February 22, 2019 - “It's not a fort. It has never been a fort. It is a house!” emphasized Carolyn Spears, Director of the Stone Fort Museum, in her opening remarks at the February meeting of the Timpson Area Genealogy and Heritage Society. She should know since she has worked on the research and preservation of the building for thirty-five years.
Not only was it not a fort, the Old Stone House, as it was called until the latter half of the 19th century, no longer exits. Many who have seen what is known as The Stone Fort on the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University might want to argue about that, but as Mrs. Spears points out, that is not the original structure. The original Stone House was built sometime between 1788 and 1791 in what is now downtown Nacogdoches by Gil Y'Barbo as a residence in the Spanish Colonial style. That building was demolished in 1902, not moved to the campus of SFA, which didn't even exist until 1923. In what is the first documented effort to preserve a historic structure in Texas, the ladies of the Nacodoches Cum Concillio Club tried to prevent the building's destruction. The structure now know as The Stone Fort is a replica built in 1936 in its present location as part of the Texas Centennial celebration.
19th century photographs and Sanford Fire Insurance Maps were used in creating the replica Stone Fort and it featured a two story front porch and “gun ports” as did the original structure. “Forts don't have front porches” says Mrs. Spears, and the 'gun ports” seen in period photographs were actually where the joists for the second floor were set in the three foot thick Weches glauconite exterior walls. However, by 1936 the notion that the building had been a fort was well established, Mrs. Spears says, and the “gun ports” were included in the replica, though at a more appropriate height from the ground.
They were removed as part of a renovation of the structure in 1990. The replica itself is now recognized as a historic structure.
Though it was not a fort, the building was easily the most substantial and imposing structure in Nacogdoches for most of the city's early history. It was built as a house and served as such off and on throughout the 19th century, but its primary use was commercial. Its large size allowed a variety of tenants to occupy it simultaneously, including a grocery and dry goods store, a law office, and a saloon. “The Stone Fort was the lifeblood of the city” says Mrs. Spears, “and all important functions were conducted there'. This includes the organization of three colonial era “filibusters”, the best known of which was the Fredonia Rebellion. “This fact may have contributed to the belief that the building served as a fort, though it never served as such” says Mrs. Spears. The Stone Fort was briefly commandeered by Mexican soldiers during The Battle of Nacogdoches in 1832. Also, the type for Texas' first newspaper was set in The Stone Fort, though the paper was actually published in Louisiana.
The Stone Fort Museum now operates under the auspices of the East Texas Research Center as a repository for historic artifacts and provides tours and educational programs. Though not all are always on display, the museum has about 500 artifacts, including the Thomas J. Rusk bed and the desk where the Durst family children are reputed to have been tutored by Sam Houston. Research and educational programs focus on life in Texas in the past. The yard in front of the Stone Fort is an El Camino Real Spanish Colonial Demonstration Garden, established in conjunction with the National Park Service, which features the sort of plants one might have found in a garden during the period, both native and imported. Mrs. Spears proudly pointed out that that the garden has some mature pawpaw trees which bear fruit. The museum is open from 9am until 5pm Tuesday through Saturday. For more information call 936- 468-2408.
The Timpson Area Genealogical and Heritage Society meets on the third Wednesday of each month at 2pm in the Meeting Room of the Timpson Public Library, located on the corner of Austin and Bremond Streets in downtown Timpson. The public is invited.