Sutherland Springs is on U.S. Highway 87 at its junction with Farm Road 539, twenty miles east of San Antonio in northern Wilson County. Situated on land originally granted to Manuel Tarín, the town occupies a portion of the plat surveyed on the west bank of Cibolo Creek in 1854 for Dr. John Sutherland, Jr. Sutherland had settled in the area in 1849 and had opened a stage stop and post office in his home in 1851. The settlement by 1860 had a diverse population employed in agriculture, wagon trade along the Goliad Trace and Chihuahua Road that intersected in town, and a steady tourist enterprise focusing on the sulphur springs nearby. Church and school met in a small rock building by the river, and a mile-long racetrack hosted horse races and other public gatherings. The legislature designated Sutherland Springs as the provisional seat of the new Wilson County in 1860, but after the Civil War voters selected Floresville as the permanent seat, initiating a bitter controversy. Livestock became important, and many families trailed cattle to Mexico or Kansas. Completion of the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway from the coast to San Antonio in 1877 ended the drives but revived local freight trade. Tourism increased, halting a brief temperance campaign in Sutherland Springs. Two schools opened, and the first Wilson County newspaper, the Western Chronicle, began publication in 1877. By 1885 the population was almost 150. Tourism increased with the construction of the San Antonio and Gulf Shore Railway on the east bank of Cibolo Creek by 1895. The Sutherland Springs Development Corporation, after many years of legal suits, surveyed New Sutherland Springs near the Sunshine Depot in 1910, and most businesses in the old town moved to the new site. Patrons from all over the United States and several foreign countries regularly visited the "Saratoga of the South," staying at the fifty-two-room Hotel Sutherland and other lesser enterprises and reading the weekly newspaper, entitled the Health Resort. The springs also became a popular destination for camp meetings and religious revivals. One such revival in 1910 attracted as many as 2,500 worshippers. A disastrous flood in October 1913 destroyed the pools and bathing pavilions, and although Thomas Williams purchased and rebuilt much of the resort, tourism never recovered, and the Hotel Sutherland closed for good in 1923. Businesses returned to the original townsite after the completion of U.S. Highway 87, and by 1940 new Sutherland Springs was almost deserted. In 1990 only a few concrete ruins remained; Pattillo Higgins razed the hotel and many other buildings to expand his production of Buffel grass, and the Southern Pacific abandoned the railroad in 1971. Highway 87 did not support trade for old Sutherland Springs, and the population declined steadily from 400 in 1920 to 114 in 1980. By 1987, however, it had risen to 362. Most of the early structures have been removed except Whitehall, built in the early 1850s as the home of Joseph Henry Polley, an Austin colonist later active in the development of Sutherland Springs. The town became part of the Floresville School District in 1954. In 1989 it had one store, which sold groceries and hardware, and a post office, on a site near the well that marks Sutherland's old homeplace. In 1990 the population of Sutherland Springs was 362. The population remained the same in 2000, and was estimated at 420 in 2009. In 2016 there were two churches, a general store, a community center, a post office, and a local history museum.
Adapted from the official Handbook of Texas, a state encyclopedia developed by the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). It is an authoritative source of trusted historical records.
Richard B. McCaslin | © Texas State Historical Association
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