Home to the only functioning Spanish Colonial aqueduct in North America
The more than 265-year-old aqueduct at Mission Espada is a prime example of how impressively well-built the San Antonio Missions really are. The aqueduct, acequia system and dam still feed privately owned farm fields in the area, making this Spanish Mission the home of the oldest continuously operating aqueduct in North America. The stone walls and structures at Mission Espada also tell the tale of the building stages the San Antonio Missions underwent during the colonial and post-colonial periods, with phased-in perimeter walls and expanded living quarters.
While brilliant engineering is evident in the sturdy dam which feeds the acequia, there’s also a demonstration of the knowledge of astronomy and geometry. On the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi in early October, morning sun is directed through a small window above the façade, illuminating a statue of St. Francis on the wall behind the altar. A similar “solar illumination” also exists at Mission Concepción, and is also evident today.
The southernmost mission, Mission Espada still appears remote and alone, yet as you walk through this old Spanish Mission, it’s easy to imagine the active life of the inhabitants who farmed nearby outside the mission walls, milled their grains, attended school and learned trades on the site, and who prayed in the beautiful limestone church.
Rancho de las Cabras, located 23 miles south of Mission Espada, is a nearly 100-acre ranch. Mission vaqueros watched over the large herds of cattle, sheep, goats, horses and oxen which ranged freely. Today, ruins of the walls and evidence of the corrals, pens and feed-corn fields remain, as do signs of the daily life of the people who tended to the animals. Rancho de las Cabras is part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, and limited guided tours are held periodically through the year.