Created Saturday, 04 December 2010 04:16
Comanche Lookout Park – San Antonio
My daughter and I noticed the tower which crowned a wooded hill off of the Nacogdoches Road, almost as soon as we moved into a San Antonio neighborhood – mostly because to our eyes it seemed quite normal, natural . . . expected, even. We had lived for almost twelve years in Europe, where any particularly tall and defensible height had been fortified – in some places for thousands of years.
Of course there would be a tower, or some crumbling stone ruins on a ridgeline, the crumbling arches of an aqueduct or an ancient bridge, or maybe even a range of stone wall. After a decade and more, ones’ eyes become accustomed to this. It’s becomes so much a part of the normal landscape that fades into the background, and one only notices it in the acute absence.
Which may have been what happened to a retired Army officer, Colonel Edward Coppock, in the early 1920s; he had been stationed in Europe for quite some time – and being a history nut and no doubt liking the looks of a castellated height, bought a tract of land which included Comanche Lookout Hill, and set to work building his own. It seems to have been more of a hobby and labor of love; assisted by his sons and a local stone-worker, Colonel Coppock built – or caused to be built – the four-story gothic-style tower which still stands, possibly another which either disintegrated or was later torn down, a range of stone and concrete garage and storage buildings, and a set of foundations and cellars for his fantasy castle.
Alas, the good Colonel took his time, instead of going balls to the wall in an all-out effort to finish his project – which would have had an incredible view, and been a scenic wonderment in all of Bexar County. Alas, the Depression 30’s caught up with him, then the wartime 40’s, and both he and his stone-mason died. None of his heirs had the interest, or the funds to finish the castle, and so it stood empty and appropriately ruinous for another four decades. It was a popular hang-out at night for teenagers to steal away and stage illicit parties, to build bonfires in the incomplete cellars and do what teenagers have always done out from under parental observation. At the same time, stories developed that the tower was the last remains of a frontier fort, and was haunted by the ghosts of soldiers who died there.
Of course, the name Comanche Lookout Hill should be a dead giveaway to it’s proper place in frontier Texas history; it stood right by the Nacogdoches Road – the long royal highway across Spanish Texas to Nacogdoches. And of course, Apache and Comanche, as well as other hunting and war parties – would have found it an excellent vantage-point to scout out traffic on the Camino Real, and elsewhere, as far as the eye can see. San Antonio then would have been a huddle of red-tile roofs and the stump of San Fernando Cathedral, almost on the horizon. Traffic along the road would have been clearly visible, first as a cloud of dust kicked up by wagon wheels and the passage of team animals. Views from the top of Comanche Lookout are still incomparable; and what would it have been like, if Colonel Coppock had finished his castle; with terraces, towers and gardens – one can only wonder.
Today it is a city park, with several circuits of paved and gravel hiking trails winding their way through meadow and thickets of cedar, hackberry, mesquite and huisache, all the way to the top. It is popular for people walking dogs; and a good brisk walk for anyone looking for exercise – even the sound of traffic on Nacogdoches Road is never very far away. There is a parking lot and entrance to the trail system on Nacogdoches road, and another in back of the Semmes Branch Library; a nice little pocket wilderness, practically in our back yard.