Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Onion Creek Post Office


The Post Office's front door

In July 2020 I shared a brief history of the Onion Creek Stagecoach Park in Buda, TX.  I recently returned to Buda and stopped by the park to explore this small, limestone block building behind the stagecoach stop house.  From reading the National Register of Historic Places nomination form I knew that it had served for a few years as the Onion Creek post office.  Truthfully, there isn't much to see, but there is some history here worth mentioning as the post office and the stage stop worked together to serve the community and connect it with other communities in Texas and beyond.

Carved lentin above the post office door, possibly commemorating the celebration of the Nation's centennial

The Austin to San Antonio stagecoach route found the Onion Creek area ideal for a stopping place to water horses or to change them out if needed.  The route was considered to be a "Fast Line" in that it only took 13 hours to travel from Austin to San Antonio. Modern travelers often feel is still takes that long due to congested traffic!

Hays County, Austin to the North with San Antonio to the South

Quite possibly travelers along this route would have taken the stage operated by the team of Sawyer & Risher.  The 4-horse stage left San Antonio every other day at 6 A.M. with stops in Selma, New Braunfels, San Marcos, and so on until reaching Austin.  From Austin you could connect with the rest of Texas and beyond.  (source:  Texas Transportation Archive).

The Onion Creek post office and stage stop were established in April 1875.  Here, the mail would be delivered and picked up and the team would be watered with fresh water from nearby Onion Creek.  If need be, horses could be changed out at the stop.  Travelers rarely spent a night at this stop, it was the equivalent of a modern-day rest stop along the interstate.

Originally there was a small rectangular window under this carving on the side of the building.

The post office was a one-room limestone brick structure, constructed between 1875 and 1876.  Facing the door of the structure was a two-room dog trot cabin that was home to the postmaster.  The post ofice would only serve this area for a few years until the post-Civil War boom brought growth to the area as well as the International & Great Northern railroad;  the stagecoach line was discontinued. The town of Buda (pronounced Bew-dah) was officially established and the post office relocated a short distance into town.

View of the back of the post office. 

On the left side of the building are the remains of a cistern and concrete water trough.  The piece of equipment behind the building is the remant of a pump house that was attached after the stage stop closed. The little building was in a very delapidated state when restoration began.  Happily, the post office building has withstood the test of time due to its outstanding craftmanship, considered very unusual for the time period of its construction.

Before restoration. Photo c. 2002, retrieved from NRHP nomination form 8.31.21

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Then & Now: Mission San Jose

I began this blog in early 2013 with three posts about Mission San Jose and have visited the mission many times since then. The mission seems to be timeless and is always a very peaceful place to enjoy some quiet time of reflection.  In addition, I have sweet memories of visits here with family. It is one of the places that I never tire of visiting.

On my main blog, Small Simple Things of Life, I've been doing a feature titled Thursday:  Then & Now with pictures of places "then" and "now" plus a little description of the sight.  This week I featured San Jose and its preservation and am now sharing a little "then and now" here!
Mission San Jose, 1932, image from the San Antonio Light UTSA digital collection, restoration work had progressed well and only the dome was missing at the time of this photograph.

Mission San Jose, photograph taken 29 July 2021

 Mission San Jose, established in 1720, moved to its present day location in 1758 after the first two locations proved to be unhealthy due to their location on lowlands. The Mission was secularized in 1824 and began a gradual decline.

During the Christmas Eve 1874 service the church’s dome collapsed. Local citizens became aware of the need for preservation in 1902, but the deterioration would continue during the years of fighting for funding and support. Meanwhile, the bell tower stair turret would explode and the church’s north wall would collapse while souvenir hunters took off pieces of the statues surrounding the front doors, as well as the massive front doors. The church’s bell tower collapsed in 1928.

Preservations were able to purchase the pieces of the land, one at a time, surrounding the Mission as well as the crumbling remains of the old granary. A major highway that would cross the Mission’s former plaza was detoured. It was a hard fought battle with many ups and downs and many starts and stops. Depression era relief efforts made the restoration work possible. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), the Civil Works Administration (CWA), and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided the laborers to rebuild the structures and the walls.

The completion of the plaza was celebrated in June 1936 with what would become the annual “Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA)” in later years. With the work of many people the Mission became a State Park in 1941 and was also named a National Historic site. It would take over 3 decades of work before Mission San Jose and its 3 sister missions became the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in 1978.

Needless to say, restoration is an ongoing process and on every visit to San Jose I see work being done to protect it and ensure that it will continue to tell its story for many generations.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

From the library to the museum


30 October 2020

On December 7, 1975, the Bell County Museum hosted its official opening and this building at 201 N. Main Street in Belton, Texas, began a new phase of life, welcoming visitors inside to explore the County's history. Citizens were already very familiar with it as it had been serving the community since 1905 as Belton's Carnegie Library.  A new library had been built nearby, so the Bell County Commissioners granted use of the building to the Bell County Historical Commission. 

The library traces its beginning to 1899, when the Women's Wednesday Club met for the first time in the parlor of a local hotel with the purpose of establishing a public library in the city of Belton. Each member donated a book, collecting 350 volumes to form the new library which opened its first location in a small room in the hotel. By the time the new Carnegie Library opened in 1905 the Club had collected over 1,500 books. 

No other building in Belton exhibits the rich details of the library building.

The Club began to seek funding from the Carnegie Foundation for a library building, sending letters in 1899, 1902, and 1903 asking for funds for a public library to be constructed in Belton.  

After the 1903 request, the group was notified that if the City of Belton agreed by resolution of council to maintain a free public library at a cost of not less than a thousand dollars a year, and provide a suitable site, then Mr. Carnegie would be pleased to furnish $10,000 to help erect a free library for the city.  By proper resolution and public subscription, citizens were able to provide the lot and Mr. Carnegie forwarded his personal check.  (National Register of Historic Places nomination form)


Inside the first floor main room.  The display in the back contains one of Miriam "Ma" Ferguson's inaugural ball dresses and other artifacts from her life.  She was a Bell County native who served two terms as Texas' governor (that's a long story for another day). She was not a fashionista as this display shows the viewer!

The Carnegie Library building is considered to be significant in both its architecture and its indication of the cultural and educational awareness of Belton citizens. Other buildings in Belton constructed in this time period were designed with classical elements, but the library's Beaux-Arts classicism is considered to be "exuberant" in its design and ornamentation.  

The little known firm of Smith and Moore designed the library.  The contractor, Ben Lee, was well know to Belton for the local buildings he had constructed, one of which was the Bell County Courthouse.

The two-story library consisted of an open first-floor room separated into four spaces by Ionic columns supporting an entablature adorned with very detailed garland swags.  Each time I visit I am torn between gazing at the room's features and looking at the exhibits, it is mesmerizing!

Second floor auditorium/lecture hall stage

The second floor was devoted to a large auditorium type room used for lectures and meetings.  During the lean years of the Great Depression this room filled the need for a public meeting facility in Belton,  hosting graduation ceremonies, plays, and USO shows among others. This room is still used for public meetings and other gatherings. The day I wandered in to make photographs they were either setting up or taking down an exhibit, so the pictures are a little cluttered.

Second floor meeting room.  Both floors of the building feature pressed-tin ceilings

The preservation minded city of Belton began a comprehensive renovation program in 1988 that restored the interior to its 1905 floor plan by the removal of walls that had partitioned the rooms into smaller spaces. In 2003 the Museum began the 3-year process of connecting the library and the next-door Guffy Building with a two-story central walkway.  Today the main entrance into the library is through this walkway and the two buildings flow together seamlessly.

Original front entrance

Of the 32 libraries built in Texas with funding from the Carnegie Foundation 13 exist today. The Belton library retains most of its original features due to the fact that very little modifications took place over the years it served as a library.  The renovation and careful addition of the connecting walkway have served to preserve the library's original integrity.

Photograph taken in 1985, copied from the NRHP Belton Commercial Historic District nomination form.

The property was listed on the National Register of Historic places on March 4, 1985.


Friday, February 12, 2021

Bell County Courthouse - Looking Back & Going Inside

Over five years ago I wrote a post about the Bell County Courthouse.  Since then I've visited Belton numerous times, some for dog shows with a little "wandering" afterward and on some "wandering" day trips.  Each time I come away with more appreciation for this little Central Texas town and its rich heritage which is carefully preserved. In this post I want to share what I found inside the 1885 Renaissance Revival Courthouse on a recent weekday trip.

Come with me and step inside

The interior of the Courthouse is very much a modern office facility with the usual Courthouse offices.  It is sparkling clean and very pleasant inside, but I saw no signs of original details except perhaps in the configuration of hallways and in the stairwell to the upper floors. On a future trip I hope to visit in person with one of the historians about the details of the Courthouse interior. What I was pleased to find was a large collection of photographs displayed on the first-floor walls that gave much insight into Belton and its history and that of the Courthouse. Truly, a picture is worth a thousand words!

First floor hallway
First floor hallway, fanlight above door may be original

Third floor hallway

First floor stairwell

Among the photographs on display was a picture of the tower-less Courthouse after an extensive remodeling in the 1950's that included removing the dome, clock tower, and goddess due to deterioration.  I'm certain that the County Commissioners thought they were doing the right thing to modernize the Courthouse to mid-century modern standards, but today we recognize their mistake and have to accept that they were caught in the out-with-the-old and in-with-the new craze.  The interior was also updated and modernized at that time. 

1957 view of dome-less Courthouse, north and east side

Bell County Courthouse 1895, north and west side

Bell County Courthouse 1920

Bell County Courthouse 2020

Dome and clock tower, unknown date

Restored tower detail, 2015

Restored dome, tower, and goddess, 2015

The photographs on display in the Courthouse and shown here are from the collection of the Bell County Museum.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Mary Hardin-Baylor University, Luther Hall 1886-1929


View of one corner of Luther Hall, photo retrieved from plaque on UMHB campus, date unknown

When construction began on the first building of the new Baylor Female College campus in Belton, Texas the school was already established having been chartered in 1845 as the Female College of Baylor College in Independence, Texas. It was the earliest women's college west of the Mississippi River. In 1851 the school separated the men from the women and relocated the men to a location about a mile away. Both schools prospered until the 1880's when the railroad bypassed Independence and the community began to decline. The decision was made to permanently split the two schools. The male college was relocated to Waco and became what is now Baylor University; the women moved to Belton after a grant of $31,000 and a tract of land was offered to the College.

Postcard of Mary Hardin-Baylor College 

A massive three-story building built of limestone was designed in the Renaissance Revival style by architect Matthew Dow and construction was completed in 1866.  For many years this was the only building on campus until enrollment increased and other structures were added.  The building remained the centerpiece of the growing campus. A fourth story was added and, in 1919, the building was named in honor of Dr. John Hill Luther who served as President from 1878-1891.

In the early morning hours of January 26, 1929, fire broke out in the ceiling of the kitchen located in a ell of the building.  Despite the efforts of several fire companies the entire building was quickly engulfed in flames and firefighters turned their efforts to saving the surround buildings that were being showered in embers and several small fires were already burning. 

The 200 young ladies living the building all escaped safely and the practice of frequent fire drills on the campus was credited with their swift and orderly evacuation.  As the fire raged they were gathered into the parlors of nearby Burt Hall where there were several tense minutes as a roll call was taken.  They were all in their nightgowns and slippers with a few wearing coats or robes.  There was much rejoicing as the roll call ended and all were safely accounted for that morning.  Donations of clothing were quickly offered by fellow students and the following day the community began an outpouring of assistance to the women and the school.

Belton Journal Thursday, January 31, 1929

The rubble of the once grand building became a popular gathering spot for campus activities and served as a backdrop for many plays and other performances.  In 1944 the Luther family contributed funds for a memorial and plans were developed.  In 1954 the rubble was cleared and stones from the original building were re-assembled to replicate the arches of the building's fa├žade. A bell tower and memorial wall completed the tribute to the campus' first building.  Dedication of the memorial was in May 1955.

Stones from Luther Hall replicate the arches of the building. 

It appears that the memorial faces the circle driveway just as the original building did. I wished that I could walk through the arches and suddenly be transported inside this long gone building! 

The Baylor Female College Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in December 1990.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Onion Creek Post Office and Stagecoach House

The high bluff overlooking nearby Onion Creek made it a convenient location for a post office and stagecoach stop along what is now known as the Old San Antonio Road running from Austin to San Antonio, Texas. Water from the creek provided refreshment for the stagecoach horses and the sight was conveniently located near the highway. Ground was broken for the small, limestone post office in 1875 along with a two room dog-trot style house.

The post office was finished in 1876 and served residents of the community and stagecoach passengers until 1880 when the Postmaster moved the post office to the nearby developing town of Du Pre, renamed Buda (pronounced BYOO-dah). in the late 1880's. The completion of the International & Great Northern Railroad lines to San Antonio and Laredo ended the necessity of a stagecoach stop.

These very large oak trees to the side of the house probably saw the stagecoaches arrivals and departures.

T.E. McElroy and his wife bought the house and surrounding 234 acres and developed a successful livestock and agricultural program while eventually adding over 1,000 acres to the ranch. In 1906 Ann and John Severn purchased the ranch from the McElroy estate and continued the ranching operations.  Upon their deaths the house and property saw several owners and the eventual sale of individual tracts of land.  In 1998 the current owners, brothers Victor and Joe Stanzel, donated the house, post office building, and remaining 51-acres to the City of Buda with the stipulation that the house be restored and used for community purposes.

Renovation on the house revealed answers to questions about its transformation from the 1875 two room dog-trot style cabin to its current appearance.  Updates are traced to 1885, 1900, 1920, and 1950.  The Severns were very influential citizens and are thought to be responsible for the 1920 renovation; the house has been restored to that time period with the exception of a mantle painted by artists that rented the house for a time in the 1970's.

Evidence found during the renovation process indicates that the house was originally oriented to face the tributary of the creek located to what is now the rear of the house. The two rooms on either side of the front door comprised the original two room dog-trot cabin.

Each renovation seemed to change the structure even more while making it useful and modern for the residents.  As a result, it assumed some strange characteristics that added interest to the house.

I stumbled upon this property on a recent visit to Buda and had no idea of its historical significance until I returned home and began researching it.  I did not make many pictures, so a return trip when the weather cools off is on my go-to list. The surrounding park features many amenities as well as walking trails through the former stagecoach stop and ranching property.

The house serves at the Buda Visitor Center, but is currently closed due to the COVID pandemic.  However, from reading the nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places designation about the evolution of the cabin to modern home I am sure it will be worth exploring.

The remains of a watering trough are located a short distance from the house.
This one room building tweaked my imagination as to its original purpose.  There is a vent pipe visible on the back of the roof indicating that there was some type of wood burning stove inside.  Possibly the ranch office, but I'll have to find out on the next visit.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Now you see it - now you don't

Alamo Plaza Bandstand, photographed May 1, 2018
Earlier this month the bandstand on Alamo Plaza was relocated. This is part of the plan of the Texas General Land Office and the City of San Antonio to restore reverence to the 1836 battlefield. 
May 18, 2020,the brown brick base is all that remains
Just over five years ago I had posted The Battle of the Alamo hasn't ended.  Since that time the powers that be have introduced and modified several plans for the area around Alamo Plaza, often referring to the area as "hallowed ground".  

Public outcry has been vocal, but ignored. In fulfilling their idea of restoring the 1836 footprint they intend to destroy other footprints with no regard for the complete history of this area. 
Alamo Plaza, former site of historic bandstand, photographed May 18, 2020
Part of the plan calls for the relocation of the bandstand to another area of town. This icon of Alamo Plaza was constructed in 1976 as a replica of the original one that was built around 1890. The plan calls for the bandstand's removal because it “does not architecturally relate to the period of historical structures surrounding it."

The nearby Cenotaph will be moved to the area where the bandstand was located. We are also in danger of losing the old Woolworth Building (directly across the street).  The plan calls for it to either be gutted or completely replaced for the creation of a "world class museum". 

The Woolworth Building has been on Texas' list of Most Endangered Places since 2016.  It is recognized as a significant contributor to the Civil Rights Movement in San Antonio. Photographed May 14, 2020

I'll share more in upcoming posts. The Battle hasn't ended.