Finding Victoria a place on the map


Dec. 28, 2010 at 6:28 a.m.

Victoria will soon be one step closer to gaining what some say is the city's rightful spot on the map. Literally.

Friday is the deadline for local historians to submit revisions to a report that documents Victoria as a stop on the El Camino Real de los Tejas, a system of roads that linked presidios and missions in Spanish colonial Texas.

The current map shows a trail that bypasses Victoria County completely, but evidence remains that, at one point, the road passed through the county, said Gary Dunnam, executive director of Victoria Preservation Inc. and director of Victoria County's heritage department.

The road system changed over time.

Although Victoria wasn't on the original trail - it followed a more northern path, through the Bastrop area - it eventually became too dangerous to travel, Dunnam said. Attacks from the Apache Indians led travelers to develop a new route, one that passed through the Crossroads area.

From 1726 to 1749, a mission sat on what is now Mission Valley Road, Dunnam said. The path continued on to where the Kingwood Forest subdivision now sits, to Garcitas Creek and more.

When the map was put together, no one in Victoria realized anything was being done on the trail, Dunnam said.

"We were simply left off," he said. "Since the map came out, we've done research to show how it should really look."

The project was a major undertaking, and Dunnam didn't do it alone. He called Robert Shook, a retired history professor, the brains of the operation.

All in all, seven years of research went into compiling the report that goes to the National Park Service on Friday. It came together after poring over documents such as Spanish records, deeds, plats, early Texas maps and more.

Although park service representatives agreed the evidence supports Victoria as a stop on the trail, there are still other hurdles to overcome, Dunnam said.

Archaeological evidence is necessary, which Victoria has, but Dunnam said it takes an act of Congress to change the map.

He said he also learned it might take a separate study, which comes with a $1 million price tag.

Geoffrey Schrimsher, a business and personal consultant, got involved in the El Camino Real project after he learned about Victoria's tenuous spot on the map. Since then, he said, he's worked to contact congressmen, the Catholic diocese and other individuals he thought might be able to move the effort forward.

"I've just been trying to get it more organized, get other people involved," he said.

On Tuesdays, he visits different organizations and individuals to keep the topic fresh in their minds, he said, explaining that persistence is sometimes key.

There are several reasons it's important to right the map, Dunnam said. Not only does it mean a more accurate representation of Texas history, but it would also boost the region's tourism industry.

Tourism generates $45 billion a year in Texas, he said, and that money rolls over when people eat at restaurants, visit shops and more.

"Heritage tourism is the largest segment of that pie," he said. "It's also the fastest-growing. It brings money to Victoria. From a business standpoint, that's why I want it to happen."

The issue isn't over yet, but Dunnam said he hopes that, after Friday, the city finds itself a little closer to its goal.

"What we call Victoria County today is where Texas history began," he said. "We have the archaeological evidence to back us up. We just don't have a place on the map."



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