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Goliad State Park

An important Texas history site celebrates the 75th anniversary of its designation as a park.

By Marian Edwards

The bright white walls of Mission Espíritu Santo welcome visitors to Goliad State Park, and to one of the most important sites in Texas history. The mission overlooks gently rolling, wooded grounds dotted with picnic sites complete with grills and barbecue pits for campers and daily visitors. Shady oaks shelter the campgrounds and RV sites, and the nearby San Antonio River invites hikers and passersby to enjoy the pastoral landscape with only the sound of calling birds as a soundtrack. Goliad State Park is a popular stop along the Great Coastal Birding Trail, and a hike through the park provides birders and nature enthusiasts with ample opportunities to spot a green jay, a long-billed thrasher, a golden-fronted woodpecker or a Harris’s hawk.

Once home to the first large-scale cattle ranch in Texas, Mission Espíritu Santo was the headquarters for a one-million-acre operation. Spanish missionaries, soldiers and Native American converts built the mission in the 1700s as part of an outpost for the Spanish effort to colonize Texas and defend its territory. Along with the million-acre ranch, the missionaries, a Franciscan order, dedicated themselves to converting the native South Texas tribes to the ways of Spain. The brothers instructed the natives in the language, law, culture, religion and professions that were brought to America from Europe. Artifacts from those early days of the mission are displayed in the museum that adjoins the mission chapel, and park staffers are eager to share information about what life was like within the mission. Although visitors can still see the original rock walls and the remains of the foundations of the living quarters for the mission priests, little else remains of the original mission, which fell into ruin in the decades after it was abandoned in 1830.

After extensive research, the Civilian Conservation Corps began rebuilding the mission in 1935, under the direction of architect Raiford Stripling and archeologist Roland E. Beard. Stripling’s attention to detail combined with the skills of the CCC workers resulted in the reconstruction of the mission to look like it might have looked in the late 1700s. Look for the large anaqua tree in front of the museum. The tree once stood where the patio is now located; in order to save the tree, Stripling ordered that it be dug up and moved away from the building. When the architect returned for a visit in 1981, he found the tree still shading the patio and thriving in its new location.

The area is rich with history, and a short walk leads visitors to the adjoining Presidio La Bahía, and the reconstructed birthplace of Gen. Ignacio Zargoza. The chapel of Nuestra Señora de Loreto Presidio at La Bahía is an important site in the Texas Revolution because it was used by Santa Anna’s Army as a prison for Col. James W. Fannin and some 230 of his men before they were summarily executed on March 27, 1836. Adjoining La Bahía, at the site of the mass grave where Fannin and his men were buried, stands a pink-granite monument which was erected by the CCC in 1936 during the Texas Centennial.

A special event this July will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the designation of Mission Espíritu Santo as a state park. In anticipation of the ceremony, the chapel has been renovated, repaired and painted. Throughout July, special exhibits and programs will celebrate the work accomplished by the CCC and TPWD.

For more information, call (361) 645-3405 or visit Goliad State Park on the TPWD web site.

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