Mission Trails Historic Sites

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Mission San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo)

Mission San Antonio de Valero was founded in 1718 by Fray Antonio de Olivares. Olivares arrived in the San Antonio area in that year with Native American converts from Mission San Francisco Solano near San Juan Bautista on the Rio Grande. The mission was originally established along the banks of San Pedro Creek but was soon relocated to the east bank of the San Antonio River. After a hurricane destroyed the complex in 1724, it was relocated to its current and final location. A stone convento, or priests’ quarters, still located on the property was completed sometime between 1728 and 1730 (William and Landon 1976; Alamo Plaza Study Committee 1994).

Evidence indicates that the mission’s first church was a simple adobe structure. Construction began on a stone church in 1744 but it collapsed before it could be finished. Work on a third church, the one that exists today, began around 1756 but was still not completed before the mission closed. During the mission era, Native American converts resided in adobe homes in the compound. By 1762, the complex, including the Indian quarters, convento, unfinished church, and other associated structures, formed a defensive perimeter wall. Sources suggest that the Alamo’s mission activities had declined significantly by this time, and it was officially closed in 1793. (Heintzleman 1975).

The complex was subsequently occupied as a military outpost for nearly three quarters of the nineteenth century. In 1803, a company of Spanish soldiers known as the Flying Company of San Carlos de Parras arrived in San Antonio from Alamo del Parras, Coahuila, Mexico. They moved into the Alamo compound, and many historians think they gave the complex its current name. They resided there during the Mexican struggle for independence from Spain. (Alamo Plaza Study Committee 1994; Heintzleman 1975).

In 1821, soldiers living at the Alamo swore allegiance to the new government of Mexico. Mexican forces still occupied the Alamo in 1835 at the start of the Texas Revolution. In early December, rebel forces defeated General Martin Perfecto de Cos, who then withdrew from Texas. By late February 1836, Mexico’s president—General Anontio López de Santa Anna—returned to San Antonio and besieged the small rebel garrison. The Alamo finally fell on the morning of March 6, 1836. The desperate thirteen-day long struggle created the famous Texas battle cry: “Remember the Alamo!”

After the fall of the Alamo, most of the compound was in ruins. In 1841, the Republic of Texas government recognized the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to the old mission property. The Church leased the property to the United States government in 1848 when it returned to military use, serving as a quartermaster’s headquarters until the Civil War. During this period, the military undertook significant repairs to the complex, including the construction of the iconic parapet on the church’s primary façade that symbolizes the mission in the minds of many Americans today. The Alamo was briefly occupied by Confederate troops during the Civil War but returned to American military control at the end of the war. They continued to use it for quartermaster purposes until 1877. (Heintzleman 1975; Alamo Plaza Study Committee 1994).

During the late nineteenth century, the Alamo was finally retired from military service. In 1883, the State of Texas purchased the church from the Roman Catholic Church and placed it under the care of the City of San Antonio. The city retained control of the facility until 1905 when the Texas Legislature passed a resolution authorizing the governor to purchase the convento, which was being used as a wholesale grocers store during the period, and to turn the management of the property over to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT). The Alamo remained in the DRT’s care in 2011, when the State Legislature transferred oversight of the historic site to the Texas General Land Office.

In 2015, important developments occurred that are directly affecting the Alamo’s future: (1) the Alamo Endowment and its subsidiary, the Alamo Complex Management, took over day to day management of the Alamo, (2) the GLO, Alamo Endowment and City of San Antonio began collaborating on a Master Plan to revitalize and revision the Alamo and surrounding historic area, (3) the GLO purchased three historic buildings in Alamo Plaza, and (4) the Alamo, along with the other missions in San Antonio were designated Texas' first UN World Heritage Site due to their role in the city's history.

For more information, please visit the Alamo website.

Sources

  • Alamo Plaza Study Committee

    1994 - “Research Information,” in City of San Antonio Local Landmark Files, City of San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation.

  • Heintzleman, Patricia (Architectural Historian, Landmark Review Project)

    1975 - National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination Form, The Alamo, Copy on file at the Texas Historical Commission.

  • Willliam, Joe R. and Marie D. Landon (Texas Historical Commission)

    1976 - National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form. “Alamo Plaza Historic District,” Copy on file at the Texas Historical Commission, Austin, Texas.
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