San Marcos, TX – Hays County

Population 58,892 // Official Website // Schools

San Marcos is located 30 miles southwest of Austin and 51 miles northeast of San Antonio in Hays County. The city is situated on the Balcones Fault, the boundary between the Hill Country to the west and the Coastal Plains to the east. Many springs appear along the fault, such as San Marcos Springs, which forms Spring Lake and is the source of the San Marcos River. The eastern part of the city is blackland prairie, while the western part consists of rolling hills of forest or grassland. The San Marcos River and the Blanco River, part of the Guadalupe watershed, flow through the city, along with Cottonwood Creek, Purgatory Creek, Sink Creek, and Willow Springs Creek.

Originally founded on the banks of the San Marcos River, this area is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the Americas, dating back more than 12,000 years. The Clovis Indians, ancient Native Americans, lived, hunted and fished along the banks of the river. They would have been attracted to the area by the mild climate, and by the abundance of game and fish.

In 1689, Spaniard Alonso de Leon led an expedition from Mexico to explore Texas and establish missions and presidios in the region. De Leon’s party helped blaze the Camino Real, later known as the Old San Antonio Road. They reached the river on April 25, the feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist, and so the river was named the San Marcos.

Prior to the area becoming the center of Anglo-American settlement, the Spanish made several attempts at colonization. This period in time saw the establishment of the San Xavier missions in 1755, which were relocated the following year. In January 1808 the Spanish governor of Texas oversaw the settlement of a small group of Mexican families at the Old Bastrop Highway crossing of the river, and named the settlement Villa de San Marcos de Neve. The settlers were plagued by floods and Indian raids, and the settlement was abandoned in 1812. The first Anglo-American settlers arrived in late 1846, and soon the first store and post office were opened.

The Texas Legislature organized Hays County on March 1, 1848, and designated San Marcos as the county seat. In 1851 the town’s center was planned out in a 640-acre section about a mile southwest of the headwaters of the river. The town soon became a center for commercial trade between farmers, ranchers, and coastal merchants. It was also known for ginning and milling local agricultural products. The town’s most notable founder and early settler was Gen. Edward Burleson, a hero of the Texas Revolution and former vice president of the Republic of Texas. In the decade following the arrival of the International-Great Northern Railroad in 1881, cattle and cotton were mainly responsible for the growth of San Marcos as a center for commerce and transportation.

In 1899, Southwest Texas State Normal School (now known as Texas State University) was established as a teacher’s college to meet demand for public school teachers in Texas. In 1907 the San Marcos Baptist Academy was established, furthering education as an important industry for San Marcos. The demands of World War II forced the town’s industry to diversify, and the town began to see more growth with the emergence of a manufacturing and light industrial sector. The Hays County Courthouse, which sits in the center of town, was built in 1908.

Gary Air Force Base was opened in 1942 as San Marcos Army Air Field, renamed San Marcos Air Force Base in 1947, and renamed finally in 1953 in honor of Lieutenant Arthur Edward Gary, killed at Clark Field in the Philippines on December 7, 1941. Gary was the first San Marcan to die in World War II. During the war, the base trained over 10,000 navigators, and in the following years was the largest center of Air Force and Army helicopter training for pilots and mechanics in the United States, with 21 squadrons and 4800 personnel stationed there. The base was handed over to the Army in 1956, renamed Camp Gary, and was closed in 1963. Subsequently, part of the base was taken over by the city for use as San Marcos Airport, while another part was reopened in 1966 as the Gary Job Corps Center.

Aquarena Springs and Wonder World opened as attractions during the 1960’s, and the tourist industry became a fast-expanding part of the city’s economy. The remarkable growth explosion of Austin can also be credited for the tremendous prosperity San Marcos was experiencing. This is still true today.

In 2010, San Marcos was listed in Business Week’s annual survey of the “Best Places to Raise your Kids”. In 2013 and 2014, the United States Census Bureau named San Marcos the fastest-growing city in the United States. In December 2013, San Marcos was named #9 on Business Insider’s list of the “10 Most Exciting Small Cities In America”. Along with its easy access to air travel, the excellent access points of the area provide an easy route to major cities in Texas such as Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston, as well as metropolitan areas throughout the U.S. and northern Mexico.

The region has several institutions of higher education: Texas State University, Gary Job Corps, and two Austin Community College campuses. The Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State is one of the four extant body farms in the United States and the largest forensics research facility of its kind in the world. Texas State University is also the alma mater of former United States President Lyndon Baines Johnson..

San Marcos offers a variety of cultural activities, entertainment, dining and shopping. If museums are your thing there are five to choose from. You will find many of the city’s locally-owned shops, bars, restaurants and music venues in the downtown square surrounding the stately courthouse. Saturday Farmer’s Market is also held at San Marcos Downtown Square and provides a place for Central Texas farmers to market their crops as well as offering the local consumer a source of fresh, homegrown and homemade products. From June to August you can enjoy the Summer in the Park concert series with live music at an outdoor venue every Thursday night.

If you are serious about shopping then head to San Marcos Premium Outlets. In June 2006, The View named the San Marcos Outlets as the third-best place to shop in the world. An estimated six million people visit the malls each year. With 140 luxury and brand-name outlet stores, it is easy to see why it is also one of the top most visited tourist attractions in Texas.

The city’s natural beauty and wealth of activities can be attributed in large part to the San Marcos River, naturally fed by the San Marcos Springs. There are quite a few other lakes and rivers throughout the region. The San Marcos River and the Blanco River flow through the city, along with Cottonwood Creek, Purgatory Creek, Sink Creek, and Willow Springs Creek. Each of these rivers and creeks has parks or nature preserves with hiking trails along them. The San Marcos River is a popular recreational area and is frequented by residents and tourists for tubing, canoeing, swimming, and fishing.

Get a rare glimpse of underwater marine life and watch hundreds of springs bubble up to form the headwaters of the San Marcos River from a glass bottom boat at The Meadows Center (formerly Aquarena Center). The Meadows Center Glass-Bottom Boat Tours offers interpretive and self-guided tours, historic glass bottom boat rides on Spring Lake, glass bottom kayaking, wildlife viewing, wetlands boardwalk and Texas River exhibits. Or visit Wonder World Park, the nation’s only true example of an earthquake formed cave that is open to the public. In addition to seeing the incredible effects of an earthquake deep underground, the park has many other attractions for family fun and educational entertainment, including rides, picnic grounds and the Texas Wildlife Petting Park.

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