The San Antonio Conservation Society is looking to bring new life to the historic Yturri-Edmunds House Museum.
The Yturri-Edmunds House Museum, seen here in 2019, was vandalized over the weekend. The perpetrator left behind a Nike t-shirt. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The history of the Yturri-Edmunds House goes back nearly two centuries, its thick adobe-brick walls and original furnishings, a limestone acequia, and restored mill the durable remnants of early 19th-century life in San Antonio.

Guided tours of the home make it possible to picture what it might have been like for Ernestine Edmunds and her ancestors to reside on this stretch of the San Antonio River north of Mission Concepción. The home was recently reopened after being closed for three years during road construction in the area. Now San Antonio Conservation Society leaders are asking for help in imagining its future.

On the home’s back lawn last week, the group hosted a meeting of the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and invited its members to think about new ways to use the historic property at 128 Mission Rd. Before the brainstorming began, representatives from the San Antonio River Authority, the City’s Historic Preservation Office and World Heritage Office, and others discussed what’s been happening in the area in recent years and what’s to come.

Conservation Society Executive Director Vincent Michael also led tours of the Yturri-Edmunds House Museum it has owned since Edmunds’ death in 1961. It is one of two house museums the group owns. The other is the Edward Steves Homestead Museum in the King William Historic District.

Manuel Yturri de Castillo, a Spaniard who had migrated to Mexico, purchased the land and structure from Mission Concepción in the 1820s. He married Maria Josefa Rodriguez, and their daughter Vicenta Edmunds inherited the property upon the death of her parents, then left the home to her own daughter, Ernestine Edmunds.

A lifelong schoolteacher with no heirs, Edmunds willed the property and its contents to the Conservation Society, which offers tours by appointment to students, history buffs, and even descendants of the Yturri and Edmunds families.

All six rooms in the historic home contain some of Edmunds’ original furnishings and possessions, including a piano, her schoolbooks, and family portraits, even a mantel clock that is said to have stopped ticking the moment Vicenta passed away. The kitchen and other furnishings in the home depict daily pioneer life.

There’s a restored mill on the property, as well as a carriage house relocated there from a King William property in 1964, and a limestone-lined acequia in the front yard of the home. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark.

The Conservation Society spends about $30,000 a year maintaining the property, and more when major restoration work is needed. For instance, this month, the house will be closed to tours and the longleaf pine floors will be stripped and varnished at a cost of $5,000, Michael said.

Last year, about 50 people visited the home, not counting student groups, fewer than the better-known Steves Homestead likely due to its proximity to downtown and the array of historic homes that draw people to that neighborhood.

But commercial and residential development in the area, improvements to the river in recent years, and plans to redevelop the former power plant across the street have brought renewed life into the community surrounding Yturri-Edmunds – and perhaps new opportunity.

And that has led the Conservation Society to begin considering innovative uses for the property.

“We want to talk a little about the potential of the site,” said Lewis Fisher, principal at Fisher Heck Architects, told the architects, land developers, and others gathered for last week’s ULI meeting. “This is a really an opportune time to come in and assist the society in thinking outside the box. We’ve got six historic structures, we’ve got heritage oaks, an acequia, undoubtedly some archaeology.”

The group has looked at different options for expanded use of the site, from commercial event center to gardening retail and food service. However, parking for vehicles is limited, he said.

“But we have great potential,” Fisher said. “Across the river is the Lone Star Brewery, we have development going on in these neighborhoods … we have the connection to the Mission Reach … so we want to look past some of these possible barriers and see what else we should be looking at that we’re not looking at.”

Allison Elder, director for legal services at River Authority and chairwoman of Mission Heritage Partners, highlighted the “extraordinary recreational opportunities” available in the area since river improvements created 16 miles of hike-and-bike trails and 8 miles of waterway for kayaking and canoeing.

Shanon Miller, director of the City’s Office of Historic Preservation, spoke of the site as a historic landmark located in the Mission Historic District. New design guidelines adopted by City Council in late 2018, she said, would regulate design standards as well as water-quality issues for any development at the Yturri-Edmunds site, along with the River Overlay Improvement (RIO) District 4 standards related to building height and design.

Colleen Swain, director of the City’s World Heritage Office, reminded the group that since the UNESCO World Heritage designation was made in 2015, her office has been responsible for developing a work plan and neighborhood plans for the area to include rezoning. The area around Yturri-Edmunds is zoned for commercial use (C-3NA).

Beautification efforts – art, lighting, and signage – for the district are underway, Swain said, and improvement work on Roosevelt Avenue will kick off March 26 with a public input meeting.

The primary goal of the recent ULI meeting was “to get this back on people’s radar,” Michael said. “It was important that everyone get a sense of how the area has changed and is changing so that as they think about the future, they know what would be good.”

The ideas that came out of last week’s meeting included opening the grounds as a  wedding venue and conference center. A landscaping and gardening center was also suggested. But Michael said the most interesting idea involved using the home to provide people with preservation skills, an educational purpose similar to the way Confluence Park teaches about nature and the redeveloped power plant, to be known as EPIcenter, hopes to spark energy innovation. Workshops could be held in the old Quonset hut across the street.

“I like the idea of thinking of it as a whole education corridor,” Michael said.

Erich Landry, a descendant of the Yturri family who has a degree in anthropology, said he hopes the site continues to provide an educational experience offering a historical narrative that includes the indigenous people and early settlers.

“The location could be used for events, weddings, and parties, similar to the Guenther House,” he said. “I look forward to bringing my daughter to the Yturri- Edmunds House for many years to come.”

To submit an idea for the Yturri-Edmunds House, or for more information and to schedule a tour, contact the Conservation Society office at 210-224-6163.

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...