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San Antonio Scenes: Military Plaza Ice Cream Stands

August 20, 2012
Ice cream stands in Military Plaza, circa 1890. (SC14270)

Ice cream stands in Military Plaza, circa 1890. (SC14270)

Have you ever marveled that our ancestors – especially earlier generations of Texans – were able to survive brutal summer heat without air conditioning? It’s a topic staff members and even researchers comment on regularly, and some of our librarians can describe growing up in pre-air-conditioned San Antonio. The fun photograph above shows that some summer/heat survival strategies used in the nineteenth century were perhaps not very different from those currently employed by San Antonians and visitors to the Alamo City. (Case in point: the Häagen -Dazs shop adjacent to the Alamo and around the corner from the DRT Library.)

San Antonio’s Military Plaza was established in 1722. At that time, it served as a parade ground and market square for soldiers stationed at San Antonio de Béxar Presidio, the center of Spanish defense in western Texas. Like the adjacent Main Plaza, Military Plaza was surrounded by small residences during the early 1800s. After the Civil War, these buildings were replaced by commercial and government structures. The Plaza was ringed by businesses, saloons, and gambling houses, examples of which can be seen in the background of the photograph shown here. The center of the Plaza was crowded with vendors, chili stands, wagon trains, and markets. Additionally, San Antonio was a regional transportation center during the 1800s, and Military Plaza was its hub until the arrival of the railroad in 1877. San Antonio City Hall was built in the middle of the Plaza in 1891.

For Further Reading

Check out “Some Cold, Hard Historical Facts about Good Old Ice Cream” from the Spring 2010 issue of Colonial Williamsburg to learn more about the surprisingly long history of ice cream. Additional historical information can also be found in the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink and at the What’s Cooking America website.

The science of ice cream is explained in this 2004 article, published in Chemical & Engineering News.

Click here for a full citation of the documents and images included in this entry.

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