more energized by being out of the classroom on a field trip than
thrilled about where they were, the third graders waited as patiently
as is possible for nine- and ten-year-olds to begin their tour of
Stone Fort in Nacogdoches.
One of the boys managed to escape his teacher’s surveillance long
enough to slip out of line and trace his hand along the rough red
rock exterior of the rustic two-story building on the Stephen F.
Austin State University campus. At this late date, former museum
curator Carolyn Erickson has no idea why the boy felt the need to
check out the old stone that gave the landmark its name, but she
well remembers what happened next.
The suddenly animated child rushed up to her with something clutched
in his hand. When he opened his small fist, Mrs. Erickson saw an
old lead rifle ball, the soft metal powdery white with age.
“Can I keep it?” the little guy asked.
that question, she asked one of her own. Where had he found it?
Excitedly, he said it had been imbedded (though he didn’t use that
word) in one of the fort’s stones until he managed to pry it out.
Mrs. Erickson weighed any archeological significance of the artifact
versus what the spent projectile obviously meant to the third grader,
at least at that heady moment. It didn’t take her long to decide
not to spoil a magic moment in that young person’s life. Who knows?
Maybe the boy went on to major in Texas history or archeology. Could
be he still has that deformed bullet rattling around in a battered
cigar box along with baseball cards and other childhood treasures.
incident happened in 1978, just shy of two centuries after Antonio
Gil Ibarvo (often incorrectly spelled “Ybarro”) built a two-story
structure in the new Spanish town of Nacogdoches
in 1779. Constructed of the iron ore common to the area, with an
interior of adobe bricks and walnut timbers, the building served
as a trading post in the tall pines along the El
Camino Real, the roadway extending from Natchitoches, La. via
San Antonio to the
First known as La Casa Piedra (the rock house), the building later
came to be called the Old Stone Fort. These days, locals tend to
shorten that to OSF. No matter its name, it is one of Texas’ best
known if least understood landmarks. For one very big thing, OSF
was never a fort, at least not in the traditional sense. However,
several military campaigns were directed from it and the building
did see vicious fighting at times. Eight different flags have flown
in Nacogdoches, and the building had some role during all of those
OSF stood for more than a hundred years, from the late 18th century
until the early 20th century. During that time, it went full circle
from being a privately owned trading post to semi-public building
to a privately owned saloon. Finally, in 1902, brothers William
and Charles Perkins had it razed. Fortunately for posterity, they
donated the exterior stone to a local women’s club.
In 1907, the stones were used in a new building that went up on
the town’s public school campus. That building lasted until 1931,
but again, the stones were saved.
From the historical preservation perspective, razing the Old
Stone Fort constituted a felony against history. While tearing
down the Alamo would
have been much worse, had the Nacogdoches
building been left intact, it would be the oldest non-mission structure
Several “firsts” took place inside its walls. Not only was Texas’s
first declaration of independence written there (in 1813), so were
the second and third. The same year the first declaration of independence
was written within its walls, the type for Texas’s first newspaper,
the Gazeta de Tejas, was set there. On the local level, OSF was
the town’s first commercial building, first city hall and first
Beyond all those significant points, those who spent time in the
structure constitute a “Who’s Who” of early Texas history. Among
them were James Bowie, David Crockett, William B. Travis, and Sam
present OSF is a replica built during the Texas
Centennial in 1936. Most of the stone came from the original
building, but Mrs. Erickson says she knows of at least one Nacogdoches
residence with a fireplace made of original OSF stone. Presumably,
the stone in which the elementary pupil found the lead ball was
one of the original pieces.
Not only is the iconic replica not really an old fort, the site
of the original structure isn’t even where most people think it
is. Many believe the OSF stood where Stone
Fort Bank (now Regions Bank) is located. But the historic building
actually sat across the street, where the Commercial Bank and Trust
stands. (For GSP junkies, the coordinates of the actual site are
31.6-271 degrees north and 094.65404 degrees west.)
A final quirky thing about OSF: There’s a long-standing campus myth
that if a S.F. Austin student sets foot in the building, he or she
will not end up graduating. Of course, that makes about as much
sence as calling an old trading post a fort.
© Mike Cox
- September 11, 2014 column
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