An event occurred in San Antonio nearly 170 years ago that is still remembered today. The historic event, as most visitors to the city will already know, was the epic Siege and Battle of the Alamo. Nevertheless, those who look for the remains of the battlefield are often disappointed or mystified by what they find at 300 Alamo Plaza. With a little preparation, however, a visit to the Alamo can be a rewarding and educational experience.
The Alamo as it appears today represents nearly three hundred years of human activity. Founded by the Spanish in the late 18th century as Mission San Antonio de Valero, the compound has seen many uses. Following the closing of Valero in 1793, the land and buildings were occupied by the former mission converts. In 1803, Valero became a military barracks when the Second Flying Company of San Carlos de Parras took up quarters on the grounds. The military use continued after Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821. Valero (which local residents had begun to call the Alamo) played its most famous role as a Texian fort during the Texas Revolution. The heroic stand for liberty taken by the Alamo garrison insured that the site would forever be revered.
Revered, but not yet protected from destruction. Situated on the edge of San Antonio de Béxar, the Alamo was destined to be surrounded by the growing town. From 1847 until 1876 (excluding the years 1861-1865), the United States Army occupied the site as a Quartermaster Depot. Once the military moved to Government Hill - the post that would become Fort Sam Houston - commercial interests gained control of the property, establishing a general store on the grounds of the Alamo. Although the State of Texas purchased the church in 1883, the remaining original structure - the Long Barrack - remained in private hands. In 1903, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas acquired the Long Barrack and shortly thereafter turned the deed over to the State of Texas. The State Legislature, in turn, appointed the DRT custodians of the Alamo with instructions to maintain it as a memorial to those who died there in the defense of Texas liberty. Since 1905, the Alamo has been a Shrine to the Alamo Heroes.
What Is There To See And Do?
Visitors today can enter the Alamo grounds from several directions. Five gates permit access to the complex. Many people, however, prefer to first enter the old church or modern Shrine. Inside the old church are exhibits displaying artifacts associated with the Alamo Heroes: Travis’ ring, Crockett’s buckskin vest, a flintlock rifle used in the battle; a period Bowie knife, and more. An arrangement of flags represent the states and nations from which the defenders came. Somewhat disguised by this serene setting is the fact that this building was the scene of fierce fighting during the 1836 battle.
Exiting the Shrine, one has a choice of what to see next. To the right and over the footbridge are the Alamo Gardens with their carefully manicured lawns and flower beds. A turn to the left takes one past an outdoor exhibit called the Wall of History. Visitors who desire to learn more about the Alamo’s 300 year long history should plan to spend time at this unique outdoor exhibit. To the west of the Wall of History, across Convento Courtyard, is the Long Barrack Museum. Opened in 1968, the museum contains the Clara Driscoll Theater where visitors may view a seventeen-minute film on the Alamo, a film produced by The History Channel exclusively for the site. The Long Barrack Museum also houses exhibits on the Alamo that explain its evolution from mission to fortress and finally to Shrine. Directly across from the Shrine exit is the Alamo Gift Museum. Built in 1936, the building contains exhibits on the Alamo and Texas History. These exhibits currently included Mexican military artifacts, long rifles, bowie knives, and Alamo archeology. Gifts and books on the Alamo are available for sale inside the Gift Museum. Other points of interest are several cannon actually used in the famous battle located in Cavalry Courtyard and the scenic massive Live Oak Tree in Convento Courtyard, planted in 1914 to beautify the grounds.
There's More To The Alamo Than The Modern Compound
More traces of the Alamo of 1836, although hidden by a modern urban landscape, still can be found if one only knows where to look. A significant portion of the battle took place in Alamo Plaza, which roughly retains the outline of the interior of the old mission and fort. A commemorative plaque marks the spot where the Low Barrack once stood, a one story building which served as the entrance to the compound and the quarters of James Bowie. One can see original foundation stones near the stairway leading down to the Paseo del Rio. The location of the Palisade, a section of the fort defended by David Crockett and the Tennessee Volunteers, is marked in the plaza with paving stones. The north wall where William B. Travis was killed now lies under the U.S. Post Office Building. Even with all its modern features, the historic Alamo compound is still recognizable to the educated eye.
The author, Richard Bruce Winders, Ph.D., is Historian
and Curator of the Alamo.