There was a time when San Marcos had one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Texas. The small town outside of Austin was home to Aquarena Springs, one of the most unique hotels and theme parks of its time. The main focus? Mermaids.
A.B. Rogers purchased 125 acres of land in the city of San Marcos back in 1926 with a desire to create a unique vacation spot in the small Texas town. In 1951, Rogers launched the world's only Submarine Theater with some unique stars that drew up to 250,000 annual visitors during its peak. The resort featured Glurpo the underwater clown, glass-bottom boat tours, the Swiss Skyride, Texana Village and Ralph the swimming pig. People came from far and wide to see the underwater mermaid shows (known as aquamaids at the time) as well as the charming pig Ralph. The resort could even execute underwater weddings.
Unfortunately, the amusement park closed down in the '90s and the remnants have since been abandoned. But the city embraced its aquatic past. Texas State University built the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, which gives visitors the chance to explore nature. Field tours provide educational information about Spring Lake's ecosystem, and there's even a Splash Into Science Snorkel Program that lets you learn about the history of the lake up close. The glass-bottom boat tours were also brought back as an homage to the city's Aquarena Springs days.
San Marcos was not ready to let go of its unique history. In 2016, the San Marcos Mermaid Society was founded to keep the tradition of mermaids alive. Members of the society help execute volunteer events to clean up the San Marcos River and even hold local events. The Mermaid Festival, known as the annual Mermaid SPLASH Festival (Stewardship, Preservation, Local, Arts, Sustainability, Heritage), is one of the society's most popular events. The 15-day event is full of live music, a massive river cleanup, mermaid themed art, entertainment and more.
As a further nod to its unique past, San Marcos erected 10 painted Aquamaid statues throughout the downtown area in 2018. Local artists submitted applications for the chance to paint the sculptures. Out of 61 applicants, 10 artists were chosen.
"This is kind of a way to remember that history," Recreation Programs Manager Lisa Morris told My San Antonio. "The arts commission wanted something that was representative of San Marcos...something with a 'wow' factor, something unique."
Last year, San Marcos sought to obtain official designation as The Mermaid Capital of Texas. While the legislature failed to pass the official designation, the legacy of Aquarena Springs and the San Marcos mermaids is as vibrant as ever.