Photo Credit and Photo Copyright

The photographs of San Antonio and Dignowity Hill used within this blog are the property of Juan A Garcia East Light Images. All rights are reserved to the owner. Copy and use of these pictures is forbidden without written permission. Contact Juan at jagarciatx@gmail.com for permission.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dignowity Hill, Part 1

For those who like history: Dignowity Hill is designated and recognized as a historical district and it certainly deserves that distinction. The area was first settled in the early 1850’s by a Czech physician named Michael Dignowity. He and his wife Amanda bought about 27 acres on a hill overlooking San Antonio from the east side of town. He sold estate size lots to his wealthy friends and the area became the first exclusive upper middle class neighborhood of San Antonio with its own water system. He built his home on this hill and called his estate Harmony House. Dr. Dignowity soon had a well established medical practice and became well known in the area for his anti-slavery views. So well known in fact that he was almost hanged for his views and had to flee San Antonio during the Civil War. He returned in 1869 to find most of his property had been taken from him. Dr. Dignowity died in 1875 in Harmony House and is buried in the family cemetery not far from Dignowity Hill. In 1877 Southern Pacific laid tracks which skirted the Hill on the north and west. As the trains became larger and noisier and more tracks were laid, substandard housing along with other industry began settling around the neighborhood. By 1900 this industrial belt began to change the face of the neighborhood. The original families either moved away or died. By the 1930’s many of the original houses were gone. Dr. Dignowity’s home, Harmony House, eventually was torn down and his property was converted to a park. Through the 1940 and 50's the neighborhood tried to retain some its character and some of the big homes built in the early 1900's have survived till today.

For most of its early history the Hill was exclusively made up of white property owners. When I was researching the history of our house I came across a covenant signed in 1947 by many of the white property owners that created restrictions “not to sell or lease to anyone of the black race for 21 years”. In 1948 the Supreme Court ruled to end racial deed restrictions that began allowing non-white residents to move into Dignowity Hill. I suspect that this practice of discrimination continued for many years after that decision. Through the last 50 years the neighborhood continued to experience some decline as houses were abandoned or burnt down, drugs and prostitution moved into some parts of the area. But something interesting has happened in the last 4 or 5 years. Dignowity Hill has been "re-discovered". Because Dignowity Hill is so close to downtown and has relatively good housing stock, adventuresome investors have begun buying, restoring and in many cases moving into the neighborhood. All this activity has been good for the most part. The biggest fear among long time residents is the gentrification that may follow and change the character of the neighborhood. I hope not....but it's one of those double edge kind of things. We can't move forward unless there is investment in the neighborhood yet some of us want to see the neighborhood retain some of its character. I guess we'll all have to wait and see how this turns out.
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