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HISTORIC AMERICAN BUILDINGS SURVEY
UNITED STATES - SAN ANTONIO ARSENAL
Location: San Antonio, Bexar county, Texas. The Arsenal grounds comprise
approximately twenty acres located just south of the central business district
of San Antonio, bounded by Flores Street on the west, Arsenal Street on the
south, the San Antonio River on the east and private property on the north.
The San Antonio Arsenal was permanently established in San Antonio in
1859. serving principally as a storage arsenal throughout its existence, the
Arsenal originally issued ordnance stores to U.S. Army troops in the
Department of Texas, later redesignated the Eighth Army District. Following
Confederate occupation of the depot during the Civil War, the Arsenal
served the important function of supplying all of the western Texas military
posts and forts with arsenal supplies and ordnance during the period of the
taming of Texas's western frontier and borders.
Since 1849 when the old Alamo buildings were renovated and occupied by
the Quartermaster corps, San Antonio was the location of the Arsenal of the
Department of Texas. Arsenal operations, conducted by the ordnance
Department, were originally carried out in the Alamo buildings; but in 1853
two buildings were leased in San Antonio by the Army and the Arsenal was
changed to the new location.
It was not until 1858 that the Army designated san Antonio as the permanent
location for the Arsenal. Captain R. H. K. Whiteley was sent to San Antonio
to select a proper site and undertake the erection of the necessary buildings.
Immediately upon his arrival (July 3, 1858) Whiteley set out to examine a
tract of land that was being offered by the city of San Antonio as a potential
site. The property, located north of the city at the head of the San Antonio
River, was not acceptable to Whiteley as it was subject to flooding,
conducive to disease, and, being of low elevation, difficult to defend.
It was not until October,1858, that Whiteley was able to make arrangements
for the purchase of a suitable site. This property, located south of the city
on the west bank of the San Antonio River, consisted of 7-3/4 acres
belonging to ex-Governor Thomas H. Bell, and of 8-7/100 acres belonging
to Gregory T. Devine. Whiteley received orders from the War Department
late in December, 1858, to conclude the purchase of the property.
Bell's 7-3/4 acres was the site of the old homestead of Dr. James M. Devine,
former treasurer and Mayor of San Antonio, and at the time of transfer to the
Federal Government, Devine's old house and outbuildings were only
several years old. Whiteley occupied the house while he pursued the many
details prerequisite to the planning of the Arsenal.
A full eleven months passed from the date of acquisition of the property
before construction was well underway. This lapse of time is difficult to
explain, but it was undoubtedly the result of an Army Regulation issued April
16, 1859, prohibiting the erection of new buildings at any military station
"except such as can be built by the labor of the troops", until "further
orders." Finally, however, on September 21, 1859, Captain Whiteley
informed the local newspapers that the deeds to the Arsenal property had
been approved and that construction was to be "commenced on the first of
November next." However, advertised proposals did not appear in the local
newspapers until November 4th: "*
"Proposals for Building Materials-Sealed proposals will be received by the
undersigned until the fifteenth day of November next, at noon, for furnishing
on the grounds of the Arsenal site in the city of San Antonio, the following
building materials, viz:
1st Hard rock from the corporation quarries, in blocks suitable for twelve
inch range work, the natural bed of each not less than the height, and free
from seams of clay and salts of iron, either in knots or diffused in blue or
2nd Lime-made from hard limestone and freshly burnt.
3rd Sand-free from clay, loam and gravel.
4th Lumber-all dimension timber and sheathing of cypress or Texas pine.
Flooring of Florida pine not over four inches wide, planed on both sides,
tongued and grooved. And the whole free from rot, rap, wind shakes, splits
and large or loose knots.
The bids will be for stone per perch of twenty-five cubic feet measured in
the wall, lime per barrel, sand per load of sixty cubic feet and lumber per
thousand feet board measure.
The plan and specification of the building to be erected can be seen at the
Ordnance Depot in this city. . . .
R. H. K, Whiteley,
Capt. of Ordnance
By mid-November it was announced that John M. Campbell, a local building
contractor, had been employed by Captain Whiteley to "superintend the
workmen to be engaged on the Arsenal." It was further reported that the
contracts for the supply of materials had been closed "some days since." W.
W. Campbell, the brother of John Campbell, a local masonry contractor,
was awarded the contract for the stone and lime work.
Construction began at the end of November and by March 22, 1860, the
following was reported:
The Arsenal buildings, under the Superintendency of our industrious fellow
townsman, John Campbell, are going ahead rapidly and beautifully - the
walls of the first building are now nearly up to the top of the first windows,
and we will venture to say that no better mechanism can be found in any
part of Texas than is bestowed upon these buildings. All the material is of
the best quality. The rocks are beautifully dressed and well laid. Some six or
eight buildings are to be constructed in all, and the work will steadily
progress until the whole are completed. Capt. Whiteley has had the plans
and specifications all submitted to the Department at Washington, and
approved of, and nothing now stands in the way of their completion. Uncle
Sam has a long purse, and there is no danger of the bills being protested.
Let the work go ahead, we say."
Five days later, Lieutenant Colonel J. W. Ripley submitted an official
"Inspection Report of the Texas Arsenal" to Colonel H. K. Craig, Chief of
Ordnance, Washington, D.C. in which he reported:
On an examination of the improvements made and now in progress, on the
site selected for this Arsenal, I find that ... the store office (building) now
in process of erection - as far as it has advanced - is built of good
material and exhibits good workmanship in the details of its construction.
Ripley also reported that an "irrigating ditch, extending through the (Arsenal)
grounds, which is now completed, has been constructed in a substantial,
careful and permanent manner. . . ."
Also included in Ripley's report was the annual estimate for the fiscal year
ending June 30, 1861. This budget included only two items, the first, "For
erecting a stone building 156 x 45 ft. three stories high, for principle store
house . . . $40,000" and the second, "For erecting a stone building 40 x 28
feet, two stories high, for stable, wagon house and storerooms for hay,
harness and tools . . . $3,000", both of which met with Ripley's approval.
There were three permanent Arsenal buildings erected or in the course of
erection at the beginning of the Civil War, the Office Building, the Magazine
and the Armorer's Shop. These buildings were turned over by Captain R. H.
K. Whiteley to Thomas j. Devine and others representing the confederacy
on the 28th day of February, 1861 along with all other U. S. Army property
in San Antonio.
The Office Building was the only completed permanent structure at that time
The Magazine building was left unfinished by captain Whiteley and finished
later by the Confederates, as was the Armorer's Shop. This building was
completed up to the window sills with cut stone by whiteley and finished
with "rough stone" by the Confederates who also roofed the building.
In addition to completing the unfinished stone buildings, the Confederates
also erected four frame buildings with the dimensions 18 ' x 20', 18 ' x 42',
20'x 30' and 24'x 73', respectfully. The largest, 24'x 73', was the blacksmith
shop and had four chimneys. Another building, 20'x 30', was used as a
carpenter's shop. All of these buildings were "built of rough boards, without
floors, and not waterproof."
Immediately following the cessation of hostilities, the U.S. Army re-acquired
control over its former properties in San Antonio. During the last years of the
war the Arsenal buildings had apparently suffered serious neglect and
Captain J. W. Todd first assumed command of the Arsenal after the war on
November 16, 1865. On November 25, 1865, Todd prepared an "Estimate
of funds for the purpose of repairing the Arsenal" which was submitted to
Brigadier General A. B. Dyer, Chief of Ordnance, Washington, D.C. with the
request that "the funds may be forwarded immediately. It was reported that
all of the window glass "has been more or less broken" and that the
buildings "are very much in need of repairs generally." The frame buildings
were "in very bad condition." All of the fences had been destroyed and of
the buildings only the Magazine was suitable for storage purposes.
Repair funds were not immediately granted. One year later, December 8,
1866, a second request for funds was made by Captain Todd. The Officers'
Quarters, the old Devine house, needed "repairing at once" as they were in
"a sorry condition." Todd requested funds to replace the porch, to paint the
quarters and to thoroughly renovate the interior.
The Office building is also the first permanent military building erected in
San Antonio and in Texas by the U.S. Government. It vies with the old U.S.
Custom House in Galveston as the first permanent Federal building erected
in Texas. It is sometimes referred to as the Store-Office Building.
On August 10, 1867, Captain Isaac Arnold, Jr., then Arsenal Commander,
requested funds for a temporary storehouse as at that time the Magazine
was the only building at his disposal "suitable to receive serviceable stores."
The four frame buildings erected during the war "were suitable for
unserviceable stores" but even so were "not worth repairing."
In a following letter dated September 23, 1867, Arnold reported that the
Armorer's shop building was unsuitable for storage as the interior had
"never been ceiled or plastered" and as it then stood was not weatherproof.
Arnold's request was not complied with, however, and two years later he
was still attempting to procure these funds, as is evidenced by the inclusion
in his annual estimate for the Arsenal for the fiscal year ending June 30,
1870, a budgeted amount for finishing the Armorer's shop.
Captain J. C. Bradford assumed command of the Arsenal on October 24,
1869, and inherited Arnold's repair problems. In a report the following
spring, dated April 19, 1870, Bradford brought to the attention of Brigadier
General A. B, Dyer, Chief of Ordnance, Washington, D.C., that the "finishing
of the Armory shop and the erection of a new stable" previously requested
by Captain Arnold had not been accomplished and that it was "absolutely
necessary that these improvements be made at as early a day as
practicable. The Armory shop leaks so badly that in rainy weather arms
cannot be kept from rusting while they are undergoing repairs. The stable is
so old and rickety that it is likely to tumble down any rainy day." In
addition, Bradford repeated the need for a new storehouse to replace the
"unsightly" frame store buildings.
The Commanding Officers' Quarters and "the wing of the same building"
were also "badly in need of repairs":
The main building on the east side has a balcony of 36 feet long by 8 feet
wide, the pillars, railing and flooring of which is so rotten that it needs
to be replaced. This building and its adjoining wings forms a court on the
east side and is partly covered by porches with 135 x 7 ft. of flooring most
of which is so badly decayed that it requires to be repaired at once. The
wings need to be re-shingled and supplied with new gutter and pipe. The
inside of these buildings require to be plastered and the doors and windows
require repairs also. On the whole, the house needs a thorough renovation
to make it habitable, and in my opinion it will require ($2,000.00) Two
Thousand dollars to make it so.
Captain Clifton comly assumed command May 5, 1871, and shortly
thereafter he was able to rebuild the old leaky Armory shop. In 1873 comly
erected four frame buildings: a carpenter shop and three storehouses,
NOS. 1, 2, and 3. Apparently, in the following year, 1874, the old stable was
demolished and the present stable building was erected.
By 1882 the Arsenal Depot was composed of five permanent buildings: The
Commanding Officers' Quarters (Devine's old home enlarged) erected prior
to 1859; the Office Building, erected in 1859-1860; the Armory-Saddler
Shop, erected in 1860- 1861 and rebuilt ca. 1871; the Magazine, erected
1859-1861; and the stable, erected ca, 1874. In addition, there were five or
six frame storehouses ranged along the south property line and a frame
carpenter shop in the middle of the grounds.
Late in November or early in December, 1872, Colonel Edmund Schriver,
Inspector- General of the Army, visited San Antonio and described the
Arsenal at that date:
SAN ANTONIO ARSENAL is commanded by (a captain) of the Ordnance
Dept. It is without a garrison, the operations being carried on by civilians
hired, of whom there are nine laborers, and three watchmen. The October
pay-roll amounted to $1593.23. The valuable stores here are contained in
two wooden buildings some twelve or fifteen feet from the South line of the
grounds. There being no adequate means of extinguishing accidental fires,
should there be one, it is probable the loss would be total. All other
structure--officer's quarters, administrative building, one in progress for
workshops, magazine, even the stable--are of stone, yet these containing
the most valuable property, are mere sheds. With a view to avoid as much
as possible the chances of destruction by fire, I have already, in a special
communication to the War Department, recommended the purchase of four
acres of land adjacent to the South line of the Arsenal grounds for eleven
thousand dollars. The price seems high, but I am assured that this land will
sell for that sum should the U.S. cease to need it. If not accepted the owner
will divide it into building-lots with their rear on the Arsenal line, to be used
for kitchens, stables etc., always dangerous. The buildings and grounds are
in good order and the stores are well cared for. The office books and
papers are neatly kept and accounts and public funds are in a satisfactory
The land referred to by Schriver in his report was owned by Toutant
Beauregard, and after eight years, during which the matter was investigated
by Congress, the acquisition was made* and the final boundary of the
Arsenal grounds was established.
Shortly thereafter, Stephen Gould, writing in 1882, described the Arsenal
and summarized its history as follows:
The institution is well worthy of a visit by a stanger and is one of the
numerous attractions of this city. It is situated on South Plores and Arsenal
Streets and extends east to the San Antonio River. It includes a tract of
nearly 20 acres, the ample grounds being tastefully laid out with beautiful
drives and walks and well-shaded with various varieties of trees, while semi-
tropical plants are planted in convenient localities about the enclosure. The
grounds are lined by gas lamps and are supplied with water. The mains of
the water works company pass the arsenal on two sides, besides having
five large cisterns on the grounds, fed from the roofs of the various buildings
and capable of holding water enough to supply all present and prospective
Part of the present commanding officers' quarters, a beautiful building, was
formerly the residence of Dr. Devine, from whom purchased, but additions
and alterations were made. The office building was erected in 1860. The
Magazine was built up to the arch by the U.S. Government and finished
during the Civil War by the Confederates under Major J. H. Jampman, cSA.
The Armorers' Shop was partly built by the U.S. Government, as far as the
top doorstep, when the war broke out. The Confederates finished it with soft
rock. In 1871 capt. Comly assumed command, and the soft rock was torn
down and the shop was finished with hard rock as originally intended. The
Carpenter Shop and store Houses Nos. 1, 2, and 3, frame buildings, were
erected in 1873. The stone stable was built in 1874, Two frame store
houses, now torn down, were also erected by the confederates and were
used for blacksmith and carpenter shops.
The troops in the Deparment of Texas were all supplied with ordnance
stores from this arsenal and minor repairs to small arms, equipments and
accoutrements were made there while some few articles were made there.
In about 1883 the first permanent storehouse was erected at the Depot, and
following its completion, the buildings and the functions of the Arsenal
remained the same until 1916. At "that time three additional storehouses, an
oil house, a small arms shop, two more magazines, a machine and
equipment shop, barracks and quarters, increased the building value from
$100,000 to $900,000. There were then 44 buildings with 235,640 square
feet of storage space, housing an estimated $25,000,000 worth of stores—
more than the entire value of U.S. Ordnance in 1860. Camp Stanley was
also used for additional storage space, and when the arsenal property was
transferred to the Red River Arsenal there were 50,000 tons of ammunition
and 15,000 tons of general supplies to be moved. Incidentally, the Red
River Arsenal covers 50 square miles of ground, with 3,000 buildings for
Prepared by: John C. Garner, Jr.
Director, Bexar County
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
1. Primary and unpublished sources:
Deed records. . Bexar County courthouse, San Antonio, Texas. Book HI,
pp. 197-198, Book J2, pp. 552-553.
Gomolak, Capt. Lucas J. - "History of the San Antonio Arsenal" Meeting
of Conservation Society, January 26, 1956.
Reed, Dr. Erik K., Report, "U. S. Arsenal Buildings", Southwest Regional
Office, National Park Service, September 23, 1962.
Memo: Fr. Chief of Ordnance, War Dept., Washington, To: Commanding
Officer, San Antonio Arsenal, "History of Arsenal" April 10, 1913, "San
Antonio Arsenal Historical Report" 1919-1942 (SAA File No. 314.7)
Sheets, Maj. Gen. J. R., USA (Ret) Address, "Old San Antonio and the
Army", "Arsenal" to Fenwick club of San Antonio, Febraury 4, 1953. p. 1-8.
"General Site Plan & Building Use Map", Office of Post Engineer, San
Antonio Arsenal Plan #3, 25 August 1946.
2. Secondary and published sources:
San Antonio Express
September 5, 1867
February 24, 1868
March 2, 1868
June 21, 1868
June 26, 1868
January 1, 1870
December 16, 1879
May 14, 1899
San Antonio Herald
March 27, 1858
May 7, 1858
June 5, 1858
July 3, 1858
August 13, 1858
October 7, 1858
December 14, 1858
April 16, 1858
January 3, 1859
May 3, 1859
September 13, 1859
September 21, 1859
November 19, 1859
September 23, 1875
U.S. Congress. House - Letter from Secretary of War, relative to an
appropriation for purchasing certain property adjoining the San Antonio
Arsenal, San Antonio, Texas, December 17, 1872. 4 p. (House Exec. Doc.
48, 42d Cong., 3rd Sess.) Serial 1565, v. 7.
U.S. Congress. House - Committee on Military Affairs. San Antonio
Arsenal Report (to accompany bill S. 54) March 9, 1880. 4 p. (House
Report 449, 46th Cong., 2d Sess.). Serial 1935, v. 2.
U.S. Congress - Senate. Letter from Secretary of War accompanying a
copy of a letter from the chief quartermaster of the Department of
Texas, in regard to the advisability of erecting barracks and quarters
at San Antonio, Texas, for the headquarters of the Department of Texas.
June 4, 1879. 2 p. (Senate Exec. Doc. 28, 46th Cong., 1st Sess.)
Serial 1869, v. 1.
U.S. Congress - Senate - Committee on Military Affairs - Report (to
accompany bill S. 1720). January 29, 1879. 1 p. (Senate Report 657, 45th
Cong., 3d Sess.) Serial 1837, v. 1.
Report (to accompany bill S. 54) December 9, 1B79. 2 p.
map (Senate Report 41, 46th Cong., 2d Sess.) Serial 1893, v. 1.
Crimmins, M, L. - "W. G. Freeman's Report on the Eighth Military
Department1' Southwestern Historical Quarterly, July 1947, Vol LI No I.
Crimmins, M, L. - "W. G. Freeman's Report on the Eighth Military
Department" southwestern Historical Quarterly, October 1947, Vol LI No.
2, p. 167-174.
Conway, Walter C. - "Colonel Edmund Schriver's Inspector-General's
Report on Military Posts in Texas November, 1872-January, 1873"
Southwestern Historical Quarterly, April 1964, Vol LXVII No 4, 559-561.
Engelke, Louis, "old Arsenal Served Army for 85 Years", San Antonio
Express/ News, Express centennial, Sunday, Nov. 14, 1965.
The San Antonio project was undertaken by the Historic American Buildings
Survey (HABS) in the summer of 1968, and was made possible with funds
from HABS and two sponsors, the Bexar County Historical survey
Committee and the San Antonio Conservation Society. Under the direction
of James Massey, chief of HABS, the project was carried out by Wesley I.
Shank (Iowa State University), project supervisor, and by student assistant
architects, Charles W. Barrow (University of Texas); Les Beilinson
(University of Miami); William H. Edwards (University of Illinois); and Larry
D. Hermsen (Iowa State University) at the HABS field office in the former
Ursuline Convent buildings, San Antonio. John C. Garner, Jr., director of
Bexar county Architecture survey, did the outside work on the written
documentaries. Susan McCown, a HABS staff historian in the Washington,
D.C. office, edited the written data in 1983, for preparation of transmittal to
the Library of congress. Dewey G. Mears of Austin, Texas took the
documentary photographs of the San Antonio structures.
|larger photographs in new