City of San Marcos prepares for first historic resources survey in more than 20 years

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Historians contracted by the city of San Marcos will scour parts of town throughout November to document historic-age properties with the goal of producing the city’s first historic resources survey report since 1997.

Hicks & Co. Environmental, Archeological and Planning Consultants as well as city staff and volunteers will contribute to the research, noting architectural styles, exterior materials and alterations of properties  that were built inside the survey area during or before 1975. The review is funded by the Texas Historical Commission’s Certified Local Government Programs Grant.

“The main thing is, in order to preserve our historic resources, we need to know what we have,” Historic Resources Survey Coordinator Leslie Wolfenden-Guidry said. “Each town develops uniquely over time, and by preserving the historic fabric it creates a unique sense of place. So, San Marcos has a particular way of looking that’s different from just next door in New Braunfels, or if you go to Fredricksburg or if you come to Austin or Buda. Each town is going to look uniquely itself if you save the historic fabric.”

Conducting the survey

The primary survey area, called the reconnaissance area, includes all seven of the city’s local historic districts, downtown and an area immediately south of the Texas State University campus.

Additionally, researchers will conduct a “windshield survey” in which they will drive through the residential area north of the Texas State campus and take photos of historic-age properties to capture the overall character of the community. All survey photos will be taken from public right of way, said Alison Brake, a planner with the city.

The final report, which will detail the survey’s results and methodologies, will make recommendations for local, state and federal historic designations. Brake said the recommendation section will help guide future policy direction for the city. The final report will include an electronic database of survey information with a geographical information systems, or GIS, component.

Recommendations will be based on each property’s historic integrity and significance and be given a priority rating of high, medium or low. All high- and-medium priority properties will be recommended for inclusion in existing or potential historic districts, Brake said.

A high-priority property demonstrates significance in the community or is a rare example of its type, according the Texas Historical Commission’s Historic Resources Survey Manual. It must also have a high degree of historic integrity—how well the physical characteristics of the period have survived—and usually individually qualifies for a nationally registered landmark designation.

While a medium-priority property is also historically significant, it is typically considered less critical, sometimes because it is a less rare property type or its structure has been altered.

Low-priority properties either lack demonstrated historical significance or have been substantially altered and would most likely not qualify for any type of historical designation, according to the manual.

Next steps

Once the final report from the survey is produced, city staff will present it to the San Marcos Historic Preservation Commission. From there commissioners will decide, based off the report’s recommendations, if they would like to initiate the creation of historic designations or districts by recommending the approval of the proposed property or properties.

Next the San Marcos Planning and Zoning Commission will have a chance to make its recommendation for approval or denial of the proposed designations. City Council will then consider the various recommendations and decide whether to make the designations.

Only three historic resources surveys have been conducted in the city’s history—in 1992, 1996 and 1997. Brake said those surveys were not comprehensive, and there was never a schedule set for how often surveys should be conducted.

City officials have requested the consultants make a recommendation about how often the city should take historic resources surveys so they can be more forward-thinking about historic preservation in the future.

“Most people would be like, ‘They’re just buildings,’ but it’s the significance of why that old building is there and the fact that it has lasted this long, too,” Brake said, noting that some of the city’s homes and downtown buildings are more than 100 years old.

Brake said she believes the city’s historic properties help give citizens a better sense of the character of San Marcos.

“Quite honestly I think that some of San Marcos’ history has not been told yet,” Brake said. “Part of that’s because we don’t have this comprehensive view of what historic resources we do have.”

How to get involved

The city and its consultants are seeking input from residents to help identify historically significant buildings. Surveyors are also interested in any historic photographs or stories the community may have about qualifying properties to help create a more vivid picture of the social and cultural significance of properties that may go otherwise undetected by researchers.

“A lot of people have lived in these homes for a lot longer than I’ve lived in the city,” Brake said. “And a lot of them have really interesting stories to go along with their properties, or they have pictures that the library may not have.”

Brake said since she began working in historic preservation for San Marcos seven years ago, she has noticed that most of the city’s archival photos are of downtown. If citizens come forward with historic photos of their properties, she is hoping to create a repository of historic photos, including ones taken during November’s survey and surveys that will be conducted in the future.

“I mean, our past is what shapes us,” Brake said. “I don’t think we’d be here today without some of the lessons we’ve learned about our past.”

To send information regarding the survey to city staffers, San Marcos residents can email planninginfo@sanmarcostx.gov or fill out and submit a historic resources identification form available on the city’s website.

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Anna Herod
Anna Herod covers local government, education, business and the environment as the editor of Community Impact Newspaper's Lewisville/Flower Mound/Highland Village edition. In the past, Anna served as the reporter for Community Impact's San Marcos/Buda/Kyle paper. Her bylines have appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, Hays Free Press and The Burleson Star. She is a graduate of Texas State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
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