San Marcos is a city in the U.S. state of Texas, within the Austin–Round Rock metropolitan area. The city is located on the Interstate 35 corridor—between Austin and San Antonio—and is the seat of Hays County. The population was 44,894 in 2010.
Founded on the banks of the San Marcos River, the area is considered to be among the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the Northern Hemisphere. San Marcos is home to Texas State University, and the Aquarena Center.
In 2010, San Marcos was listed in Business Week's fourth annual survey of the "Best Places to Raise your Kids." In 2013, the United States Census Bureau named San Marcos the fastest-growing city in the United States. In December 2013, San Marcos was named #9 on Business Insider's list of the "10 Most Exciting Small Cities In America."
Archeologists have found evidence at the San Marcos River associated with the Clovis culture, which suggests that the river has been the site of human habitation for more than 10,000 years. The headwaters of the cool, clear river are the San Marcos Springs, fed by the Edwards Aquifer. The San Marcos Springs are the third largest collection of springs in Texas. Never in recorded history has the river run dry.
In 1689, Spaniard Alonso de Leon led an expedition from Mexico to explore Texas and establish missions and presidios in the region. De Leon's party helped blaze the Camino Real (later known as the Old San Antonio Road), which followed present-day Hunter Road, Hopkins Street, and Aquarena Springs Drive (the route later shifted four miles to the south; it is now followed by County Road 266, known locally as Old Bastrop Highway). De Leon's party reached the river on April 25, the feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist; the river was thus named the San Marcos.
In January 1808, a small group of Mexican families settled at the Old Bastrop Highway crossing of the river, and named the settlement Villa de San Marcos de Neve. The settlers were plagued by floods and Indian raids, and the settlement was abandoned in 1812.
In November 1846 the first Anglos settled in the vicinity of the San Marcos Springs. The Texas Legislature organized Hays County on March 1, 1848, and designated San Marcos as the county seat. In 1851 a town center was laid out about a mile southwest of the headwaters of the river. The town became a center for ginning and milling local agricultural products. The town's most notable founder and early settler was Gen. Edward Burleson, a hero of the Texas Revolution and former vice president of the Republic of Texas. Burleson built a dam on the upper reaches of the river in 1849. The dam powered several mills, including one within present-day Sewell Park.
In 1899, Southwest Texas State Normal School (now known as Texas State University) was established as a teacher's college to meet demand for public school teachers in Texas. In 1907 the San Marcos Baptist Academy was established, furthering education as an important industry for the town. The demands of World War II forced the town's industry to diversify, and with the emergence of a manufacturing and light industrial sector the town began to experience growth.
In the late 1940s, former Hollywood director Shadrack Graham produced a documentary about daily life in San Marcos as part of his “Our Home Town” series of films that encouraged commerce and civic activity in small communities. The film highlights several local businesses from the era, including Smith's Flowers, Waldrin's Cleaners, Lack's Furniture, and the Palace Movie Theater.
Gary Air Force Base, just east of town, was opened in 1942 as San Marcos Army Air Field, renamed San Marcos Air Force Base in 1947, and renamed finally in 1953 in honor of Lieutenant Arthur Edward Gary, killed at Clark Field in the Philippines on December 7, 1941, the first San Marcan to die in World War II. During the war, the base trained over 10,000 navigators, and in the following years was the largest center of Air Force and Army helicopter training for pilots and mechanics in the United States, with 21 squadrons and 4800 personnel stationed there. The base was handed over to the Army in 1956, renamed Camp Gary, and was closed in 1963. Subsequently, part of the base was taken over by the city for use as San Marcos Airport, while another part was reopened in 1966 as the Gary Job Corps Center.
In the 1960s, with the establishment of Aquarena Springs and Wonder World as attractions, the tourist industry became a growing part of the city's economy. By the 1960s what was then named Southwest Texas State University had grown into an important regional institution, and when coupled with the creation of Gary Job Corps Training Center in 1965, education became the largest industry in San Marcos. The remarkable growth explosion of Austin further allowed San Marcos to prosper.
By 1973, San Marcos and Hays County were included by the U. S. Census Bureau in the Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area. By that year the city's population had grown to 25,000 citizens, along with an additional Southwest Texas State University student body of 20,000.
By 1990, the city's population had grown to 28,743, by 2000 it reached 34,733, and by 2010 it was 44,894. A report released by the U.S. Census Bureau in May, 2013 stated that San Marcos had the highest rate of growth among all U.S. cities and towns with at least 50,000 people. Its population rose 6.9 percent between 2011 and 2012. The university, now known as Texas State University, boasts a student body of 34,225.