SAN ANTONIO - When officials last month turned over the ceremonial first spade of earth to signal the start of construction on Toyota Motor Corp.'s assembly plant here, they ended a way of life that has been at the heart of Texas history.
The plant will rise on a 2,600-acre ranch nine miles south of downtown San Antonio that has been in by the same family since 1794, when King Charles IV of Spain granted it to Col. Juan Ignacio Perez de Casanova, a young colonist from the Canary Islands.
Don Ignacio named his property el Rancho de la Purisima Concepcion - although that poetic name got shortened somewhere along the line to the more austere JLC Ranch. In 1986, the JLC was designated as the oldest working ranch in Texas.
Seven generations of Don Ignacio's descendants weathered wars, droughts, floods and economic downturns to keep the ranch working and in the family. But in the end, they were beaten by a city spreading inexorably southward.
"I know my Spanish ancestors could never have imagined a Japanese company some day owning the property," says John Small, a 29-year-old U.S. Customs inspector who was the ranch's final owner.
"But I also don't think they could have foreseen it staying in the family for 209 years either."