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All aboard the Brackenridge Eagle

All aboard the Brackenridge Eagle
HARRY & LINDA PEREZ Who can resist the lure of a leisurely train ride through beautiful surroundings? Climb aboard the San Antonio Zoo Eagle formerly the Brackenridge Eagle take in the scenery in Brackenridge Park in the heart of San Antonio.

San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park has been around for a long, long time. It is part of San Antonio’s history and its future, thanks to George Washington Brackenridge.

A little about the man

George Brackenridge, born in 1832, was trained as a surveyor and engineer and also studied law at Harvard University. Although he was born in Indiana, he made his way to Texas as quickly as he could, where he opened his first mercantile business at the age of 21. Brackenridge also was involved in the banking business; he was the financial backer and held the controlling interest in the San Antonio Water Works Co., which became the San Antonio City Water Board, and is now part of the San Antonio Water System. He was the first president of the San Antonio School Board in 1899, and was also the longest-serving regent for the University of Texas. The George W. Brackenridge Foundation still provides educational scholarships.

Brackenridge never married; he died in San Antonio in 1920. Because of his tremendous influence on San Antonio and his philanthropic generosity, a bronze statue of George Washington Brackenridge was placed at the Broadway Street park entrance in 1972.

The start of the park

In addition to the initial 199 acres donated by George Brackenridge, other donations of land were made until the park grew to 342 acres. The first project was the construction of a public 18-hole golf course. Golf enthusiasts lobbied for years for this venue, noting it would be a “great tourist attraction” for the city of San Antonio. It opened in 1916 and is the oldest public golf course in Texas.

About the same time, Brackenridge added buffalo, deer, monkeys, lions, and bears to a small zoo collection assembled in San Pedro Park, moved them all to the newly created Brackenridge Park, and the San Antonio Zoo was born. Today the 35-acre zoo, the third-largest animal collection in North America, has more than 3,500 animals representing 750 species, and it continues to expand with exciting and interactive exhibits. Our favorites are Africa, where you can watch hippos in their water habitat through a ceiling-to-floor glass wall, and the Caterpillar Flight School (Butterfly Exhibit, March through November).

Climb aboard

Generations of families have enjoyed the Brackenridge Eagle (now the San Antonio Zoo Eagle) since 1956. It is the longest miniature railroad in the world, taking in 2-1/2 scenic miles along San Antonio River, chugging past the San Antonio Zoo, the Witte Museum, Kiddie Park, and the Japanese Tea Gardens. It crosses the San Antonio River twice and as it crosses the roadways, you can hear the clanging of flashing red signal lights as the arms come down across the road. Drivers and train riders alike enjoy waving at each other. After crossing a long trestle over the river, the train enters the Round House Tunnel a perfect time to steal a kiss from a loved one.

Weather permitting, the train runs 365 days a year from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., for $3.50 per rider over the age of 3. (Hint: You don’t have to have a child to ride the Eagle; it’s fun at any age!) The nice part is that you can get off the train at any of its many stops, enjoy the Witte, have a picnic lunch, or visit the Japanese Tea Gardens, then rejoin the train and continue your trip.

And there’s more

One of the many nice things about Brackenridge Park is that there is so much to do there, and much of its is free: playgrounds, picnic areas with tables and barbecue pits, fishing, bird-watching, biking, and walking, just to name a few. It is a beautiful oasis in the middle of a big, busy city a retreat of sorts, a great place to spend the day or just your lunch break to stretch out on a blanket under shade trees and read a book.

Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at

Find out more

San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium, 3903 N. St. Mary’s St., San Antonio, TX 78212; 210-734-7184;

Brackenridge Park; the park’s boundaries are E. Mulberry Avenue, E. Hildebrand Avenue, Avenue B (just off Broadway Street), and the San Antonio River; there are numerous entries. Visit the website and click on “Visit Us” for a map.

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