Frontier Fort Worth Exploring West of San Antonio
That’s one reason why the area is a popular destination for individual tourists and group gatherings – including the upcoming AAPG Annual Convention, which will be held in San Antonio April 20-23.
And if you’re attending the meeting and looking for a way to take advantage of the region’s historic offerings, you may want to consider a day-trip to one of the country’s most complete – and least publicized – historic sites: Fort Clark Springs, a frontier fort in Bracketville, 120 miles west of San Antonio.
It’s a privately owned historic district that AAPG members who are interested in history, culture, recreation or perhaps even looking for a place to retire may want to visit while in the neighborhood.
And if you do, longtime AAPG member Ed Dillon will be pleased to share his love and insight about the development.
He should know; it’s where he and his wife, Barbara (A petroleum engineer who was reportedly the first female engineer on a Texas well site.), live, and a place that he has been involved in many large ways since its reincarnation as a residential resort community in 1970.
“It’s a beautiful place,” Dillon, a successful geologist and adventurous world traveler, said about the area.
“The history here overwhelms you.”
Army Post Days
Movie buffs who visit notice right away that the general locale has been used in several Hollywood films and TV shows – most famously John Wayne’s 1960 hit, “The Alamo”, which used Fort Clark for several scenes.
But before the area became a movie set, it was the site of authentic American history.
The U.S. Army established Fort Clark in 1852 on the site of a centuries-old Indian campground on the banks of Las Moras Creek. The fort helped protect the "lower road" between San Antonio and El Paso. Most cavalry and many infantry units lived, trained and visited the fort.
Several Union and Confederate military heroes served there, as did World War II Gens. George Patton and Jonathan Wainwright.
Four Medal of Honor winners, members of the Fort's most heroic single unit, the Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts, are buried there.
Temporary buildings housed troops and thousands of prisoners of war during World War II.
The first buildings were wooden structures. The first native stone building were raised from 1872 to 1874. After repeated threats of closure over the years, Fort Clark was finally shuttered as surplus by the Army in 1946.
At that point the site was sold to a subsidiary of Brown and Root Corp., which dismantled the temporary buildings and sold them for scrap. The Marriott Corp. operated the place as a resort for several years. It went back to Brown and Root and was used as a hunting ranch until being sold to an individual, Nat Mendelsohn, former president of Great Western Cities.
That’s where Ed Dillon joins the story.
Mendelsohn asked his friend, Dillon, to help plan the conversion of the outpost to a residential resort.
Due in part to Dillon’s guidance and determination, more than 80 historic buildings survive, most of them still in use as private residences, public places or businesses.
Some of the buildings date from the 1850s, like the ante-bellum officers' quarters, once occupied by J.E.B. Stuart, James Longstreet, John Bell Hood and others. Others date from the 1930s and 40s.
A barracks – an 1870s structure rebuilt in 1932 – is today a 20-room motel.
The 1874-vintage guardhouse serves as a museum, the Sutler's Store adjacent to the museum.
Other amenities include an RV park, camping area, golf course, tennis courts, spring-fed WPA-era swimming pool, adult and youth activity centers and a bird sanctuary.
It is the largest privately owned district on the National Register of Historic Places west of the Mississippi.
Come On Down
Dillon said he helped with the budding development on weekends from 1970-73 while living in Midland, Texas, where he directed a gas exploration program in the Delaware Basin for Lone Star Gas.
"Lone Star had a philosophy to get out of the office at 4:30 and no (work on) weekends, so I had plenty of time,” Dillon said.
Not that geology didn’t keep him busy, too.
Dillon said Armand Hammer, president of Occidental Petroleum, "drafted" him in 1973 to be chief geologist and acting exploration manager for Occidental's new program in Libya. After five years in that country, Dillon returned to Texas as west Texas district manager for American Trading and Production Co. in Midland, serving later as U.S. general manager in Houston.
"These assignments allowed me to again devote time to the development of Fort Clark Springs, where I was active on their Planning Committee,” he said. “Contact with Fort Clark continued later when I was president of Nomad Exploration in Houston and chairman of the board for Reserve Development Corp. in Plano.
"In 2006, my son took over the operation of my company, the Eastern Shelf Production Co. based in Fort Worth, and my wife and I moved to Fort Clark, where I still owned property acquired in 1970."
Dillon served on the development's Architectural Committee, which is charged with maintaining the historic nature of Fort Clark, and is active in civic organizations and as director of the Kinney County Groundwater Conservation District.
"Although Nat Mendelsohn deserves full credit for creating this place, I am proud of my contribution to its development,” he said.
And with genuine southern hospitality, he hopes you can stop by for a visit.
“I encourage all AAPG members to visit this place to see for themselves,” he said, “particularly those who are interested in history or who might be looking for a place to retire.
“I shall be glad to give them a tour of the fort.”