History of Downtown San Marcos
San Marcos, Texas was the site of several attempts at Spanish colonization before becoming an Anglo-American settlement in 1846 by San Marcos’ first settler, Thomas G. McGehee. San Marcos got its first store and post office in 1847 thanks to a joint effort from General Edward Burleson and John C. Hays, in which the First Methodist Church began shortly after. Named after John C. Hays, Hays County was formed a couple years later in March of 1848 and designated San Marcos as the seat of the new county government. In 1851, General Burleson, William Lindsey and Dr. Eli T. Merriman took possession of 640 acres of the Juan Veramendi grant and laid out the town center. With San Marcos being a major stopping area for settlers making their journey between Austin and San Antonio, Texas, the population began to grow rapidly. There were around 387 residents in 1851, which grew exponentially to 2,335 residents by 1890. This growth in population was also contributed by the International Great-Northern Railroad completing its line from Austin to San Antonio in 1880. Seeing a need to increase the public education system in San Marcos, the Texas Legislature established a teachers college in 1893. This was followed by the chartering of the Southwest Texas Normal School in 1899, which a building was erected and opened its doors in 1903. With a steady and healthy population, San Marcos begin to expand its business efforts with local shops popping up, in which there was an estimated 200 businesses in all of San Marcos at 1930. As time went on, San Marcos began to have a heavy tourist industry and in around 1960 Aquarena Springs and Wonder World Cave opened its doors to meet those needs. In 2017, San Marcos is now a thriving city with just around 62,000 residents and around 300 businesses in just the downtown area alone.
Downtown Historic Buildings
Downtown San Marcos was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. There are numerous buildings that have a rich and unique history that many people have not discovered, particularly around the downtown historic courthouse, or as the locals call it, the square. Located on Guadalupe St. is the LBJ Museum that highlights Lyndon Baines Johnson’s college student experience and how it impacted the landmark legislation of his presidency from 1963-1969. He attended then Southwest Texas State Teachers College from 1927-1930 and he came back to San Marcos to sign the Higher Education Act at the university in November 1965.
In 1923 at the corner of Guadalupe St. and Hopkins St. was the State Bank and Trust building. There were four brothers known as the Newton Gang from Uvalde, Texas that were very successful bank and train robbers. While robbing the State Bank and Trust in San Marcos, they put too much nitro in the vault door and blew the door through the building and across the street. They got away with $30,000 in money and bonds, which equates to a current value of around $400,000. This story attracted of the bank robbery attracted Hollywood to San Marcos. In 1972, the movie The Getaway starring Steve McQueen was shot at several locations in San Marcos, including the site of the old State Bank and Trust. In 1998 20th Century Fox made a movie about the Newton Gang called The Newton Boys that starred Ethan Hawke and Matthew McConaughy. There is a scene in this movie depicting the robbery that occurred in San Marcos in 1923.
On San Antonio St. you can find a large building with an old style movie marquee above the buildings entrance. In 1955, this is where the old Palace movie theater once showcased young musicians and featured popular films. This theater held the first showing of the Sound of Music for San Marcos. Local San Marcos residents can still remember going to that theater for the Mickey Mouse Club when they were children. The Palace theater was eventually relocated to the West side of downtown on Guadalupe St., which is the same building that the LBJ Museum is currently stands. The theater was owned by Frank Zimmerman who also owned a few more theaters in the downtown area and was dubbed Mr. Theater. He was so influential and respected that he was the mayor of San Marcos from 1949 to 1951.