East Side historic site discovered

October 26, 2016


City officials have discovered the site of a Spanish colonial-era lookout tower and gunpowder storage house on the East Side, adding a broader perspective to the story of the Alamo and early San Antonio.



The base of a wall and artifacts tie the site, in City Cemetery No. 2 at Commerce Street and Palmetto Avenue, to the historic “powder house and watch tower,” stone structures whose exact location has long been pondered by Alamo enthusiasts. Details of the find were released late Friday at a symposium at the Witte Museum.


Officials said the discovery is timely, as the city, Texas General Land Office and nonprofit Alamo Endowment near completion of a rough draft of a long-range plan for the Alamo area, including the state-owned historical complex and city plaza. Although the Alamo story has been tied to peripheral locales, such as Santa Anna’s headquarters in today’s Main Plaza and earthworks in what now is La Villita, the East Side location, about a mile from the iconic Alamo church, has not been part of the popular narrative of the 1836 siege and battle.


“Known through archival records, but never located, the Spanish colonial Powder House adds a new dimension to the understanding of the Battle of the Alamo,” said Shanon Miller, director of the city’s Office of Historic Preservation, which oversees archaeological issues. 


It took about a year for Matthew Elverson, assistant city archaeologist, to pinpoint the site, using archival maps and past research, documents and suggestions. In March, he secured a Texas Historical Commission permit to study four areas in the cemetery with ground-penetrating radar.


“And one of them came back with what appeared to be a wall foundation” in a northeast-southwest alignment, in contrast to the east-west gridded cemetery and consistent with alignment of the historic tree-lined road known as the Alameda, where Commerce Street now runs, Elverson said.


He then obtained state permits to excavate in two areas away from burial plots and found the base of what may be a perimeter wall about 1 foot below the surface, along with gunflints, horseshoe nails and various types of 19th-century ceramics, confirming decades of military occupation. U.S. Army artist Seth Eastman had drawn a sketch of the powder house and three-story watchtower about 1848.

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