Fort Sam Museum moving to new home at historic Quadrangle
February 11, 2013
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - The Fort Sam Houston Museum is getting a new home.
The museum is slated to move to the east side of the U.S. Army North's historic Quadrangle in the fall and reopen in January 2014; it is currently housed at 1210 Stanley Rd.
The new museum will take up almost the entire east wing of the structure. Renovation is scheduled to begin the end of February.
"Our current location was originally built as a mess hall in 1905," said Jacqueline Davis, director of the Fort Sam Houston Museum. "We outgrew this space years ago, but we had nowhere to move to until Army North invited us to move to the Quad."
The museum takes visitors through the history of the Army in San Antonio -- from the establishment of the post at San Antonio in 1845 to the present day Fort Sam Houston.
"While each Army museum showcases an aspect of Army history, there are very few that cover an entire post," said Davis. "This museum, like all Army museums, exists to train the troops -- to train them on their heritage as Soldiers so they learn what is important."
Visitors and Soldiers alike can trace the evolution of the field uniform from the five-button sack coat Soldiers wore in the field in the 18th Century to the present day Army Combat Uniform. They can also learn that the first military flight took place here in 1910 as well as other interesting tidbits, such as in 1855, when Jefferson Davis, the U.S. Secretary of War, purchased camels to be used as pack animals to carry supplies from Camp Verde near Kerrville to San Antonio.
Visitors to the new museum will have the opportunity to see these exhibits and much more because the new location will be twice as large.
The move was necessitated by the U.S. Army Center of Military History, the governing body for all Army museums, which indicated the current location was not up to standards. Fort Sam Houston was told it either needed to move the museum or close it down. There was no place to build a new museum, and that is where Army North stepped in.
"We felt it was important to keep the museum open because it tells the history of the Army in San Antonio," said Lt. Col. James Woods, Army North deputy chief of staff. "It is also fitting that the museum is moving to the Quad because the Quadrangle is the second oldest military facility in San Antonio," he said.
The earlier structure is the famous Alamo. Although The Alamo, originally known as Mission San Antonio de Valero, began its existence as a Roman Catholic mission, the U.S. Army rented the facility and used it as a quartermaster's depot prior to the construction of Fort Sam Houston.
Davis said she is grateful that the museum will remain open.
"When we open at the Quad next year, we won't have a ribbon-cutting ceremony. We will have a bow untying ceremony because this museum is Army North's gift to the post and the Fort Sam Houston community."
Although the museum is moving to Army North's historic Quadrangle, it is, in fact, the Fort Sam Houston Museum.
"This museum tells the evolution of the Army in San Antonio," said Martin Callahan, museum specialist. After Texas was admitted to the Union, the U.S. Army, under the command of Gen. Zachary Taylor, arrived in Texas and in 1846, and Gen. John Wool assembled his army here during the war with Mexico.
Following the Civil War, the Post at San Antonio, as it was called, moved to the outskirts of town when the city of San Antonio gave the Army 92 acres of land to build a post. The first building constructed in 1876 was a quartermaster depot. It is the building Army North now calls home. It would be called the Post at San Antonio until it was renamed Fort Sam Houston in 1890.
Prior to the museum moving to the Quadrangle, the east wing housed Army North staff offices, so the space is being renovated to house museum artifacts.
The renovation will take several steps. The first step, undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Jamco Joint Venture LLC, the primary contractor, is to gut the inside of the east wing.
"We are going to tear out everything except for supporting walls," said Charles Cole, senior civil engineer technician, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District. "We will be putting in a new heating and air-conditioning system that will make the entire museum climate controlled to protect the artifacts and exhibits."
One of the difficulties with renovating a limestone structure, such as the quadrangle, is interior walls have to be constructed over the limestone to keep the inside a comfortable temperature.
"Limestone heats up really well, especially during a San Antonio summer," said Davis. "So without a proper ventilation system, those rocks will make a room unbearably hot in the summer."
Once the office space is gutted, the Corps of Engineers and the architects will begin constructing the museum space. The entrance to the museum will be reconstructed to look like it did when the quadrangle was built - in 1876 - to give the museum a historic feel.
"When you walk into the museum, you will see the original limestone structure of the walls and ceiling," said Frank Cuellar, quality control manager with Jamco Joint Venture.
Construction and building of the museum is scheduled to continue until fall. Disruptions to Army North's daily business are expected to be minimal.
"We are doing everything we can to minimize our footprint," said Cole. "We don't want to disrupt the day-to-day activity of the people and animals that work and live in the Quadrangle.
The museum is scheduled to close for inventory and move to the Quadrangle in September and should open at its new location early next year.