," reads one. The other side says, "We stopped the clock when mother died, and it's never run since."
There are sweet little tidbits like these throughout the home. But, also on the grounds visitors will find a two-story carriage house salvaged from its original King William location. The old, one-room caliche Postert House that once sheltered four people in the 1850s was moved here from Flores Street. It will be interesting to see what the Conservation Society will do with the two remaining buildings of an old tourist court.
New development is coming to the neighborhood. The nearby vacant Lone Star Brewery is considered a prime location for those eager to reside and explore the growing charms of Southtown. The old CPS Energy Mission Road Power Plant along the River Walk is right across the street. There was talk of condos there, too. For now that seems to be put on hold. Shanon Peterson with the Office of Historic Preservation says it will be the site of their October 25 gala fundraiser. Mission Road itself is about to get a face-lift.
But don't let that stop you from exploring what may be the only remaining tourable home of the original San Antonio Canary Islanders.
"It’s like an island in the middle of a busy street," says Bowden. "It's a pleasant place to be in the middle of a metropolis."
- Tours of the Yturri-Edmunds house are available only by appointment. There is a fee is $5 for adults, but children under 12 are free. To contact the San Antonio Conservation Society about the house or their other properties, call 210-224-6163.
- If you love old homes as much as I do, you may want to check out the 4th Annual Historic Homeowner Fair being held by the Office of Historic Preservation on Saturday, August 25.