History Engaged: Dignowity Hill and The Hays Street Bridge
As part of our on going series of engaging history, we are excited to bring you the story of the Dignowity Hill. Bringing the information from the San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation, each of the historic areas and neighborhoods are going to be explored over the next couple of years.
Dignowity Hill was San Antonio’s first exclusive residential suburb. The area was settled by Dr. Anthony Michael Dignowity, a physician and Czech immigrant, who built his family home on a hill to the east of town and called it Harmony House. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, Dignowity Hill, as it became known, was home to prominent San Antonio merchants and business owners who constructed large estates. Dignowity Hill was an exclusive and affluent residential area in San Antonio due to its high elevation, proximity to downtown, the size of the lots, and lack of city water, which required residents to construct expensive water collecting systems.
The arrival of the railroad in 1877 significantly changed the neighborhood’s built environment and demographic diversity. Industrial development greatly increased with the construction of an iron works factory, the development of a streetcar trolley line along Burnet Street (1891), and the extension of sewer and water lines to the area around the turn-of-the-century. By 1914, the neighborhood was surrounded by industry on the north and west, commerce on the south, and modest homes on the east. Dr. Dignowity died in 1875, and his Harmony House was later demolished. The property became Dignowity Park in 1926. The neighborhood consisted primarily of small Folk Victorian style houses and Craftsman Bungalows by the 1930s. Today, the neighborhood is a local historic district bounded by Sherman Street on the north, Commerce Street and Paso Hondo on the south, Palmetto Street on the east, and Cherry Street on the west.
The Hays Street Bridge, constructed as two separate railroad bridges in the late nineteenth century, is the oldest metal truss bridge in San Antonio. Since 1910, when it was moved to its current location, it has served as a viaduct connecting the east side of the city to downtown.
By the early twentieth century, the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway Company planned to expand their tracks across east-west streets between downtown and the city's Eastside. The city agreed to the expansion provided the railroad erected a viaduct for pedestrians and vehicular traffic to cross the tracks. In 1910, the railroad moved two wrought iron spans from elsewhere on its lines and widened them from 25 feet to construct a bridge over the tracks at Hays Street. The longer of the two spans, dating to 1881, came from a railroad crossing at the Nueces River west of Uvalde, Texas. Less is known about the origins of the shorter span.
In 1982, structural concerns forced the closing of the bridge. It fell into a state of disrepair and faced demolition until a group of supporters, including engineers, preservationist, Eastside residents and bike enthusiast, petitioned the city to save the bridge. As a result of their efforts, the bridge received $2.89 million in federal TEA-21 funding for restoration in 2001. It was also designated a Texas Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and a City of San Antonio Local Landmark. The City of San Antonio assumed ownership of the bridge from Union Pacific in 2007 and began restoration work in 2009.
Renovated for pedestrian and bicycle use, the historic bridge serves as a gateway linking downtown to the Dignowity Hill Historic District and to the Salado Creek Hike and Bike Trail.
You can view a map of the Dignowity Hill Historic District by clicking HERE.
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