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The History of the Alamo Part VIII: A Historic Battlefield Erased

The Alamo and Valero Plazas in 1890. This was the Alamo battlefield in 1836.
Ron Current

My last post told the story of the Alamo’s church in the 20th century while under the control of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. In this post I’ll go back a little in the timeline to bring you up to speed on what was happening to the Alamo Plaza while de Zavala and Driscoll were battling over the Alamo’s two remaining buildings. Knowing this history will help you to better understand how the Alamo came to be what it is today. 

It all began with Sam Maverick

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the History of the Alamo Part III, it was Samuel A. Maverick, and his purchasing of the largest sections of the old mission/fort’s grounds, that set the stage for what the Alamo Plaza would become.

His subdividing and selling of the land where the west and north walls had stood, as well as tearing down what original buildings that were left along those walls, had erased the majority of that hallowed ground where the heaviest fighting of 1836 had taken place. Also, with the ownership of these lands in the hands of different individuals and companies it would make the restoration of the Alamo battlefield extremely difficult in the future.

Samuel A. Maverick

When Maverick was subdividing the old mission grounds he left the compound’s large central open area intact. This he donated to the City of San Antonio, and it became Alamo Plaza. During its mission and fort periods this area was not a traditional plaza. Being surrounded by the compound’s walls it would have been the fort’s parade ground.

However, just outside of the Alamo’s main gate was the Plaza de Valero. Valero was a true plaza, a large open common area surrounded by houses with a road that led up to the Alamo’s gate. This plaza was never owned by the Catholic Church, as was Alamo Plaza, and was always municipal land.


 Creating a plaza from a battlefield 

These two open areas had been separated by the Alamo’s main gate building, the Low Barracks, until that was demolished in 1871. Once the Low Barracks was removed residents could now enjoy one of the largest open spaces in the entire city, that’s until it rained. When it rained this whole space became one impassable, gigantic mud hole. 

Between 1888-89, the City of San Antonio undertook a major paving program to solve this mud issue on the two Plazas. The paving material of choice was the ever abundant Mesquite woodblocks.

The city also required that the stores and property owners bordering the plazas install sidewalks. While the paving was taking place a wooden waterline was extended into Alamo Plaza for a fountain that had existed in front of the Hugo & Schmeltzer building (very near were the Alamo Cenotaph stands today).

The Alamo and Valero Plazas in the 1880s. The Market House is in the foreground.

San Antonio was quickly becoming a major urban center, and the two plazas along with it: In 1878 the first street car line was built on Alamo Plaza, in 1882 the Market House building, not an original Alamo structure, was the last building on the plaza to be torn down, in 1887 the city installed public restrooms on the plaza, and in 1890 the U.S. Post Office, the largest structure to be build on the Alamo battlefield at the time, was constructed on the site of the north wall.

Besides the mud issue there was another big concern for the plazas and the buildings around it, and that was the San Antonio River.  Flowing through the middle of the city the river regularly flooded its banks; the most devastating coming in 1921. This led the city to begin looking at different options on how to control its flooding.  It would culminate with the construction of the present system of dams located along the river. With the river levels now stabilized development along the banks of the downtown could  begin. In 1939, partially funded by Federal Works Progress Administration, work began on today’s River Walk. 

The Alamo church in 1900 with the city street coming up to its door.

Continuing with making changes to the plazas, in 1891 the city constructed a park on the Plaza de Valero that featured: trees, shrubs, flowering plants and a band stand for concerts. As more and more businesses began to line the plazas San Antonio saw the need for better traffic control. They paved over the old wooden blocks with asphalt, added streets with curbs, and more sidewalks. One of these new streets went right up to the front door of the Alamo church.

A monument to the Alamo heroes  

The first attempt to construct a monument on Alamo Plaza to the fallen defenders of the Alamo was in 1912. The plan then was to build a 800ft tower on the plaza. However, the group proposing this project couldn’t put together the two-million-dollar cost.

It wasn’t until 1936, during the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Alamo that the idea for a monument was taken up again. In celebration of the battles centennial the State of Texas provided $100,000 for the design and construction of a monument. Local sculptor Pompeo Coppini was commissioned to do the design, which he titled, The Spirit of Sacrifice. Today this monument is known as the Alamo Cenotaph.

The Alamo Cenotaph, 2013

The Alamo Cenotaph is constructed of grey Georgia marble and pink Texas granite. Its center spire rises sixty feet above its 40ft long by 12ft wide base. The base features carvings of members of the Alamo garrison, including the images of Travis, Bowie and Crockett. Also inscribed on the monument are 187 names of Alamo defenders, which were provided by historian Amelia Williams. However new research now shows that some of those listed were not at the Alamo, and that there were more than 187 defenders.

The Alamo Cenotaph was dedicated on November 11, 1940 by then San Antonio Mayor Maury Maverick, the grandson of Samuel Maverick.

A battlefield lost

By the time that de Zavala and Driscoll had arrived on the scene nothing remained of the Alamo battlefield, it was as though it had never existed. And for those who knew nothing of the Battle of the Alamo it was too easy to see only the church as the Alamo, even as they walked on the very ground where heroes had fallen.

My next post will cover the changes to the Alamo buildings and plaza through the late 20th and the early 21st centuries. I’ll also present some of the ideas that have been presented from various groups on how they think the Alamo should look in the future. 

If you enjoyed this post please read the others in this series:

The History of the Alamo: Mission to Fort

The History of the Alamo, Part II: From Fort to Forgotten: http://Www.stillcurrent.blog/the-history-of-the-alamo-part-ii-from-fort-to-forgotten

The History of the Alamo, Part III: From Forgotten to Army Depot:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-part-iii-from-forgotten-to-army-depot

The History of the Alamo, Part IV: From Warehouse to Roadside Attraction:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-part-iv-from-warehouse-to-roadside-attraction/

The History of the Alamo, Part V: Two Angels, Two Different Visions:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-part-v-two-angels-two-different-visions/

The History of the Alamo, Part VI: From Roadside Attraction to a Shrine:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-part-vi-from-roadside-attraction-to-a-shrine/

History of the Alamo Part VII: The Era of The Daughters of the Republic of Texas: http://history-of-the-alamo-part-vii-the-era-of-the-daughters-of-the-republic-of-texas

Also checkout my other posts on this subject

The Alamo; Today and in History:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-mission-to-fort

What happened and where it happened, as it is today; a photo walking tour of the Alamo battlefield (2014):http://what-happened-and-where-it-happened-as-it-is-today-a-photo-walking-tour-around-the-alamo-battlefield

The Alamo and Thermopylae: a Comparison in History:
http://the-alamo-and-thermopylae-a-comparison-in-history

Some of the sources used in this post:

Thompson, Frank . The Alamo: A Cultural History, Taylor TradePublishing, 2001.

Nelson, George. The Alamo: An Illustrated History, third revisedEdition, Aldine Press, 2009, p. 98. Eaton, Jack D.

Excavations At The Alamo Shrine. Fourth Printing, Center forArchaeological Research, 1985.

“Alamo Mission in San Antonio .” Wikipedia,Wikipedia, 30 Nov. 2018,

“Alamo History Chronology.” The Daughters oftheRepublic of Texas, The Daughters of the Republic ofTexas,www.drtinfo.org/drt-library/research/alamo-history-chronology-2#wrap.

Wikipedia . “Alamo Cenotaph.” Wikipedia,Wikipedia, Sept. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alamo_Cenotaph. \lsdsemihidd

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