Last month’s Texas Water Safari, the annual race down waterways from San Marcos to Seadrift, calls to mind an earlier boat race that took place in 1926. The San Antonio to Corpus Christi race was organized both for fun and to celebrate the opening of the deep water port in Corpus Christi.
The race course was based on a 1924 two-boat competition, involving San Antonio businessman Porter Loring, Sr. and Fred Christilles of Medina Lake. Christilles, winner of the 1924 event, issued a challenge for another race that would include a larger number of entries. The race was planned so that the boats would arrive in Corpus Christi shortly before the official opening of the port on September 15, 1926.
The San Antonio Light newspaper immediately decided to support the event and commissioned a trophy for the winner of what the editors called “The Light Cup Race.” The paper published numerous articles before and during the race. These articles describe the numerous challenges faced by the participants, including encounters with log jams, sandbars, submerged debris, and rough water in the bays. The Christilles entry, the “Play Boy,” was the first to arrive in Corpus Christi, completing the trip in 5 days, 11 hours, and 42 minutes. With torn shirts and blistered bodies, the men limped from the boat after receiving keys to the city and a large bouquet of roses from welcoming officials. Nearby in the bay, the crew of the City Public Service “Live Wire” were discovered unconscious, due to “hunger, privation, and exposure.” They were disqualified after a tug towed them to shore. The Dean brothers in “Canvasback” arrived next. A few days later, they were declared the winner after the “Play Boy” crew were disqualified because a pilot boat had accompanied them into the harbor.
These are photographs taken before and at the beginning of the race by Light staff photographer Jack Specht.
This post was written by our San Antonio River Authority Records Processing Interns, Gina Watts and Abra Schnur.
When people outside of library and archives work ask about the San Antonio River Authority Records (SARA) project, I’ve told them that it’s a little bit like we were handed 140 disorganized boxes and told to run with it. To some, this may sound like a nightmare, but to an archivist, this situation could probably be described as both business as usual and incredibly satisfying work. Now that we are a few weeks in, we’d like to take some time to delve into the decision making work of arranging a large living collection and ultimately the effect these decisions will have on the usability of all of this great information.
If you’re a Top Shelf regular, you may have seen this post, detailing the beginning of another large project, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project/Willie C. Velasquez Records (SVREP). Every acquisition is different, and in our case, we were spared the storage unit filled to the brim with falling-apart boxes and loose sheets of paper. Because our boxes came to us in a more organized way, complete with inventory and labels, our work is necessarily different than that of the staff working on SVREP. Despite starting out in decent shape, though, each box still has a way to go before being archivally sound. For one thing, records are not housed in acid-free folders and boxes, but there are also frequent discrepancies between the inventory and folder labels and the records that are actually inside. Correcting these issues is crucial to making the collection overall more usable to the community.
For us, the difficult work was sorting out the projects that SARA has completed under the direction of the San Antonio Channel Improvements Project (SACIP). SACIP was authorized by the US Congress in 1954 and created a partnership with the US Army Corps of Engineers (COE) to provide funding for better flood control for the San Antonio region. Projects associated with SACIP have been going on ever since, with the COE providing funding for construction and SARA and the city at large providing upkeep for the structures. For their part, SARA acts as the local sponsor for flood control in Bexar and surrounding counties, voicing local concerns and interests, and provides required land and easements, relocates utilities, and builds bridges and other betterments to the beautification to the city. This partnership has resulted in the majority of the recognizable parts of the San Antonio river system, including Olmos Dam, work on San Pedro Creek, and improvements to the Riverwalk.
With all of this work comes a small mountain, or 140 linear feet, of correspondence, blueprints, maps, photographs, and contracts, much of which is associated with a particular project (or occasionally, a particular phase of a particular project in a particular unit – you get the idea). Getting the arrangement right means knowing the organization inside and out. Even with extensive research, we still make decisions about where a certain project belongs and then have to rethink our decisions the next day. But by keeping meticulous notes about file locations, we can revisit that decision easily and make adjustments. Through all this, we like to think we have found a way to meld the majority of SARA’s existing filing structure with archival descriptive standards, something that we feel is important for a living collection such as this one. By doing so, we will make sure every file can be found by SARA employees and local researchers alike and open up fascinating windows into history through items like these:
This photo was potentially used by SARA during its own Olmos Dam modification projects. This historical photo offers insight to early 20th century developments and flood control practices in San Antonio.
Can you find the SARA employee for scale? This photo was an attachment to a letter to the COE recommending that the widening of the river take place to the west so that established trees and residences would be left intact.
The rectification of the San Juan Dam and the Asylum and No Name Creeks restored the flow of water down the acequia and repaired the acequia where it crossed the creeks. Restoration of the flow of water in the acequia satisfies the oldest water right in the State of Texas with a date of December 31, 1731. (via SARA-tx.org)
Stay tuned for a progress update on SARA as we move forward. Only 70 boxes to go!
Earlier this year we announced the exciting news that we were awarded $145,650 by the National Archives to process the archives of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP). With those grant funds we were able to hire an archivist and an archives assistant to process the collection. We are delighted to introduce Project Archivist, Leah Rios, and Archives Assistant, Jenn Longoria.
Leah Rios comes to us from Tucson, Arizona. She was most recently a Project Archivist at the Western Archaeological and Conservation Center. Leah received her master’s degree from the University of Arizona’s School of Information and while there was a Knowledge River Institute Scholar.
Jenn Longoria has been working in libraries since 2006, including most recently UTSA Libraries Downtown Campus. Jenn has extensive experience working as both a volunteer and full-time employee for Battleground Texas.
I sat down with Leah and Jenn recently to hear what they have to say about working on this important collection.
What excites you most about this collection?
(LR) Although a majority of the work was completed in Texas, I have already seen documents pertaining to Pima County, which is where I am originally from. It touches close to home to think that such important work was being conducted in my own neighborhood and I am grateful I have the opportunity to play a vital part in preserving this material and making it accessible to the public.
(JL) Seeing the organization start from scratch, grow organically and create the strategies that voter registration organizations still use today has been really informative. The scope of what Southwest Voters was tackling was immense. As an archives assistant I get to see that history unfold and see how this one organization shaped the culture of voting in Texas.
Why is this collection so important?
(LR) This collection is an integral part of our nation’s political history. As a Latina, I feel honored to be working so closely with material created by determined individuals who were responsible for actively building a political voice for Hispanic Americans. Willie’s work continues to resonate even more today, as we see how important the Hispanic vote will prove to be for this upcoming and future presidential elections.
(JL) Willie began SVREP in San Antonio, surrounded by a population that he knew was not being represented fairly. It was this community that inspired him to act. Now more than ever Latino engagement in the political arena is a topic that researchers want to know more about, and the records in this collection are the beginning of that story. Researchers, organizers, and historians can now trace the steps that SVREP took to register thousands of voters across the country. We can see what worked, what didn’t and most amazingly we get to interact with all of the historical organizations and activists that helped along the way.
This collection serves as a record of how much work goes in to changing political climates. It took activism, research and litigation to make sure the Mexican American Community was represented and I believe our collection showcases some of that work.
What ideas do you have for outreach and promotion of the collection?
(LR) Utilizing social media is a great way to entice both researchers and the public. I look forward to posting regularly on The Top Shelf to document our process, posting images on Instagram to highlight interesting documents and artifacts, and interacting with social media of related community organizations to increase our exposure.
A way to further promote the collection would be to feature an exhibition of documents and materials found throughout the collection. Planning the exhibit to coincide with Willie Velásquez Day would be especially exciting.
This collection can also serve as a gateway for high school students to learn about government policy, history, and an individual that has a direct connection to their community. It would be an amazing opportunity to reach out to as many schools as possible in order to introduce the students to archives and how they can enrich their educational experience now and in the future.
(JL) In addition to social media, I think other promotion venues and opportunities are showcasing the collection in conjunction with National Voter Registration Day and with other voter rights organizations. I echo Leah’s comments about reaching the younger generation. Area high school civic engagement semesters would be a perfect opportunity for that.
**This project is generously funded by the NHPRC**
This post is written by former archives student assistant, Alex Iacono.
In February of 1941, The San Antonio Light published an article titled “Cat, 12, Eats Birthday Cake,” a surprising addition to news coverage at the time. With World War II already underway overseas, and national anxieties high, San Antonians turned to our feline friends for a small break from such tension. The short article remarks on the notoriety of local favorite Bob Magee, the cat, who was often seen in the windows of the Perry-Magee flower shop.
This was not the first time The San Antonio Light gave its readers a chance to turn to the relaxing power of cat pictures. In November of 1937, the Light ran a short, whimsical narrative of a cat named “Inky” with photographs of his escapade when he stole milk left sitting on a doorstep.
Lighthearted, silly, and cute, we still seek out cats to take breaks from the humdrum of our daily lives. Indeed, it seems we always have. The Light was definitely no stranger to cat photos, where stories of women and their feline companions appeared frequently. Newspapers often employed this trope because of the gendered connotations it represented. If a woman was portrayed with a cat it reinforced the idea of domesticity and motherly qualities.
Not all of these photographs were part of lighthearted stories, but they still show our attachment to pets. In 1939, San Antonio read the story of Mrs. M. E. Candall as she visited the gravesite of her cat who once saved her life from a home intruder.
Clearly our pets mean a lot to us as individuals, and can bring us joy, laughter, comfort, and even grief. The way that we as a society interact with them says something about the ideas and feelings of our time. As a genre, these photographs give a unique insight into our own culture and attitudes about the way we live.
I’m happy to introduce our San Antonio River Authority (SARA) Records Summer Graduate Interns! Abra Schnur and Gina Watts will work together over the summer months to arrange, rehouse, and describe SARA collection additions totaling approximately 170 boxes! The additions to the collection were donated in 2011 and 2014 and include material from the San Antonio Channel Improvement Mission Reach Project, engineering photographs, the Salatrillo Reuse Improvement Projects, among others.
The internship provides current archives graduate students with practical, hands-on archives experience and the opportunity to learn from professional academic archivists.
Abra Schnur is currently enrolled in the University of North Texas’ master’s program in information & library science with a focus on archival management. Her expected graduation date is summer 2017. When asked what interests her about this internship, Abra says, “I’m excited to gain hands-on experience in making the SARA collection available to users. The collection also provides the opportunity to gain — through a historical perspective– insight into how an organization with a very specific charge , such as managing a watershed, can over time incorporate itself into the community through partnerships, education, and development of a region.” Upon graduation, Abra will pursue a job as an oral history or audiovisual archivist. When she’s not studying, she works on an ongoing oral history project www.flyingvoices.org and fostering her love of mid-century modern and kitsch design.
Gina Watts is currently enrolled in the School of Information at the University of Texas, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in information science with a concentration on archives. Her expected graduation date is December 2017. When asked what interests her about this internship, Gina says, “I’m very excited to work with such a large collection from an organization that seems to have a lot of community ties. I also can’t wait to get to the historical photographs!” Upon graduation, Gina will pursue a job as an archivist at a research library or special collections. She would particularly like to be involved in social justice/community archives. When she’s not studying, she really enjoys listening to blues music and is “looking forward to checking out the San Antonio music scene this summer.”
Welcome, Abra and Gina!
To commemorate LGBTQ Pride month during June 2016, UTSA Special Collections staff have created two exhibits that give patrons a glimpse into some of the amazing LGBTQ collections held by the repository and offer a portal to San Antonio Pride celebrations of the past.
Located in the UTSA Downtown library and the John Peace Library Faculty Center, the exhibits highlight t-shirts with Pride motifs, local queer publications, and images from San Antonio Pride events of the 1990s.
T-shirts as Historical Objects
Ever think that well-worn t-shirt stuffed in the bottom of a drawer should be thrown out one day? Think again! Some t-shirts and textiles shine light on cultural trends and local history! The t-shirts on exhibit for Pride 2016 were donated along with more traditional archival materials such as photographs and organization records. Fortunately, donors had the foresight to recognize the historical value of these textiles. In 2015, UTSA Special Collections participated in a project named Wearing Gay History, a digital archive of historical LGBT t-shirts. UTSA Special Collections contributed digital images of 16 t-shirts, caps, and other wearables.
In addition to textiles and print materials, the JPL Faculty Center exhibit features items from the Sterling Houston Papers. Houston, a native son of San Antonio, had a thirty-year career in professional theater as an actor, musician and writer in San Antonio, New York and San Francisco. The Sterling Houston Papers primarily document Houston’s involvement in San Antonio theater through scripts, screenplays, programs, and press materials. Also included are correspondence, research materials, project files, photographs, and audiovisual materials. The bulk of the collection has been digitized and can be accessed online.
For more on the history of Pride in San Antonio, check out these related posts: