December Artifacts of the Month
By: Ernesto Rodriguez, III, Alamo Associate Curator
The Alamo has many artifacts in its collection, among them are two very important items that help to tell San Antonio’s nearly 300 year history: the Church and Long Barrack. Although most people might not think of buildings as artifacts, the varied history of buildings as old as the Church and Long Barrack can tell us as much about the people who built and used the structures.
Purchased by the State of Texas in 1883, the Church is not only the first, but also the most significant, artifact in the Alamo’s Collection. An original part of Mission San Antonio de Valero, construction on this building began in the mid-1750s and continued over the next forty years until the missionaries left the site in 1793. About 75–80% of the walls of the building are original, dating back to this mission period. The building was never completed, however, and much of it lacked a roof. The absence of the roof allowed for the back of the nave to serve as an artillery position during the famous 1836 Battle of the Alamo.
A roof was finally added in 1850 after the United States Army took up residence at the site and converted it into a quartermaster depot. At that time they also added the now famous parapet over the facade. After the army left the Alamo in 1877, the Church temporarily served as a warehouse for a mercantile establishment until it was purchased by the state six years later. In 1921, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas added a new concrete roof to the building, which resembled the original mission era design for the roof that was never constructed.
Construction on the Long Barrack began in 1724, making it even older than the Church. It was first used as the mission’s convento, providing the missionaries with offices and sleeping quarters. In 1803, a Spanish Cavalry unit from San Carlos de Alamo de Parras took up residency in the convento, even establishing a military hospital on the building’s second story. The convento, or Long Barrack, served as quarters for part of the Texan garrison during the Siege and Battle of the Alamo.
In 1847, three years before it moved into the former church, the United States Army renovated the structure for use as a warehouse. After the Army left the Alamo in 1877, the Long Barrack was used as a mercantile establishment until acquired by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas just after the turn of the century. In 1905, the State of Texas purchased the Long Barrack and it — and the Church — became the core of the Alamo complex that visitors see today.