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San Saba’s Abundant Parks

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In the early days of San Saba’s history, the abundant water resources were simply a matter of survival. The Colorado and San Saba Rivers, along with wonderful springs just east of the town square, provided water for drinking, washing and irrigating the fertile valley fields. It didn’t take long, as the city began to grow, for some of San Saba’s more inventive minds to come up with more ways to take advantage of this great natural blessing.

E.E. Risien, the English cabinetmaker who was already gaining fame for his work with San Saba’s pecans, obtained permission from the city government in 1883 to erect a dam (some 300 yards downstream from the present dam) which created a 5-foot waterfall. For the next 18 years, a water wheel driving a plunger pump supplied water to the downtown area, maintaining good pressure without benefit of a water tower. “Before the advent of gasoline and electricity,” Risien wrote some years later, “this water power (from the six million gallons per day that the springs poured into Mill Creek, not just from his water wheel) was used for grinding corn, also a flour mill, a cotton gin and saw mill,” supplying the needs of people within a hundred-mile radius.

In 1911, a railroad was built along the south bank of the San Saba River, and sometime in the 1920s a passable gravel-surfaced highway (Hwy 74) was built along the same general route. Both of these thoroughfares passed between Mill Pond and the San Saba River.

As modern technology standardized delivery of water to businesses, farms and residences, San Saba’s surface water began to take on more of a recreational aspect. By the 1930s, E.E. Risien’s son, Guy, had developed a river’s-edge pool with a diving board and a swing on the San Saba River property where his parents had lived. In a 1939, a newspaper article described “a growing sentiment” for developing a “really beautiful recreation center” at the old Mill Pond. In the meantime, Highway 190 was paved and became a major transportation artery dividing the two sites.

San Saba

Photo: sansabatexas.com

As modern technology standardized delivery of water to businesses, farms and residences, San Saba’s surface water began to take on more of a recreational aspect. By the 1930s, E.E. Risien’s son, Guy, had developed a river’s-edge pool with a diving board and a swing on the San Saba River property where his parents had lived. In a 1939, a newspaper article described “a growing sentiment” for developing a “really beautiful recreation center” at the old Mill Pond. In the meantime, Highway 190 was paved and became a major transportation artery dividing the two sites.

River Nature Park

Photo: sansababirdandnatureclub.org

The sentiment for building a park was evidently supplanted by more pressing concerns during World War II, but actual work began in the late 1940s, and in 1952 the Civic Improvement League, spearheaded by merchant and civic leader Harry Shapiro, raised $8,500 to build a new swimming pool at Mill Pond Park. Citizens from all over the county donated time and money to help the project along, and volunteers helped clean up the site and put finishing touches on the pool area during the following spring. May 23, 1953, was designated “Splash Day” in San Saba; it marked the first day that the new pool was open to the public. A large crowd attended the formal dedication on June 24;the high school band played and there was a community supper as the Civic Improvement League presented Mayor William Jameson with the official title to the pool. Mill Pond Park became a major gathering point for fun-loving San Saba residents.

It was twenty years later that Guy Risien deeded his riverside land to the city to form Risien Park, but the park has a very “historic” atmosphere, partly because it had been used for years as a public area, and partly because visitors have to pass under the old railroad trestle to access the facilities.

In the intervening decades, the City of San Saba (with considerable help from the LCRA) has made significant upgrades to the parks. Mill Pond Park now encompasses 71 shaded acres on the south side of Highway 190, and includes the lake, the waterfall, the municipal pool, the San Saba County Museum, the San Saba Civic Center, plus a spacious public pavilion, a charming water wheel, picnic and camping areas, nature trails, baseball fields and other amenities.

Mill Pond

Photo: Danna Boswell

Risien Park offers picnic sites, playgrounds, a pavilion, volleyball courts and a rock amphitheatre along the banks of the San Saba River. On an adjoining property, the city has built a beautiful 18-hole golf course and an RV Park with a well-equipped clubhouse. Now the Lower Colorado River Authority has purchased land on both sides of the highway which will connect all the parks into a natural wonderland on the east side of San Saba. The LCRA plans to build a regional nature park which will provide access to the San Saba River in a beautifully landscaped (“improved — not primitive,” says Public Affairs Representative Steve Dyer) nature park which will be hospitable to travelers but also ideal for locals.

San Saba Park

Photo by Larry B.