Ask a Texan about the Alamo, and you’re likely to hear a story as big as the state itself. Today, the Alamo Mission represents hard-fought freedom to Americans. But time has taken a toll on the site. So the Texas General Land Office has spearheaded a $450 million preservation effort to restore it.
The Battle of the Alamo was a turning point in the Texas Revolution. It occurred between February 23 and March 6, 1836. The Alamo Mission wasn’t originally a fortress. It was constructed by Spanish Roman Catholic missionaries. But the building—and its ministry to Native Americans—was abandoned in the late 1790s. Within 10 years, it was being used as a garrison for soldiers.
Mexican troops led by General López de Santa Anna launched a devastating attack on a small group of Texians (as the rebels trying to free Texas from Mexico were called) occupying the Alamo. The 13-day siege ended with Mexico’s victory—but that glory was short-lived. The loss fueled Texians to respond fiercely. Weeks later, they defeated the Mexican Army at the Battle of San Jacinto. Texas then separated from Mexico and became the Republic of Texas.
You might recognize the names of some who fought and died at the Alamo. Frontiersman Davy Crockett, knife-battle legend James Bowie, and young lawyer and soldier William B. Travis lost their lives there.
But despite the site’s historical significance, the restoration project has not been without debate.
On the one hand, the structure is in dire need of repair. Crews are digging pits adjacent to the building’s limestone wall foundation. They must expose it to protect it. The archaeological dig occurring along with the project has unearthed musket balls that experts say could date to the 1800s. Workers have also recovered a mid-1800s bottle and a piece of tin-glazed painted pottery called “majolica”—all part of the Alamo’s rich history.
On the other hand, the site is also the resting place of human remains. Early settlers and Native Americans were buried at a cemetery on the Alamo grounds years before the famous battle. The Texas Historical Commission named the Alamo a “Historic Texas Cemetery” this year. That designation means it should be preserved. But some people would rather the site be left undisturbed.
It’s likely that graves will be discovered during the restoration project. Should that stop the repairs? Or should it spur them on? Is it possible to maintain the integrity of the mission’s original purpose while updating and protecting the structure? Without preservation, America will most likely lose the centuries-old monument.