The San Antonio Menger Hotel, one of the state’s oldest and best known hotels, was built and opened by William Menger on Jan. 31, 1859.
Menger was a German immigrant who arrived in San Antonio in the early 1840s and operated a brewery on the Alamo battle-grounds where the hotel was later built. He also operated a boardinghouse with his wife Mary and in 1857 decided to expand their operation. Working with architect John Fries and John Kampmann, Menger constructed the two story cut-stone building. A 40 room expansion to the hotel was built the following year.
Menger died at the hotel in March 1871, and the management was taken over by his widow and son. By the time the Civil War ended in 1865, the Reconstruction period ended in 1873, and then with the arrival of the railroad in 1877, the Menger was known throughout the Southwest.
In 1873, Gen. Philip Sheridan and Secretary of War William Belkap were guests. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant sent five days there in 1880. Other recognized military guests were: Robert E. Lee, John J. Pershing, George Patton, Jimmy Doolittle and William Tecumseh Sherman.
Presidents who visited were: Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Woodrow Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower. Other notable guests were Oscar Wilde, O. Henry, Babe Ruth, Carrie Nation, and Mae West.
In March 1879 gas lights were added and eight rooms had adjoining baths. In 1881, another wing was added and Andrew Kampmann, who had overseen the hotel’s construction in 1859, became the manager.
In 1892, Theodore Roosevelt stayed at the hotel while in Texas for a javelina hunt. He returned to use the hotel for his headquarters while organizing his Rough Riders in 1898 in preparation for Spanish-American War.
In 1951, a new wing was added and the building was modernized and in 1976 the hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Roosevelt had a close tie to Seguin and the history of El Capote Ranch east of Seguin which in 1828 had been the Spanish Land Grant of Jose de la Baume, a former French Army officer in the American Revolution. After the revolution he joined the Spanish Army and was granted 27,000 acres in 1806. After Mexico won their independence from Spain, it was affirmed by Mexico that he owned the land. In 1834, de la Baume died and in his will the lands of El Capote would be divided among his five children. The signature was witnessed by John Smith (first Anglo mayor of San Antonio in 1837) and Erasmo Seguin, the father of Juan Seguin.
The second owner of El Capote was Michael Erskine from 1844 to the 1870s. The third change in the land ownership included Edith Kermit Carow, who was deeded a portion of the ranch. She would become President Roosevelt’s second wife on Dec. 2, 1886.
Part of the land went to Alexander Moore and the ranch became a cattle and horse ranch. Moore presented Theodore Roosevelt with a horse named “Seguin” which he rode up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Several Capote horses from the ranch and Guadalupe County were used by the “Rough Riders” in Cuba during the conflict.
Last year, my wife Jody and I sold the 1865 Saffold Mansion across the street from the Power Plant Restaurant. We have an actual letter that Gen. Saffold sent to William Menger in 1869, along with $50 in cash to pay a man who lived in San Antonio. Saffold could not remember the man’s name but gave a detailed description of him to insure the money was delivered to the correct man. It was an example of honesty in those days that is rare today.