Mission San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo): Investigating the Probable First Site

In celebration of Preservation Month, the Office of Historic Preservation held an archaeology presentation at the Christopher Columbus Italian Society on Wednesday, May 18. Remarks by Councilman Roberto Treviño, Council District 1, were followed by a presentation by Kay Hindes, City Archaeologist, on the excavations that took place on the property in 2013 and 2015. The talk discussed the discovery, as well as archival and archaeological investigations, of the site along San Pedro Creek that is believed to be the 1718 founding site of Mission San Antonio de Valero.

Few know that the mission had two previous locations before being built at its third and final site on Alamo Plaza. “The first and second locations have been lost for almost 300 years,” said City Archaeologist Kay Hindes. “The mission of San Antonio de Valero was believed to be located in its first location for about 12 months before it was moved to a second location (hypothesized to be in the area of present day La Villita). The third and final location is where it is located today in Alamo Plaza.”

According to archival records, the Alamo was established on May 1, 1718 by Father Antonio Olivares, who left the Mission San Francisco Solano on the Rio Grande to establish a mission for the Native Americans in what is currently the San Antonio region.  Father Mezquia, who was a member of the expedition noted that the mission was near the first spring (San Pedro Springs) half a league from a high ground adjoining a small thicket of live oaks.  Father Olivares began the construction of a jacal (wattle and daub structure) almost immediately.  Simultaneously, in what was standard Spanish settlement practice, Governor Martin de Alarcón led the military expedition to establish the villa and presidio in what is now San Pedro Park. Using Spanish Colonial measurements, a half league is 1.31 miles.  The Christopher Columbus Society property is located at ca. 1.30 miles from the springs.

Also, the Christopher Columbus Society property is located on high ground, a topographic feature favored by the early Spanish explorers and settlers.  High ground or hills are not common along the San Pedro Creek drainage. There are only three such high areas south of San Pedro Park on the west bank. The Christopher Columbus Society property is the hill that most closely meets the archival distance, lending support to the site as the first location.

Most importantly, Spanish Colonial artifacts have been found on the property owned by the Christopher Columbus Society that are indicative of a mission location. Artifacts found include Mexican lead glazed wares, majolica, lead pieces including one possible seal, glass trade or rosary beads, wrought nails, Native American ceramics, as well as other artifacts dating to the Spanish Colonial period, including some dating to well beyond the mission era. Missing to date from the artifactual record are majolicas that are found only on sites pre-dating 1725.  Further work may be able to locate these important artifacts.

Bexar County provided a grant to Raba-Kistner Consultants to conduct archaeological testing operations at this site in Feb. 2015. These investigations were a joint effort of the City’s Office of Historic Preservation (OHP), Bexar County and Raba-Kistner and found Spanish Colonial artifacts that could be associated with the first site.  Earlier investigations supported by a grant from the San Antonio Conservation Society were conducted in 2013 and uncovered artifacts.

Chairman of the Christopher Columbus Italian Society Frank Monaco said “we are proud to be part of the history of San Antonio. It is because of the Piazza de Colombo project, these artifacts have been found.” The Society is currently working on their Little Italy of San Antonio (LISA) project.

Over 80 individuals were in attendance for the presentation. Artifacts from the investigations were on display, as well.

This presentation will be offered again in the Fall. Please stay tuned for the final date and event information!

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Artifacts from the excavations were on display.

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City Archaeologist Kay Hindes presenting the excavation results

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Remarks by District 1 City Councilman Roberto C. Treviño

 

 

 

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