Goliad State Historical Park, which features the only standing mission-presidio complex in the United States, is located on the north side of the San Antonio River across the road from the chapel of Nuestra Señora de Loreto Presidio, known as La Bahía Mission. The park lies in cattle-ranching land approximately half a mile south of Goliad, Texas, and north of the old Presidio La Bahía historic townsite on Highway 183, where the Coastal Plain breaks and begins to rise in a series of escarpments in brush country dominated by mesquite, prickly pear cactus, and other thorny brush. The park, which comprises 184 acres, features Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga Mission, one of the longest-lived missions in Texas history. The mission church is reconstructed as it was in 1783. The park includes a workshop, museum, park headquarters, campground, picnic and day use areas, and hiking trails; the reconstructed birthplace of Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza, hero of Cinco de Mayo; Nuestra Señora del Rosario Mission, a state archeological landmark, closed to the public as of 1990; and the site of the battle of Coleto, where Col. James W. Fannin and his command surrendered to Mexican troops commanded by Gen. José de Urrea on March 20, 1836. A day-use site with picnic grounds was established here in 1913, and a historical marker was placed during the Texas Centennial year, 1936.
The park was established by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1933 and 1941 to preserve its historic sites and commemorate historical events of the Texas Revolution and Spanish Texas. Originally conceived by Judge J. A. White and other leading citizens of Goliad, it was managed by a three-member park commission after the 1921 legislation that established the state park system. The city of Goliad and Goliad County acquired the property on February 24, 1930, when the Texas Highway Commission agreed to build a road through the park, on condition that the site be given to the state to beautify as a state park. The Forty-second Legislature approved the transfer on March 24, 1931, accepting it along with the Mission Espíritu Santo tract, the Zaragoza homesite, and tracts in old La Bahía. The Mission Rosario site, donated to Goliad County by William O'Connor in 1935, was transferred to the state in 1971. Between 1935 and 1941 the Civilian Conservation Corps conducted archeological and historical research while reconstructing the Mission Espíritu Santo, park headquarters, and superintendent's residence. In 1936, as part of the Texas Centennial celebration, the CCC erected a grave marker on the Fannin burial site and constructed a stadium and auditorium. In 1949 the state legislature transferred control of the park to the State Parks Board (later the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department). The Zaragoza site was transferred to this department in 1961 and became part of Goliad State Park in 1971, when the department acquired the Mission Rosario site.
Occupation of the area first occurred sometime between 2000 and 1000 B.C. On the evidence of stone tools, projectile points, and other artifacts, archeologists have determined that a nearby hill was first used for hunting and burials. Indian inhabitants of the Spanish colonial period known as the Aranamas, a hunting and gathering people, quickly adapted to goods introduced by the Spanish and learned to use metal straps, coins, and damaged horse equipment to make awls, arrowheads, and decorations. Subsequent population growth increased armed conflicts in the region. Spanish explorers, including Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, crisscrossed the area as late as the early 1700s. The mission period in the Goliad area began around 1685, after the founding of Fort St. Louis by René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. Mission Espíritu Santo was constructed in the late Spanish period to Christianize the Karankawas and later the Aranamas and introduce them to Spanish customs. Presidio La Bahía was moved to the site in 1749, when efforts to construct an acequia system at its previous location failed to obtain access to San Antonio River water. With the mission came the Aranamas. The mission was built by priests supervising Indian labor, its walls of dressed stone set with a sandy and fragile mortar and averaging three feet thick. The outer surfaces of the walls were of heavier dressed stone, and the interiors were made of rubble and filled with small stones and river gravel. With the mission came Presidio La Bahía, considered strategically important in the Spanish colonial, Mexican, and Republic of Texas periods. The new mission, founded and developed by Franciscans trained at the College of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Zacatecas, provided religious teaching in its chapel and trained Indians to spin cotton and wool and weave clothing in its workshop. Other structures included stone perimeter walls, a granary for storage, the convento or priests' quarters, and Indian jacals. The mission became one of the first big cattle ranches in Texas, with an estimated 40,000 head in 1777. Presidial commander Manuel Ramírez de la Piscina and Fr. Ignacio Antonio Ciprián of the mission worked closely to ensure mutual success for the next fifteen to twenty years. The town of La Bahía grew up around the presidio walls, and presidio soldiers helped establish Mission Rosario for the Karankawas four miles away. Coiled pottery known as Goliad ware was recovered from the site in the 1930s, and burial specimens were sent to the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory in Austin. Other excavations done in the 1970s uncovered manuscripts housed in the mission library. The two missions prospered until the 1778 mesteño ("mustang") law allowed private individuals and ranchers to acquire free-roaming unbranded cattle once property of the king of Spain, thereby destroying their economic support. Mission Nuestra Señora del Rosario closed in 1807. Its buildings were subsequently used as a roadside camp by travelers and destroyed by vandals. Mission Espíritu Santo, closed by the Mexican government in 1830, supplied stone and lumber for local inhabitants. Its granary was converted into a school that in 1853 became Aranama College, and its remaining buildings were destroyed by a hurricane in the 1880s. The park, which charges use fees for campsites and RV spaces, has no admission fee and is open all year except Christmas Day. Yearly events include a July 4 celebration, a December seasonal event, and a spring crafts show and concert.