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From 1886 until his death in 1898, Nelson Mackey dominated the business and politics of San Antonio. He was larger than life and embodied a spirit of growth that has seldom been equaled in the community.
The Inimitable Nelson Mackey
Nelson Mackey first appeared in San Antonio in the late 1870s. San Antonio legend relates that Nelson Mackey was born in Catskill, New York in 1825. At one time, he lived in Des Moines, Iowa and Chicago, Illinois. He reportedly lost his mercantile business to the Chicago fire in 1871.
He invested in Texas land as a partner with Adams and Wickes. It is reported that he made $16,000 on a land investment in the Rio Grande Valley, which would become the nucleus of his wealth. He managed the Maverick Hotel in downtown San Antonio and created a business hauling sand from Leon Creek to the builders of San Antonio.
Supposedly, during regular trips to Leon Creek, Mackey would stop and take lunch on a small rise west of San Antonio. He was so fond of the location he purchased the surrounding 170 acres and named it after a landmark of his native New York: Prospect Hill. He divided the property and sold lots creating one of San Antonio’s earliest suburbs.
He built the Mackey Building on Houston Street (known as the Mackey Block) in San Antonio and later converted a portion into the St. James Hotel.
The baseball team, the San Antonio Mackeys, with their distinctive uniforms, made of striped mattress ticking, was his creation and passion. Their games with San Antonio’s other team, the Jokers, were well-attended spectacles.
Mackey served three terms as San Antonio City alderman-at-large and acquired the nickname “Cyclone Mackey” for his combative style. He was often urged to run for mayor but always declined.
He patronized the San Antonio Opera House and was instrumental in its reopening in 1893. His nephew, Walter Allen, brought the production The Isle of Champagne from Brooklyn, New York to San Antonio. That season the audiences were treated to one of the most exciting schedules of comedies, dramas, and novelty acts in San Antonio’s history.
However, by far Nelson Mackey’s greatest contribution came from his association with Calaveras of Wilson County, Texas.