The history of Scenic Loop Helotes Creek lies in its nature

Tales of colorful characters and natural landscapes make up the history of this rural neighborhood

BEXAR COUNTY, Texas – Somebody’s got to do it.

That’s what Jenn Nottingham said when asked how she became a history expert in her neighborhood.

We took a driving tour of the most notable, historic places with Nottingham, who has lived in this neighborhood most of her life, and Randy Neumann, the Historical Committee chairman for the Scenic Loop Helotes Creek Alliance.

The path to those spots was partly a drive along the two lanes of Scenic Loop but mostly along old dirt and gravel ranch trails.

“An interesting tidbit is that the largest dinosaurs known to man lived in this area,” Neumann said. “So we’re very fortunate that we have that piece of history as well as the Indian history and then the later 19th, 20th century.”

The Coahuiltecan tribe lived in the area before settlers moved in.

“There were this small group of people that braved it in the early days. But it wasn’t until 1871... that people started sort of coming in,” Neumann said.

Some of the geographical features of the neighborhood date much further back.

The story of how the Blue Hole came to be goes back to the Miocene Era.

“My house is sitting right up here,” he said, pointing to Martinez Mountain. “Right underneath my living room is a cave called Blue Hole Cave number one. About halfway down this hill, there’s a second cave. Blue Hole number two.”

At the bottom of the mountain and those caves sits a swimming hole called the Blue Hole.

“In the Miocene Era, the side wall of the mountain blew out and the water table emptied down the side of the mountain and dug the hole,” Neumann said.

That hole filled with water from the local creeks and became a swimming hole for locals.

“It has become a cultural spot on the Helotes Creek,” Neumann said.

A scenic playground

One of the first developers in the neighborhood was E.N. Requa.

But his creation wasn’t just for people who lived in the area.

Requa established the Scenic Loop Playground on 320 acres to serve as a rural getaway for people to camp and enjoy the natural landscape.

“It was originally just for families to go and camp for the weekend and that kind of thing,” Nottingham said. “And then people began to stay.”

A family that would later earn fame in South Texas also owned ranch land nearby: The Madla Family.

Frank Madla Jr. would grow up to serve in the Texas Senate and fight for access to education, especially on San Antonio’s south side.

Madla’s efforts ultimately resulted in the creation of Texas A&M University-San Antonio.

Before his political fame, Madla’s family also saw value in making their scenic property accessible to others.

The family created the Madla Ranch Campground.

“They ran it for about 40, almost 50 years,” Neumann said. “The Madla campground, beautiful piece of water.”

Requa eventually sold off much of his land as residential property.

The neighborhood’s hidden gems

Down yet another gravel road off Scenic Loop Road, Neumann pulled his car into the grass and walked our crew toward a creek.

Of all the creeks in the area that are marked on a map, this one is not.

“What we’re looking at here is a collapsed karst feature,” he said, standing along its edge. “It is absolutely spectacular when the water is running because you have the waterfalls that double cascade over this into this pond.”

The water feature doesn’t have a name, though. Not an official one anyway.

So how do neighbors even know it’s there?

“Just walking,” Neumann said.

There’s another spot only neighbors know, though it does have a name: The Pool.

It’s a natural swimming hole that sits across from the Grey Forest Community Center.

There are posted signs warning “no lifeguard on duty,” and other acknowledgements that this swimming hole is not your traditional summer spot.

Stone bathhouses that were once used in their prime have now deteriorated.

“Ruins now, but they’re WPA era, 1930,” Neumann said.

But the water is still there, and Neumann and Nottingham say locals still swim here.

The day we saw the swimming spot the water was dark and murky, but Nottingham told us, “If we had a gully washer we could get that out. We could wash that out. And as soon as it fills up, people will start swimming again.”

William Krempkau and fried chicken

Ranches once owned by colorful characters who rose to fame in the Helotes and San Antonio areas pepper this neighborhood.

William Krempkau was one of those characters.

“He went up the trail with cattle at the age of 16 and made enough money to buy this ranch,” Neumann said. “He was actually a very big piece of the old Freighters Association here in San Antonio.”

While Krempkau owned land in the neighborhood, he lived in San Antonio.

The remnants of his ranch house still stand on privately owned property in the neighborhood where legend has it Krempkau did a lot of entertaining.

“He was apparently big on frying chicken,” Neumann said. “He would have big chicken dinners out here and game dinners, too, and invite all of his friends. And it was a big deal in its day. It continued, I think, up until the 1930s.”

Often, such ranches have been handed down through families for generations.

A history of history

In 1962, parts of the neighborhood were incorporated into the City of Grey Forest.

“Because we didn’t want San Antonio to take us,” Nottingham said. “And they would have.”

In 2009, Preservation Texas named the Scenic Loop-Boerne Stage Corridor as one of the most endangered historic places in the state.

“We wanted to make this a historic district,” Nottingham said. “We had cataloged all the houses in Grey Forest. When we started, we would have had enough to make it. By the time we finished, so much construction had been done on those houses that they didn’t qualify anymore.”

While Nottingham and Neumann are the go-to historians in the neighborhood, they say they are always making discoveries.

“All the time, all the time,” Neumann said. “It’s like an onion. You just keep peeling and peeling and peeling.”

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About the Authors

Myra Arthur is passionate about San Antonio and sharing its stories. She graduated high school in the Alamo City and always wanted to anchor and report in her hometown. Myra anchors KSAT News at 6:00 p.m. and hosts and reports for the streaming show, KSAT Explains. She joined KSAT in 2012 after anchoring and reporting in Waco and Corpus Christi.

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