Historical Restoration at Texas Conservation Corps

The masonry interns have been working at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The park system is made up of  four of the five Spanish frontier missions that are in San Antonio. The different complexes were established by missionaries to spread Catholicism among the local native population and were part of a Spanish colonization system that stretched across the  Southwest in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. We are working at the San Jose Mission with Steve and Dean who have been maintaining the historical masonry at the missions for long time.

Our first week was spent sweeping, moving stones, filling water barrels, and making mud. We make the cement (called mud) that is replacing the old cement that the masons scrape out of the wall. The mud is a top secret recipe that is written on a board that stays by the mud ingredients.

We’ve been working in a room that was either a dry storage or a jail cell when the missions were active. There is no evidence of any sort or doorway on the first floor. Every day we bring the tools and the mud up the scaffolding with the pulley. Once inside we listen to sports radio that Steve and Dean put on and rake the original mortar out from between the limestone. We like to joke that we have historic snot.

During the second week we dropped the scaffolding down a level, and kept raking. We spent one whole day raking out the joints. At the end of the week we worked in two of the rooms that housed the native residents, and dug out the dirt between the field stones that make up the floor. We then vacuumed out the cracks and put in new mortar. We put the mortar in when it was dry and then splashed water all over the stones so the water would run off the stones and into the cracks to wet the dry mortar mix. We made sure to keep the mortar about 3/4″ lower than the stone. After the mortar sets and dries we will add another layer of mortar. This time it will be wet mortar.

It was interesting to see another floor that had been done the same way and to see the process. We are both learning a lot and seeing an “old stone building” in a new light.

Erin Kiewel, Masonry Intern

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