Yesterday, I spent my day at Aquarena Springs. For once the weather co-operated and behaved itself as we toured the Texas State University ecological facility.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, Aquarena Springs is the site of Texas’ first amusement park. It is probably the most important archaeological, anthropological and ecological site in the state of Texas. Evidence of human settling has been found dating back thousands of years. In the 19th century, people came from all over the world to enjoy the springs for its therapeutic properties. Becoming popular in the early 20th century, the owner opened a hotel at the springs in 1928, which hosted many famous people, including Jay Gould, and most famously, Johnny Weismuller.
It even hosted Robert E. Lee at the resort while he was stationed at Fort Mason. The hotel is now the Texas Rivers Center.
In the 1950’s, the springs got a second wind, when the Submarine Theater was built. This was the start of the Amusement Park. The theater was below the water line, so that guests could enjoy the featured Mermaid Show. Other features of the park included an Alpine Sky Ride, and a Spiral Ride, where you could go up and see a panoramic view of the area.
By far the most famous rides were the Glass Bottom Boats, which are still in use today, all of which are originals from the 1950’s, down to the glass floor panel and windows. And yes, the floor panel of each boat is glass, not acrylic. The tours last about 30 minutes, and are breathtaking. You get to see the bubbling springs rise from the sandy floor, the fauna and the extensive flora of the Springs, even an abandoned archaeological dig, which is the only man-made part of the inner springs which cannot be dismantled, since it became an essential part of the ecosystem.
The Park closed in 1994, when Southwest Texas State University, now Texas State University, bought it and established the Aquarena Center, dedicated to the preservation of the unique archaeological and biological resources of the springs, and Spring Lake.
As funds become available, the university plans on dismantling all of the amusement rides and removing the theaters (there are two:
the first one sank as soon as it went into the water the first was used until 1972, and the second is the one that was in use for the shows until the park closed*), since they leach harmful chemicals into the spring. The boats will remain in use as valuable teaching tools.
I highly recommend touring Aquarena Center. Bring sunblock and bottled water, because you get so engrossed, you forget about everything else 🙂
*Thanks to reader Former Glurpo!!