Heritage, Summer 2005 Page: 17
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local officials. No doubt he stood in its
doorway to watch troops marching on
the drill ground below, felt the southeast
breeze on his face, paced its floors, and
wondered about the effectiveness of such
an isolated outpost.
In 1869, the Army re-oriented the fort
toward the north. The house became an
office for the quartermaster, whose new
supply depot sat just downhill. The post,
designated Fort Ringgold in 1878,
remained active until decommissioned in
1944. Five years later, the Rio Grande
City Consolidated Independent School
District purchased the fort property from
the Army and began to renovate it.
Today Fort Ringgold is a campus of
school buildings, recreational facilities,
and offices, including the General Robert
E. Lee/Commandant's Quarters Museum.
For many years before, during its service
to the army, the commandant's quarters
had housed the families of soldiers; when
the school district became the owner, the
structure was rented to civilian families.
By 2000, though, the building was in need
of repair. Adelina Villarreal, a teacherturned-administrator,
led the effort to
save the structure for use as a museum,
receiving support from the superintendent
and the school board, and a grant from
the 21st Century Program (U.S.
Department of Education).
Hoping to teach students the value of
saving their past and recognizing their
most available source of labor, preservationists
put the town's high school students
to work. The teenagers removed
the ceiling and floorboards, then sanded,
stripped, and varnished them in the
school's wood shop. More students were
put to work as archeologists, screening
the exposed earth and turning up bottles,
utensils, horseshoes and nails, broken
tools, scissors, buttons, and military
insignia in the process.
Larger-scale restoration began with the
building's deconstruction as debris, old
boards, and window parts were removed.
A construction company raised and leveled
the building, plumbed the walls, put
on a new roof, and replaced wall studs
and rafters. The front (south facing) and
east porches were rebuilt with new steps,
siding, railing, and posts. The enclosed
north porch became an exhibit room,
and the west porch emerged as a new
kitchen. A wheelchair ramp, air conditioning,
electrical outlets and lighting,
drywall, and a restroom were added.
Interior and exterior doors were
repaired or replaced, with the new doors
being constructed to match the original
ones. The historic double-hung windows,
frames, and concealed fasteners
were repaired and the glass preserved.
The fireplace was rebuilt using new and
old brick, along with the original pine
mantel and surround. The horizontal
pine wallboards were painted, and floor
and ceiling boards were re-installed.
Free-standing exhibit panels, designed
by a museum consultant and built by a
master carpenter and high school students,
describe the history of Fort
Ringgold, the commandant's quarters,
and the many individuals who were stationed
at the post.
Re-named The General Robert E. Lee
House/Commandant's Quarters Museum,
the house was dedicated on March
2, 2005 (see box for tour information).
This summer the signal building, adjacent
to the museum, is being renovated
by students for use as a gift shop.
Downstream from Rio Grande City,
The Hidalgo Pumphouse Heritage and
Discovery Center Museum is another
excellent example of vision, hard work,
in South Texas.
With the arrival
of the railroad in
1904 came the
growth of the
Rio Grande Valley.
along the river lifted
water into canals that carried it to
thousands of acres of vegetable, sugar
cane, and cotton crops. The pumphouse
at Hidalgo, dating from 1909, was
enlarged several times until closed by the
HER I TAGE SUMMER 2005
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Summer 2005, periodical, Summer 2005; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45369/m1/17/: accessed March 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.