"Bowen Island, The Old Groesbeck Home"

  • Details

    Bowens Island

    “Would that you could make us a visit, for humble as the cottage is and its surroundings,
    my children –when writing—style it the cottage of content…”

    — John Bowen to Sam Fisher, 1860


    Bowen's Island as "an island of content" dates back to earliest times of Indians,
    of entradas, of Canary Islanders, of Texas Revolutionaries, of slave-holding Knights
    of the Golden Circle, of disastrous floods, and of change from its pastoral beauty
    to towering business buildings.

    Bowen's Island, no island at all, was actually a natural peninsula, a five-acre tract
    bounded by the river on three sides and on the fourth by the Concepcion Acequia. It
    was shaded by pecan and fruit trees, by wild mustang grapevines and flowering magnolias.

    Bowen, for whom it was named, had come to Texas from Philadelphia via South America.
    He had crossed Texas with his brother in the 1820s and returned there to make his
    home after living in Venezuela for seven years. In 1840 Bowen and his wife Mary Elizabeth
    bought the island from Canary Island descendant Maria Josefa Rodriguez de Yturri for
    $300. The Bowens built a seven-room home on the island for their family of seven children,
    and then built waterwheels to help irrigate their farm and Mary's herb garden. Bowen
    died at the end of the Civil War and was buried on his island.

    In later years, the property changed hands many times, until 1928, when James H. Smith
    and J. W. Young, an attorney, acquired part of the land and began the Smith-Young
    Tower, now known as the Tower Life Building. Designed by Robert Ayres and his father
    Atlee, the thirty-five story building remains today the tallest office building in
    the city, rising above A. B. Frank Company, and the $2,500,000, two-hundred-fifty
    room Plaza Hotel, and the Federal Reserve Building (now the Mexican Consulate), all
    designed by the Ayres.

    Simultaneously, in 1928, the City of San Antonio embarked on a flood control project
    to carry flood waters past the Horseshoe Bend of the river. Walsh and Burney Contractors
    undertook to construct the deep-walled, concrete-lined channel from just north of
    Commerce Street to Nueva Street. The project included such changes in the river course
    that it eliminated the peninsula of Bowen's Island, and the land became a focal point
    of San Antonio's business development east of the Bexar County Courthouse.

    Where once John and Mary Bowen's "Cottage of Content" housed their seven children,
    there is now an historical marker surrounded by an herb garden with water cress, wild
    parsley, yerba buena (mint), cilantro (wild parsley), cared for by the San Antonio
    City Public Service whose building overlooks the river and the small herb garden.                   

  • Biography

    Rolla Taylor (1872-1970)

    Taylor, originally from Galveston, Texas, started painting at the age of 14. Before arriving in San Antonio, Texas in 1889, the Taylor family spent several years in Houston and then traveled to Cuero, Texas by covered wagon. Taylor graduated from the Cuero Institute and later studied in San Antonio with Robert Jenkins Onderdonk, Jose Arpa and Theodore Gentilz. Later he studied in France for 3 months, and with Arhtur W. Best in San Francisco, and Frederick Fursman in Michigan. Taylor was a personal friend of the artist Julian Onderdonk. Taylor exhibited frequently for 60 years, including local, state and numerous national exhibitions throughout America. His first exhibit was in San Antonio in 1894, at which he won first prize of $500 and later sold the painting for another $500. He painted in the impressionist style, lively with color and flooded with sunlight, which represents Jose Arpa’s influence. His subjects were mostly old buildings, shacks, landscapes, San Antonio River scenes, missions of San Antonio, blooming cactus, and scenes of old Mexico. During his earliest years, his subjects would be a pair of shoes, a cat, some books, Mexican jugs or anything in the home. Many of his local paintings are now of historic interest that recorded buildings that no longer exist. His memberships include: American Federation of Arts; Chicago Society of Artists; Independent Society of Artists of New York; San Antonio Art League; Southern States Art League; River Art Group; Coppini Academy; Leon Springs Art Colony.