Welcome to Menard, Texas
This scenic Central Texas town of 1,600 souls was established in 1858 along the banks of the San Saba River and has thrived modestly through the decades as a center of farming and ranching industry. It is nestled in a pretty, pecan-fringed valley cutting across the Edwards Plateau in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. A century before Menard was founded, there was a Spanish colony here, and for thousands of years before this colony existed, the San Saba region was home to hundreds of generations of Indians. Menard has been the scene of some very dramatic events in the history of Texas. Though the main purpose of these exhibits is to introduce you to the fascinating remnants of the Spanish colony that existed in this area from 1757 to about 1770, we will briefly mention other facets of Menard's past as we move from one point of interest to another.
The foremost features of the Spanish colony founded at Menard were the Real Presidio de San Saba (Royal Fort) and Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba (Holy Cross Mission). Such facilities were typical of Spanish colonies, the presidio housing soldiers who protected the Catholic priests residing in the mission, along with neophytes (newly-converted Indians). Through their mission, the Franciscan priests hoped
to get Lipan Apache Indians to adopt a settled, "civilized" way of life and to convert them to Christianity. In addition to the fort and mission, the Spaniards built a dam on the river to feed water into an acequia, or gravity-fed canal, that distributed irrigation water to their farmland. The acequia system, known as the "Ditch Walk" in downtown Menard, is still functioning. You will be able to visit the presidio, acequia, and the mission site on your tour.
The San Saba River
Contributed by Patty Miller
From ancient times, Native Americans left their footprints here on the banks of the San Saba River: Comanches, Tonkawas, Caddows, and many others. The predominant tribes, however, were Lipan Apaches. They called this beautiful place "Summerville."
As early Spanish explorers came to the San Saba, the cited huge amounts of precious ore in their reports sent to Spain. By 1757, Spanish priests and soldiers had arrived, construction a church mission, military presidio, and irrigation canal on the river. Their ambitious venture would be short lived, however, with the priests massacred and the mission burned by tribes unfriendly to the Spanish and Apaches, in 1758. The embattled presidio was abandoned in just over a decade.
Nevertheless, in the 1800's, the legends of Spanish gold and Apache silver
still flourished, luring prospectors to the river to find their fortunes. The most famous was Jim Bowie, Alamo hero and designer of the Bowie Knife. Bowie not only carved his name on the gate of the old presidio, but also in the history of the Calf Creek Battle and Lost Bowie Mine here on the San Saba.
Throughout the ages, other miners came to the river with passionate expectations, leaving with only disillusion and empty pockets. Most of their names and tragic dreams were lost in the winds of time, while a few, in the early 1900's, such as partners Comanche Indian Princess Martha Weonah and Judge Julius Romulus Norton became renown, immortalized in "A Song of Silver," the town's musical of the late 1900's and early 21st century.
The Old Sacred Heart Catholic Church
Prior to 1898, the Catholics in Menard celebrated Mass only a few times a year in someone's home, when they were lucky enough to be on the route of a traveling priest. In 1898, Father Baudrillard visited Menard and discussed the possibility of building a church on property donated in 1870 by J.J. Callan.
The Church was built in 1899 and it is the oldest organized Catholic Church in the San Angelo diocese. The rock to build the church was quarried from a stratum of limestone four to five miles northeast of town. It was dug by hand
and transported by horse and wagon to the church site. Most of the labor was donated.
The Sacred Heart Church was a mission church for 40 years after its construction, cared for by priests from San Angelo and Mason. In 1905 the Oblates of Mary Immaculate from San Antonio accepted care of the territory and Father Fred Fassbender was the first Oblate priest. He was succeeded by Father V.X. Ganon in 1919 who was also instrumental in the building of a frame school in North Menard. The school was staffed for about four years by the Sisters of Mercy from Stanton.
Use of this building was discontinued in 1955 because it had become too small for the growing congregation. Consequently the church is commonly referred to by the people of Menard as "The Old Catholic Church." Services are now held at the "New Sacred Heart Church" located on Highway 83 at 9:00 a.m. every Sunday.