Texas has played a role in bat conservation and study for years, and for good reason. Among over 30 other species, the Mexican free-tailed bat migrates northward to the Hill Country for its “summer home.” As a result, man-made structures such as the South Congress Bridge in Austin, and Old Tunnel State Park (a retired railroad tunnel) near Fredericksburg, have attracted both bats and the folks who love them.

Did you know over 100 years ago one of the first bat colony structures was erected near Comfort? It wasn’t designed as a means for bat conservation, however. It was meant to curb a debilitating and often deadly disease.

In the early 20th century, malaria was an outright killer, the parasite carrying it spread to humans by specific breeds of mosquito. While more common in tropical countries, malaria was also a concern in the southern United States. After concentrated research, anti-malarial drugs and pest-controlling pesticides gained traction after World War II, and the disease was eliminated by 1952.

However, in 1907 malaria was still a grave concern, and a couple of forward-thinking Texans concentrated on its reduction, if not its full elimination. Former San Antonio mayor Albert Steves commissioned a city health officer, Dr. Charles A. R. Campbell, to design a bat-attracting structure. After all, bats have a famously voracious appetite for mosquitoes; one solitary bat can eat 6,000 to 8,000 of them a night! Even a small colony, it was reckoned, would help curtail the pests.

Campbell made a slender pyramid-shaped tower 30 feet tall, with a single entrance for the bats. The upper chamber of the tower was for the bats, the lower one for maintenance and guano deposits. A seven-foot clearance under the tower let wagons collect the guano, a valuable fertilizer.

Patented in 1907, several towers were erected in the San Antonio area. Steves had one built on his property near Comfort in 1918, when he coined the term “hygieostatic bat roost,” using the Greek words for “health” and “standing” as inspiration. In total, there were 16 of Campbell’s bat condos ranging from Texas to Italy.

The roosts’ overall performance seemed to be lukewarm at best. Some never attracted any bats, even with bait; some attracted sparrows and other critters instead. However, after careful trial and error (including a “secret formula” Campbell used to attract bats), the one in Comfort drew a stable colony, and over the 100 years since has housed between 1,000 and 10,000 of the mosquito hunters.

Of all the towers erected, only the one near Comfort still stands. One near Orange, Texas, collapsed sometime late in the 20th century, and a replica was built. Another in Sugarloaf Key, Florida, stood until the winds of Hurricane Irma took it down in 2017; no decision has yet been made whether to rebuild it or not. Due to its unique status and historical significance, Comfort’s bat roost was made a Texas Historical landmark in 1981, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places two years later.

The bat tower is located on private property owned by Albert Steve’s descendants, but is nonetheless visible from the road. It’s located one-and-a-half miles east of Comfort on Farm to Market Road 173, and is to the right when you’re headed east. Please respect your fellow travelers, and private property, when viewing the roost. Find this location and hundreds of other local attractions in our Hill Country Travel App.