Wednesday, August 13, 2014

John Twohig house

The plaque on the front of the John Twohig house gives a brief glimpse into the interesting history of this house now located on the grounds of the Witte Museum. 

“In 1841, John Twohig – a San Antonio pioneer, Texas patriot, and prosperous merchant – erected this house on a site which was part of the Veramendi Palace within a curving bend on the San Antonio River at St. Mary’s and Commerce streets.  Mr. Twohig’s house was unique in the community since few buildings in this area at that time could boast a second floor.  In 1852, John Twohig surrounded his house with a beautiful garden for his bride, Elizabeth Priscilla Calvert, and later smaller guest houses for his important friends.  The Twohig’s were famous for their hospitality!
The property eventually passed into the ownership of the San Antonio Public Service Company, and finally, in 1941, was moved to the grounds of the Witte Museum.  The building as it now stands was restored as authentically as possible to John Twohig’s original home.  Built entirely of local limestone, each stone was carefully numbered and replaced in its proper position.  The original fireplace mantles and doors were installed, the outside stairway replaced, and details, such as lamps, were reproduced.  Even the bend in the river is strongly reminiscent of the landscape which surrounded the house downtown.”

Mr. Twohig, originally from Ireland, was known locally as the “Breadline Banker” because of his generous distribution of loaves of bread to the poor every Saturday night.  The original site of the house was actually on a small island formed by the tight curve of river and was reached by crossing a small footbridge.  After the removal of the house this bend in the river was filled in and the river re-channeled for flood control purposes.  (Click here to read more about Mr. Twohig and his interesting life)
Back side of house, facing the river
The house was to be torn down, but local preservations went into action.  The Historic Buildings Foundation provided three architects and an engineer to oversee the relocation.  City Public Service (the public utility entity of San Antonio) donated the building and paid for the move; the Conservation Society would provide furnishings for the house. The Portland Cement Company donated the cement to reconstruct the blocks; the last 430 bags of cement arrived just before the war necessitated a freeze on the use of cement. The Twohig house would be the last WPA project to be completed in Texas (Fisher, 1996).
Back side of house (stairs on left)
View river as seen from outside the Twohig house (looking north toward the start of the river)

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