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The Daughters of the Republic of Texas: 105 Years of Alamo Custodianship

February 4, 2010

Last week marked the 105th anniversary of the legislation that granted the Daughters of the Republic of Texas custodianship of the Alamo. The act, entitled “Providing for the Purchase, Care, and Preservation of the Alamo,” passed the Texas House of Representatives on January 23 and the state Senate on January 24th before being signed by Governor Lanham on January 26th, 1905.

Clara Driscoll

Clara Driscoll, who, with Adina De Zavala, led the DRT's efforts to acquire the Alamo. (SC96.002)

The legislation appropriated $65,000 to Clara Driscoll, who had advanced that amount in personal funds to cover a DRT fund-raising shortfall and to purchase the Alamo convento (today the Long Barracks museum) in her own name. The act also placed title to the convento in the name of the State of Texas; turned custody of the property to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas; and transferred custody of the Alamo church, which the state had purchased in 1883, from the City of San Antonio to the DRT.

The legislation stated, in part:

Section 3: Upon the receipt of the title to said land [the convento], the Governor shall deliver the property thus acquired, together with the Alamo Church property already owned by the State, to the custody and care of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, to be maintained by them in good order and repair without charge to the State, as a sacred memorial to the heroes who immolated themselves upon that hallowed ground.

Several months after the Act was approved – on September 5, 1905 – Clara Driscoll transferred the title to the convento building to Texas; one month later, Governor Lanham conveyed it and the Alamo church to the DRT.

Alamo Plaza looking south, circa 1907.

Alamo Plaza looking south, circa 1907. The Alamo church, on the east side of the plaza, is beyond the photograph on the left. It is obscured by the old mission convento, which merchants Charles Hugo and Gustav Schmeltzer purchased in 1880 and operated as a wholesale warehouse and grocery. (SC8317.4)

 

The 1905 legislation followed decades of efforts to preserve the Alamo and a five-year campaign on the part of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, led by Adina De Zavala and Clara Driscoll, to raise money for the preservation of the Alamo. Development of downtown San Antonio began in earnest following the Civil War. Photographs (like the one above) and maps (like this 1904 Sanborn map of Alamo Plaza, available as a PDF document) show the Alamo surrounded by commercial structures by the late 1800s and early 1900s. Additionally, the Alamo church was in deplorable condition following years of being repurposed, neglected, and damaged. San Antonians feared that the site would eventually be demolished altogether.

The Alamo church and the Hugo & Schmeltzer building in an undated photograph, circa 1877-1912.

The Alamo church and the Hugo & Schmeltzer building (the old mission convento) in an undated photograph, circa 1877-1912. (SC95.044)

A photograph from the late 1800s showing a saloon operating immediately to the south of the Alamo church. (SC13523)

A photograph from the late 1800s showing a saloon immediately to the south of the Alamo church. (SC13523)

 

At the fourteenth annual meeting of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas – held in La Grange, Texas, in April 1905 – Second Vice-President Cornelia Branch Stone of Galveston described the Daughters’ efforts in the weeks prior to the passage of the “Alamo Purchase Bill.” Speaking on behalf of the absent Clara Driscoll, Stone reported that

the committee were [sic] well received by the Senate and House of Representatives, where they found many warm supporters of the measure. Miss Driscoll and Mrs. Stone addressed the Committee on State Affairs in both houses, and Miss De Zavala spoke to the House Committee on State Affairs, as the Alamo Purchase Bill has been referred to this committee. Every courtesy was shown by the two committees, and unanimous endorsement was given to the bill. The Senate was unanimous in support of the bill, and while there was some opposition in the House, the bill had so many strong supporters it was passed by a large majority. Those who most conspicuously advocated this measure were Speaker Seabury, Messrs. Kyle, Glen, Blount, Brelsford, Onion, Robertson, Hudspeth, Judge Terrell and others. [Sam Ealy Johnson, father of President Lyndon B. Johnson, was another supporter of the bill.] Mrs. Looscan and Miss De Zavala were present at the final passage of the bill. Mrs. Stone and Miss Driscoll, having been assured of its safety, left Austin after having spent a week there. The committee did good work, and were [sic] constantly advised by Judge Clarence Martin, whose wise counsel was of great value.

Adina De Zavala

Adina De Zavala in 1924. (SC95.316det)

In another address to the Daughters assembled in LaGrange, Cornelia Branch Stone asserted that the legislation would “require renewed activity on our part to meet [the] demand” placed on them. This, indeed, has proven to be the case in the 105 years since the state granted custodianship of the Alamo to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.

Click here for a full citation of the documents and images included in this entry.

For further reading, DRT Library:

The general collections of the DRT Library contain books, annual meeting proceedings, vertical files, photographs, and other materials that document the history of the DRT and its custodianship of the Alamo. Additionally, the library also has several archival collections of personal papers and scrapbooks by, to, and about women who held leadership positions in the organization. Additional information about these materials can be found by searching the library’s online catalog. A few resources that describe the context of the DRT’s early preservation efforts and custodianship are listed below.

Preservation Pioneers: The Daughters of the Republic of Texas compiled by Laura T. Beavers

90 Years of the Daughters: History of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas

Saving San Antonio: The Precarious Preservation of a Heritage by Lewis F. Fisher

A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory by Randy Roberts and James S. Olson

100 Years of Custodianship by Madge Thornall Roberts

“Alamo History Chronology,” a timeline compiled by the staff of the DRT Library

For further reading, other institutions:

Several other Texas repositories contain archival collections of personal papers by, to, and about early leaders of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Many of these collection, such as the Adina De Zavala papers at the University of Texas at Austin, can be found by searching Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO). Others, such as the Adele Briscoe Looscan papers at the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Library and the Adina De Zavala papers at the University of the Incarnate Word, can be found through Internet search engines.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Rusty Gamez permalink
    February 5, 2010 3:31 pm

    Great job Caitlin! I enjoyed the images of the Alamo and Alamo Plaza — never noticed the small fountain almost exactly where the current Cenotaph is. I forgot that President Johnsons father Sam Ealy Johnson had been a big suppoter of the bill! Rusty

  2. Martha (Walker) McClarnon permalink
    October 6, 2011 10:48 am

    My sister and I are relatives of Davy Crockett. His sister married into our family line. What do we do to prove it and become a part of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas?

  3. drtlibrary permalink*
    October 10, 2011 12:53 pm

    In order to qualify for DRT membership, you need to prove that one of your direct ancestors was living in Texas while it was a Republic, i.e. prior to February 19, 1846. First, you need to use archival records to prove each link in your family line (you to your parent, your mother or father to their parent, your grandmother or grandfather to their parent, and so on). Second, you also need to use historical records to prove the direct ancestor’s residence in Texas prior to 1846.

    The DRT Library has a variety of materials that can help you research your Texas ancestors, and we can mail copies of items to you if you’re unable to visit the Library in person. For additional information about DRT membership, please see the organization’s website (http://www.drtinfo.org) or contact DRT headquarters in Austin.

  4. March 16, 2014 12:32 pm

    There is also a collection of Adele Briscoe Looscan material at the downtown Houston Public Library, held in the Julia Ideson building. I know this because I have been doing some volunteer archiving work on it. The collection, consisting primarily of correspondence and clippings, deals with her activities as president of the Texas Historical Association.

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