Texas Almanac, 1992-1993 Page: 37
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CENTRAL TEXAS HISTORY 37
The building called the Alamo originally was built
as the chapel of the Mission San Antonio de Valero.
Like all Spanish missions, Valero was a combination
religious and industrial trade school for Indians. For
several years, the mission consisted of several huts
and a small stone tower, which were destroyed by a
storm in 1724. Mass was celebrated in temporary
quarters until the first stone church building was con-
structed about 1744. This building collapsed about
1756. The second stone chapel, begun about 1758 and
never finished, stands today in Alamo Plaza.
Cruciform in shape and 35 Spanish varas (more
than 90 feet) long, the chapel has a large nave and a
broad transept. The walls, built of local limestone
blocks, are more than 3.5 feet thick. The floor was
probably paved with flagstones.
The mission complex once covered up to four
acres of ground and contained not only the church,
but also the convento, or priests' quarters, a gra-
nary, workrooms, storerooms and Indian housing, all -
surrounded by an outer wall.
Epidemics depopulated the missions to the point a
that by 1778, not enough Indians were left to work the
fields. In 1793, Valero was converted into a self-sup-
porting parish church.
After the conversion, the still-unfinished Valero
chapel was stripped of usable doors, windows and
hardware. It served at times as a parish church for
soldiers who were stationed there, and it became San
Antonio's first hospital from 1806 to 1812.
The Valero mission building came to be known as
the "Alamo" when a company of cavalry - called the
Segunda Compania Volante de San Jose y Santiago
del Alamo de Parras (Second Flying Company of San
Jose and Santiago of the Alamo of Parras) - was sta-
tioned there for more than 10 years, beginning in
1801 or 1802. The town of San Jose y Santiago del
Alamo de Parras in the Mexican state of Coahuila
was where, in the 1780s, the unit had been recruited.
As tradition dictated, the company was identified by
the full name of the town. "Alamo" is the Spanish
word for "cottonwood." "Alamo" in the town's name
is thought to refer to a landmark cottonwood tree
growing on a ranch near Parras. The mission chapel
is still called the Alamo; the town of Parras, however,
is now called Viesca.
To Texans, of course, the most important use of
the Alamo was as a fort during the Texas revolution.
Mexican Gen. Martin Perfecto de Cos used the
Alamo as his headquarters in San Antonio. In prepa-
ration for the Texan assault in late 1835, Cos tore
down the chapel's arches to use as ramps for hauling
cannon to the tops of the walls. And the climactic 13-
day siege and battle of the Alamo in 1836 was all-
important in turning the tide of the Texas revolution.
The signature scalloped roof line of the Alamo
was not part of the building until 1849. It was added
by the U.S. Army when it leased the former chapel
from the Roman Catholic Church to use for storing
hay and grain. The two outer windows on the upper
level also were added at that time. Many represen-
tations of the building in paintings, drawings and
movies wrongly show these late additions as part of
the building during the 1836 battle. An army artist
who sketched the Alamo compound in 1849 after the
remodeling commented that the chapel had been
topped with "a ridiculous scroll, giving the building
the appearance of the headboard of a bedstead." Of
the present Alamo building, probably only the bot-
tom 23 feet of wall are part of the original.
The Alamo changed hands at least 16 times
among Spanish, Mexican, Texan, Union and Confed-
erate forces between 1810 and the end of the Civil
War. During the early 1840s, stones from the Alamo
were hauled away by scavengers. Development be-
gan creeping onto the mission grounds in the 1850s.
When a supply depot was built at Fort Sam
Houston in 1878, the army left the Alamo compound,
a. The Alamo as planned but not completed; b. Alamo
at the time of the 1836 battle; c. The Alamo today, with
alterations made by the U.S. Army in 1849. Illustration
courtesy Jack D. Eaton and the Center for Archaeolog-
ical Research, UT-San Antonio.
and merchant Hugo Grenet purchased the convent
(also called the long barracks) from the church, re-
modeling the property to house a retail store. He
leased the chapel for use as a warehouse. Grenet's
renovations gave the convent the appearance of a
After Grenet died in 1882, the mercantile firm of
Hugo & Schmeltzer purchased the convent; the chap-
el reverted to the church, which sold it to the state in
In the 1890s, Adina de Zavala, granddaughter of
Mexican-born Texas patriot Lorenzo de Zavala and
first vice president of the Daughters of the Republic
of Texas (DRT), extracted a promise from merchant
Gaston Schmeltzer that he would sell her the convent
building for $75,000. But her fund raising stalled
short of the goal. In February 1904, Clara Driscoll,
from a wealthy San Antonio family, advanced at no
interest the $25,000 needed to hold the convent until the
Legislature appropriated the purchase price. She was
reimbursed by the state in 1905, and the Legislature
entrusted both convent and chapel to the DRT.
Although Driscoll is called the "Savior of the Alamo,"
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Kingston, Mike. Texas Almanac, 1992-1993, book, 1991; Dallas, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth279642/m1/41/: accessed June 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.