Presnall-Watson House/Land Heritage Institute – Introduction and History

Presnall-Watson House/Land Heritage Institute

Presnall - Watson Side View

Introduction

  • The Land Heritage Institute (LHI) property is a 1,200-acre living land museum representing at least 10,000 years of occupancy by the major cultural groups that shaped South Texas, including Native Americans, the Spanish Canary Islanders, the Mexicans, and the Anglos as well as African-Americans.
  • Part of this property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Presnall-Watson Homestead District on April 10, 2012.  The District includes six buildings, three contributing structures, and six archaeological sites.
  • Findings at the many archaeological sites on the Land Heritage Institute property are artifacts from the long habitation by Native Americans as well as later owners.  The Applewhite House and Presnall-Watson House and outbuildings are representative of Anglo settlement on the property.
  • Several ecozones meet on this property, creating habitat for a substantial diversity of plant and animal species on the property.  Sections of now rare pristine riparian area along the Medina River provide prime spring stopovers for migrating birds, especially warblers.  In fact, the now endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler was first spotted in Texas over 150 years ago on property currently owned by the Watson family near the Land Heritage Institute.  In the spring migration of 2014, another Golden-Cheeked Warbler was spotted feeding in a riparian area on LHI property during a bird walk conducted to celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the first sighting.2
  • The property was once part of San Antonio's City Water Board (now San Antonio Water System's) proposed, but failed, 1990s Applewhite Reservoir project.  Had the project continued to completion, much of the land in LHI would have been submerged.
  • The San Antonio Conservation Society has a permanent seat on the LHI Board of Directors and in 2012 awarded a grant to LHI for replacement of a portion of the roof of the Presnall-Watson House.
  • Although entrance to the property by car is via the property's main gate on Neal Road at one side of LHI, the Presnall-Watson Homestead District is located on the other side, directly across the Medina River from the Toyota plant on the South Side of San Antonio.  A segment of the Medina River Greenway Trail, a City of San Antonio-owned hike and bike trail, runs within the LHI property beside the Presnall-Watson Homestead District, separated by a fence.  LHI is located between the Medina River Natural Area and the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center property along the Medina River.
  • The website for the Land Heritage Institute is:http://LandHeritageInstitute.org

History

Pre-Columbian period--

For at least 10,000 years, indigenous people inhabit the land within what is now known as the Land Heritage Institute.  During the earlier years of this period, mammoths roam the property.  (Into current times, Native American groups still perform ceremonies on the property.)3, 4, 5

 Post-Columbian period--The Spanish government claims the land as part of Spain.6

 1808--Juan Ignacio Perez obtains a Spanish land grant of five leagues (13,284 acres) of land that includes the property.  (His grandfather, José Antonio Peres de Casanova, was part of the sixteen Spanish Canary Islander families who came to Texas in March of 1731.)  Although the land has been legally claimed by the Mission San Jose, the dispute is settled.  (Perez family members continued to live on part of their original land outside of LHI property until the 1990s.)7, 8

1821--Mexico wins independence from Spain, and the property becomes part of Mexico.9

1823-1834--The Perez family's ownership of the land becomes ambiguous, in part because of the turmoil of the Texas Revolution.10

1836--Texas wins independence from Mexico, and the property becomes part of the Republic of Texas.11

1837--On June 19, 1837, the Republic of Texas grants a headright league (which includes this property) to Bruno Martinez who transfers the property to John W. Smith the same day.12

1838--John W. Smith sells the land to James D. Kirkpatrick who sells the land to John R. Cunningham the same day.13

1845--Texas becomes a state of the United States, and the property becomes part of the State of Texas.14

1852 and 1853--Andrew Cunningham inherits the property from John R. Cunningham and sells it to Harrison Presnall and Stephen Applewhite, both from Louisiana.  Stephen Applewhite takes possession of the western 755 acres and Harrison Presnall (whose wife, Susan, is a sister to Stephen Applewhite) receives 665 acres on the east side of the property.  The Applewhite and Presnall families initially farm their land together as a cotton plantation, worked by African American slaves, until the Civil War, after which the they turn to ranching.15

(Susan [Applewhite] Presnall's and Stephen Applewhite's brothers, James and Jesse [or John] Applewhite, come to the area at the same time and purchase and build homes on the west side of the Medina River, too.)16

Mid-1860s-mid-1880s--The property becomes one of many gathering points for the Great Western and Chisholm Trails on which cowboys drive Longhorn cattle to railheads in various Midwestern and Great Plains states.17, 18

1883--Only when the widowed Susan Presnall is preparing to sell the Presnall land is the Applewhite and Presnall land divided when she formally sells the western 755 acres to her brother Stephen Applewhite for $10 and other "valuable considerations."19

1883--John Watson Sr., his wife Margaret Jane, and their family move to Texas from England and purchase the Presnall land.  After John Watson Sr.'s death in 1903, Margaret Jane Watson continues to live on the property.20

1884--Stephen Applewhite sells his farmstead to John Watson Sr.21

1926--Four years before Margaret Jane Watson passes away, she divides the property among her children.  Son John Watson, Jr. inherits the house and 250 acres of the land.  He and his wife Cora live there until he passes away in 1944.  Cora Watson continues to live on the property until she passes away in 1971.  Members of the Watson family continue to ranch on former Applewhite and Presnall land for well over 100 years.  A current 50+ head herd of purebred Longhorn cattle on the property continues to pay tribute to this long ranching history.22, 23, 24

1974--Watson descendants sell property that includes the Homestead District to Earl S. Doderer.25

1979--The City of San Antonio authorizes the City Water Board to proceed with plans for construction of a reservoir for supplemental drinking water for the City.  The proposed reservoir area includes the land that is now LHI.26

1990--The City of San Antonio purchases the land from Earl S. Doderer.27

1992--The San Antonio City Council stops work on the Applewhite Reservoir after two failed referendums to fund the effort.28

1994-2002--The process of creating the concept which becomes the Land Heritage Institute occurs and saves the property from potential development.29

2002--The Land Heritage Institute incorporates as a tax exempt corporation.27

2008--The City of San Antonio designates the Presnall-Watson House a City Landmark.28

2012--The Presnall-Watson Homestead obtains National Register of Historic Places listing.30

Today--Many descendants of those who lived and worked on this land--the Native Americans, the Spanish Canary Islanders, the Mexicans, the African Americans, and the Anglo Americans--continue to live nearby and contribute to the community.

Notes

1 Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, National Register of Historic Places, listing for Presnall-Watson Homestead, accessed 7/26/2016:  https://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/

2 Chuck Sexton, blog posting, September 10, 2013, http://www.freelists.org/post/texbirds/Spring-2014-Sesquicentennial-of-the-Goldencheeked-Warbler-in-Texas, accessed 8/2/2016

3 Land Heritage Institute website, LHI Historical and Organization Timeline, http://www.landheritageinstitute.org/LHI_Org._Timeline.html, accessed 8/2/2016

4 Alston Thoms' presentation at the Land Heritage Institute planning charrette on 4/11/2015, now on YouTube at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4RgCuwWEEY, accessed 8/2/2016

5 Rámon Vásquez [Address for private use] recorded oral interview with Patricia A. ("Patsy") Kuentz [Address for private use] on May 26, 2016 in San Antonio, TX.  Rámon Vásquez spoke from personal knowledge regarding recent Native American activities in the Presnall-Watson Homestead District.

6 Land Heritage Institute website, LHI Historical and Organization Timeline

7 Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Presnall-Watson Homestead District, Section 8, p. 17, https://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/NatReg/NR/nr_listed/pdfs/12000192/12000192.pdf, accessed 8/2/2016

8 Land Heritage Institute website, Presnall-Watson Homestead Historic District, http://www.penelopeboyer.com/LHI_website_revised/P-W_Farm+Homestead.html, accessed 8/2/2016

9 Land Heritage Institute website, LHI Historical and Organization Timeline

10 Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Presnall-Watson Homestead District,  Section 8, p. 17, https://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/NatReg/NR/nr_listed/pdfs/12000192/12000192.pdf, accessed 8/2/2016

11 Land Heritage Institute website, LHI Historical and Organization Timeline

12 Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Presnall-Watson Homestead District,  Section 7, p. 12

13 Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Presnall-Watson Homestead District,  Section 7, p. 12

 

14 Land Heritage Institute website, LHI Historical and Organization Timeline

15 Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Presnall-Watson Homestead District,  Section 7, p. 15

16 Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Presnall-Watson Homestead District, Section 8, p. 18

17 Land Heritage Institute website, Presnall-Watson Homestead Historic District section

18 The National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Draft Chisholm and Great Western National Historic Trail Feasibility Study / Environmental Assessment publication, 2014, p. 13

19 Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Presnall-Watson Homestead District, Section 8, p. 19 and 20

20 Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, National Register of Historic Places, Registration Form for Presnall-Watson Homestead District, Section 8, p. 18

21 Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, National Register of Historic Places, Registration Form for Presnall-Watson Homestead District, Section 8, p. 19

22 Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Presnall-Watson Homestead District, Section 8, p. 18

23 Land Heritage Institute website, LHI Historical and Organization Timeline

24 Land Heritage Institute website, Presnall-Watson Homestead Historic District section

25 Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Presnall-Watson Homestead District, Section 8, p. 20

26 Land Heritage Institute website, LHI Historical and Organization Timeline

27 Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Presnall-Watson Homestead District, Section 8, p. 20

28 Land Heritage Institute website, LHI Historical and Organization Timeline

29 Land Heritage Institute website, LHI Historical and Organization Timeline

30 Land Heritage Institute website, LHI Historical and Organization Timeline

31 San Antonio Conservation Society letter to Mark Oppelt, Board Chair of the Land Heritage Institute date October 28, 2008 congratulating the Land Heritage Institute on receiving historic designation for the Presnall-Watson House at the September 18,2008 meeting of the San Antonio City Council.  This letter is located in the San Antonio Conservation Society's files.

32 Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, National Register of Historic Places, listing for Presnall-Watson Homestead

Patricia A. (Patsy) Kuentz

Historic Farm & Ranch Complexes Committee Member

San Antonio Conservation Society

Revised February, 2017

Presnall-Watson House/Land Heritage Institute – Introduction and History