I grew up in San Antonio and have fond childhood memories of stopping by the “big giant map” that is laid right outside the Convention Center downtown. Since I joined Alamo City Mom’s Blog, I’ve been planning to get around to writing a post about it. I was sure I’d be able to find out all sorts of fascinating history about the map, which I knew I would want to share with our readers. In fact, while my research alerted me to the map’s official name, the “Patio of States,” it turned up little else. When I mentioned the topic to friends and coworkers, relatively few people, including native San Antonians, had any idea what I was talking about. So, while I regret that this post doesn’t include the kind of San Antonio lore I discuss here and here, I hope it provides an overdue introduction to an underpublicized, free, and accessible attraction.[hr] The map was created by cutting different types of stone into the shapes of the 50 United States and laying each state-shaped piece into the ground. The map is 100% accessible to pedestrians, strollers, and wheelchairs. It appeals to a wide range of ages. My 18-month old was happy just to have a big space to run around. My then-three-year old recognizes a few states and enjoyed some more directed activities. Here are a few suggestions for getting your own little sidekicks engaged.[hr]
Point out San Antonio (identified with a sketch of the Alamo)…
and Washington, D.C. (marked with a star).
If your family has roots outside of Texas, have your child locate the various states from which your “people” hail.
I was born in Birmingham (a fact that is never more relevant than when Sweet Home Alabama comes out of the jukebox and I am compelled to take it to the dance floor or–in my younger days–the top of the bar), so we made sure to “visit” the Heart of Dixie. [hr]
Check out the Four Corners, the only place in the country where four states (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona) meet.
If you’re an inscrutable three-year old, pantomime surfing in the American Southwest.[hr]
Play hopscotch on Hawaii or the thirteen colonies. [hr]
Convince yourself that Texas is really, REALLY big.
If your kids demand objective evidence, measure out a length of ribbon (bring a spool) long enough to stretch from El Paso to Beaumont, as the crow flies.
Move the ribbon west, to demonstrate that the intrastate distance is greater than the distance between El Paso and the Pacific Ocean.
Then move it east, to show that Beaumont is closer to the Atlantic Ocean than it is to El Paso.
Point out some of the ways that American history is reflected in the shapes of the states. One of my favorite examples is Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which–by all rights–looks like it should be a part of Wisconsin or its own state entirely. As it turns out, the peninsula was given to Michigan at the time it joined the Union, in consideration of Michigan’s surrendering its claim to the Toledo Strip, a narrow piece of land along the border of Michigan and Ohio.
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established the Northwest Territory, specifying that it should be divided into between three and five states. The north-south boundary for three of the states was to be an east-west line drawn through the southern tip of Lake Michigan. At the time, Congress thought it knew where the southern tip of the lake was and, accordingly, where the boundary should be drawn. During the 1802 Ohio Constitutional Convention, the delegates received a report from a fur trapper that Lake Michigan extended significantly further south than had previously been believed (or mapped). If correct, the trapper’s report would move the state boundary south, causing Ohio to lose land area and possibly access to Lake Erie. The new state of Ohio and the Michigan Territory disputed the location of their shared boundary until 1836.
At the time the compromise (statehood and the Upper Peninsula in exchange for the Toledo Strip) was made, it was considered a poor outcome for Michigan. The Toledo Strip was believed to be far more valuable than the Upper Peninsula hinterlands. In the fullness of time, however, the discovery of copper, iron, and abundant timber in the Upper Peninsula made clear that Michigan had done well to trade the Toledo Strip for the resource-rich Upper Peninsula.
If your kids are older, do time trials to see how fast they can tag all the states, in alphabetical order. If they are mathemagicians, bring a ruler or tape measure. Have them deduce the scale of the map based on one or more measurements they take and known geographical distances. Here’s an assist: the scale is 1 inch: 3.75 miles.[hr]
Point out the 3/8 scale model of the Liberty Bell, complete with imitation crack. You read that fraction correctly: although the Liberty Bell looms large in our collective imagination, it’s only about three feet tall and four feet in diameter at the lip. I’ve seen the real Bell in person and should remember better, but I picture it as being about ten feet tall and proportioned accordingly.
The Patio of States is located in front of the Convention Center at 200 East Market Street. It’s right at the corner of Market and Alamo Plaza.
Depending on your children’s ages, interest, and attention spans, it’s a great place to burn ten minutes or over an hour. Thomas spent a significant portion of our outing getting his mind blown by ground cover.
If you have suggestions for other activities involving the Big Giant Map, please post them in the comments below![hr]