William Corner.

San Antonio de Bexar; a guide and history online

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can be made. It only re([uires a little searching for every class to be made
perfectly comfortable. In fine, San Antonio, if not provided specifically with a
large number of good boarding houses, is nevertheless a city in which living is
made easy, not to say delightful. Mention nmst here be made of two excellent
imstitutions, the Webb hou.se, on Houston street — liplf boarding house, half hotel
— spoken of highly as a place of comfort, and the Alamo Flats, on Alamo Plaza, a
most convenient arrangement of rooms and suites of rooms, nicel>- furnished and
excellently well conducted under its present management.

Restaurants. — Good ones are Harnisch & Baer's, on Alamo Plaza; the
Elite, at the corner of Soledad .street and Main Plaza: and Lang's Dining Room,
on Commerce street.



6 SAN AXTOXIO DE BEXAR.

Street Car Lines and Street Railways.

The Belknap System of Lines comes first. For years — since 1878
almost up to the present time — this system was the only one which San Antonio
had. It was inaugurated by the late Col. Augustus Belknap, formerly such a
popular and genial figure in our communit3\ It is now under the management
of the able president of the company, Mr. W. H. Weiss. We have other systems
and lines, and still others are projected. This system serves about all parts of
the city, and all its lines, except the Flores street line, focus on the Alamo Plaza.
Taking, therefore, the Alamo Plaza as a starting point, we will describe this
system, mentioning principal streets, in progress and the termini.

The Scarlet Lake Cars, named San Pedro line, take Houston street, turning
north to Acequia street to San Pedro avenue and San Pedro Springs, turning east
awhile down Locust street, then north again through Crockett Place and encom-
pa.ssing Laurel Heights, back to and terminating on San Pedro avenue, far above
the Springs. Night light, red; fare, a nickel. Electric line.

The Green Cars, named Avenue C line, take Houston street, shortly turning
north on Avenue C to the Southern Pacific depot, following Austin street to
Carson street to Grayson street to Government Post, terminating at the southwest
corner of the New Post. Night light, green; fare, a nickel. Electric line.

The Orange Cars, named City Hall line, take Houston street. Sole-
dad street south, across Main Plaza to Military Plaza, Dolorosa street. West
Commerce .street to the I. & G. N. depot, where it terminates. Night light,
orange; fare, a nickel. Electric line.

The Dull Red Cars, named S. A. & A. P. R. R. line, takes Alamo street
.south to Mill street to the S. A. & A. P. R. R. depot. Night light, red; fare, a
nickel.

The white cars, named Cemetery line, take East Commerce street to ceme-
teries. Fare, a nickel; color, yellow and green.

The Yellow Cars plying between vSan Pedro Springs to North Flores street, to
Military Plaza, to South Flores .street and Arsenal, to S. A. & A. P. R. R. depot
terminating on South Flores .street .south of that depot. Night light, purple ; fare,
nickel.

The McCrillis, or Alamo Electric Street R. R. System, is next in impor-
tance. Going south from the heart of the city it crosses Houston and Commerce
streets on Navarro street, cro.sses the Mill bridge down Garden street, turning
on Mill street to Presa street, going far down that street, terminating at the
P'air and J'4. The famous siege began February 22d,
183G. The " Fall of the Alamo" occurred March Gth, IS^O.

A visitor to-day at " The Alamo," will be met at its entrance by the worthy
janitor, Capt. Tom Rife, a Texan of pioneer days. He guards the building with
a jealous care it is indeed a pleasure to note in these days of the irrepressible
relic hunter and wall scribbler. The visitor will be given in short the particulars
of the foundation of the Mission and the church. A description will be given him
of the desperate stand to the last man of Travis, Bowie (the inventor of the cele-
brated bowie knife), "Davy" Crockett, Bonham, and their companions, in de-
fense of their countrymen's liberties and the independence of Texas. One hun-
dred and seventy or more men, with sublime recklessness, decided that they would
never surrender or retreat. Death to each was the cost of this magnificent temer-
ity. He will be shown the arch pillars upon either side, evidences of a massive
arched roof and dome, the remains of the towers, with the vaulted ceilings to the
ground floor cells, the connection of the place with the convent from the choir,
the cruciform of the Church, the site of the dome, the room used as a powder
magazine during the siege, which is interesting for its massive walls and strong,
vaulted stone roof or ceiling, and for the fact that it was here that Evans was
shot in a last vain endeavor to set fire to the residue of the ammunition and that
in all probability it was here that Bowie was bayoneted on his sick bed too ill of
typhoid fever to do anything but set a high example of admirable fortitude and
courage. The present roof some of the upper windows and floorings and other
improvements, the visitor will be reminded are modern. The captain will be
found ever ready to answer the ({uestions that naturally arise to those not too
familiar with the Alamo's eventful history.

Some Further Notes on the Alamo.

Anil lluir (laff flonlcd out on tlie breeze

Like tremulous haiuls stretched fortli to Mess."

The l)uil(liiig now commonly known as the Alamo, and which is really the
Church of the Mission of the Alamo, or of San Antonio de Valero, is on the east
side of the Alamo Pla/.a, its carved front faces west ; it stands at a point a little

* "Alamo " is the S])atiish name for the eotlonwood tree, a species of po]>lar quite common upon the hanks
of Texas rivers and creeks ; its limber is in deninn

north of midway on the east side of this Plaza, as at present constituted. As will
be .seen on reference to the plan of the Mission as it originally was, both the
Alamo Church and the Convent yard were outside the eastern boundary of the
ancient enclosure known as the "Square of the Mission." This enclosure ex-
tended its northwest corner down Avenue D one hundred feet or more, embracing
with the north-west vi^alls a good portion of the actual building site of the new
federal building. Its western boundary was almost exactly along the sidewalk
past the Ma\-erick homestead across Houston street past the Maverick Bank and
the row of buildings following on the west side of Alamo Plaza. The boundary
all along here, as is most frequently the case with these Missions, consisted of
dwellings and barracks for the use of those connected with or dependants of the
old Missions. Two irrigation ditches or acequias, both of them abandoned many
years ago. ran upon each side of this row of dwellings, one a branch of a branch
and the other a branch called the Acequia del Alamo of the Villita ditch, now
running under the eastern wall of the Church through the Menger hotel on to "La
Villita," which ditch, by the way, is it.self a branch of a main acequia (Acequia
Madre del Alamo) which passes farther east from the head of the river and on to
Water street. All these ditches were u.sed not only for irrigating the lands in the
immediate vicinity and belonging to the Missions, but provided water for the
domestic uses of the Padres and their numerous dependants and coadjutors.
Similar dwellings and buildings to those mentioned formed the northeastern
corner of the square. The southern boundary was more prominent on account of
the strongly built entrance and sally-port of the square being there. The build-
ing each side of the entrance were most commonly used as a prison and strong-
hold ; further mention of this building will appear later. Hardly a vestige o^
these enclosing walls of the Mission Square could be found to-day. The eastern
wall or boundary was also conspicuous for the Convent buildings which it in-
cluded, and upon these Convent foundations Honore Grenet, in the year LS7.S,
built for a grocery warehouse the inartistic erection now occupied by the firm of
Hugo & Schmeltzer. This property has been condemned by the cit}' (1889) so
that these remnants, too, will in all probability soon disappear before the mandates
of improvement committees; when, all that will be left of this once prominent and
always most famous of the Texas Missions will be those walls in the form of a
cross, which with " ears to hear," caught to themselves the secrets of the closing
scenes of a sublime tragedy. They alone know the last personal results of a
unanimous resolve of desperate but calmly deliberate heroism. Old, battered,
time-worn, silent walls, no word of any single hero's prowess, or separate and
supreme feats do your portals tell. They are carved with emblems and signs of
quite another story. Those deeds are your secret. Nevertheless, echoed from
you, shall be heard the whispers adown the farthest "corridor of time" of a mag-
nificent story of reckless and innnovable self-sacrifice.

East of the Convent building, projected from its walls the Convent yard, a
rectangular enclosure, about 100 feet square, surrounded by strong walls, it touched
and joined with its southeast corner the wall of the near corner of the north
wing of the cross formed by the walls of the Mission Church. The Convent
building was 1*.)1 feet long, running to the .south line of East Hou.ston street, so
no doubt on the north side of the Convent yard was another enclosure proba-



10 SAN ANTONIO DE BEXAR.

bly fenced with a wall, but not of the importance of the main Convent vard. The
Convent, the Convent yard, the prison building already mentioned, and which
was existing till isiid, 'when a sionu l)le\v the roof off) or later, the space imme-
diately in front of the Alamo Church which was protected by a temporary
battery stockade of cedar posts and earthworks stretching from the prison build-
ing to the southwest corner of the Church, and lastly, the Church itself, were the
chief scenes of the siege of February and March, IS.W). In the Church the last
desperate stand ot the remnant of the defenders was made. These portions of
the Mission were those that in these later troubles were commonly understood to
constitute the fortress of the Alamo. While some of the dwellings might have
been used and undoubtedly were used as barracks by larger forces, it could not
have been but impossible for a handful of men (less than 180) to have manned
the whole extensive original walls of the Mission square. Indeed, tradition says
that much of the western and northern boundaries of the large Mission square
had been destroyed in 1885, before the siege, and that even the prison portion
was abandoned quite early in the siege, though still covered by unerring marks-
men with the long rifles which the Texans knew so well how to handle. Before,
General Cos did much to damage the place as a tenable fortress and during and
after the siege, the walls were dismantled. Piecemeal, " here a little and there a
little," the old Mission has been improved off the face of the earth. Very for-
lorn and dilapidated must it have appeared when it left the hands of Santa Anna
and his myrmidons in the spring of 1836. " The Alamo," says Kendall, writing
of 1S41 " is now in ruins, only two or three of the houses being inhabited."
For thirteen or fourteen years after "the fall," the place remained in a
state of almost absolute ruin. For much less than a century had this
church stood in the beauty of completeness. There are strong evidences
that the Alamo Church in original general design resembled the Church
of the Mission Concepcion, that is to say, it had a carved front, on either side of
which was a tower with baptismal or vestry rooms at their bases, with belfries in
their second stories. Both Churches were built in the form of the cross and had
similar arches and arched stone roofs. The Alamo Church, probabl}- like the
Mission Concepcion Church; had a dome at the intersection of the cross arches.
Here, perhaps, the resemblance between the two Churches ceased Now, long
before the siege, tradition says, the towers had disappeared, the roof and dome had
mostly fallen in, ])ut what was left of the walls stood bravely up. These thick,
strong walls, the Convent with its yard and • the carcel or pri.son entrance were
recognized by the many military leaders of the various factions and armies in the
struggles and troublous times of the early part of the present century as about
the safest harbor of refuge the neighborhood afforded, as at times others of the
Missions were considered good frontier fortresses.

About the year 1849, Major E. B, Babbitt, acting Quartermaster of the
Eighth Military Department, and father of the pre.sent popular commander of the
Arsenal, Major Lawrence S. Babbitt, took pos.session of the Alamo buildings in
the name of the U. S. Government to use them as a yuartermaster's Depot.
The ownership of the Alamo was disputed at this time, the city claiming it on
the one side, the Roman Catholic Church ujion the oilier. The city claimed
from Major Iv. P,. lialibitt, on January .'Id, 1S.")(), rents due for the occuiiation of



THI-: ALAMO. 1 I

the '■ bviilclings and proi)i.rtv known as tlic Alamo." In a .snbse(inent snit which
the cit}- lost, Bishop Odin, on behalf of his Chnrch. proved her title to the
property.

Major Babbitt, as has been said, found the whole place in appearance an ab-
solute ruin. The Church buildino; was choked with debris, a conglomeration of
stones, mortar and dirt foiming on the inside a slanting heap from the base of the
rear wall to the top of the front " so that a person could run up and look over the
top of the front." Much work was necessary to put the place into anything like
the shape necessary for offices and depot houses, and sheds. The Major set to
work to do this. The Church was first cleared, and deep down in the debris were
found two or three skeletons that had evidently been hastily covered with rub-
bish after the fall, for with them were found fur caps and buckskin trappings,
undoubted relics of the ever memorable last stand. In a later year, March 29,
1878, other skeletons buried at an earlier and apparently more peaceful period,
were unearthed in the Church, and a beautifully carved baptismal font was
brought to light, November lo, 1.S78. What varied scenes in the life of man it
had witnessed I One would be tempted to moralize writing for anything else
but the pages of a bald historical guide. The next work done was the repairing
of the front. To restore the upper part of it to its original form was impracticable.
Bare practical utility is the desired feature of any Government Military work.
So the top was finished off in its present modest shape, the rest of the walls were
raised to an equal height, a roof was added, and to assist in bearing up this roof,
two stone pillars were built inside at points in the wings of the cross in line with
the arch pillars. A second floor was added, and in the southwest tower, once a
belfry, an office was made. Other offices were added on the ground floor. xA
few troops were at first quartered in the Church, the Convent and yard were also
fitted up for storerooms, stables and sheds. The carcel was also roofed and
cleared, and a .serviceable granary was made of it and used as such by the Quar-
termasters for many years. It was demolished soon after the war, the wind be-
ginning this work of destruction in 186(). This old prison building used to stand
east and west across the north end of the garden of the Alamo Plaza and its
foundations were brought to light in INS'.I, when the leveling of the Plaza, prepar-
atory to laying mesquite blocks, began. The buildings as restored by Major
Babbitt, were used as a Quartermaster's Depot bj' the United States troops
until the breaking out of the war, when the Confederate authorities u.sed it for a
similar purpo.se. After the war it was again used by the United States Govern-
ment until the new Quartermaster Depot was read}' on Government Hill, on
January ."51 , 1S7N.

In 1877 Grenet purchased the Convent portion of the Alamo property, and
shortly (October 5, 1878) erected the atrocious lumber building before noticed.
Objection was made on the part of the Church authorities to using the Alamo
Church building as a mercantile storeroom, yet it undoubtedly was used for this
at times. Early in 1883 the State began negotiations for the purchase of the old
Church, and under Act of April "23, 1883, this was done, and on Ma}' Ki, the
final transfer to the State for 820,000 was made. This was the right and proper
thing to do, and it was but a slight recognition of the valor of the men to whom



12 SAN ANTONIO DE BEXAR.

Texas owes so much, not to mention the man}' other historical associations that
its walls embody. Man)- particulars and details of the foundation and earlier
history of this Church and the Mission will he found in Sidney Lanier's histori-
cal sketch. These notes are intended in part to supplement and fit into his ex-
cellent description.

The Cathedral of San Fernando-

This structure, once merely a Parish Church, now a Cathedral (the first Bishop
of San Antonio was installed here Christmas eve, 1S74), is a mixture of the old
and new regimes. All that is left of the old building is the rear part, easily dis-
tinguished by its marked Moorish characteristics, its dome and massive walls and
octagonal design. The first Parish Church seems to have been built by
sub.scription and the ' ' subject of the construction was first considered in the Royal
Presidio of San Antonio de Bexar, February 17th, 1788.* Don Prudencio de
Orobio Basterra being Governor and Captain-General of the Spanish State of
Texas, and Don Juan Rezio de Leon being Curate, Vicar and Ecclesiastical Ju.stice
of the town of San Fernando (without the Presidio of San Antonio), and it was
resolved that this Parish Church should be erected under the invocation of the
Virgin and our Lady of Guadalupe." Many Spanish names which appear in the
original list of contributors are names well known in the present day, held by
descendants. This old Church stood upon much the same ground as the modern
structure does, that is, midway between the two Plazas, the Main and the Mili-
tary. It bore, however, a nearer relation to the Military Plaza and its habitants
than to the other, for it was here mostly that Spain's soldier-guardians of her
border colonies dwelt, and it was for their use. more especially, that the Church
was designed. t

The corner stone of the new structure was laid on vSeptenil)er •27th, ISOS.
The old main dome was destroyed April 29th, 1S72, and the new walls went up
outside the old, so that the Church was only for a short time in disuse. July -"kl,
1873, the old front was torn down. F. Giraud, who was Mayor of San Antonio
at the opening, October 6th, 1873, had furnished the architect's plans and speci-
fications. It was the intention of the architect to lia\e two similar towers, yet
only one was partially completed. These tow^ers were to have additional struc-
tures of wood surmounting the masonry, twenty-five feet above the summit of the
tower now erected. In this tower are several bells that chime out morning, noon
and evening, telling to all the city the time of day. Daily services are held,
the vSunday morning congregation is, as a rule, large, and then the mu.sic is good
and well worth hearing. The Church is open all day and under the care of a
sacristan. There is an old and interesting font and several large pictures and
other notalile decorations. The present Bishop is San Antonio's second — the
Right Reverend J. C. Neraz.

AiiolliL-r autliorilv says llial Uk- fouiutation sloiic of tliis old Church was laid May i^nIIi, i;;,,).

— (.V,/// Antonio llfrohi. July nUi. iS72)-

t There was formerly mention existing in the church records of a still older church buildiuj? on a different
site, at about No. 500 North Laredo street ; all traces of this foundation have entirely disappeared. It was the
oriy^in of the old San I'crnando Parish Church, and in a measure the huildin>; of the latter was probably a re-
moval mcrclv Troin the I, arcilo street site.




S»-"H4



Tin-: MISSIONS. 13

The Missions.

" Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear,
Blest be the man that spares these stones."


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Online LibraryWilliam CornerSan Antonio de Bexar; a guide and history → online text (page 2 of 22)