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

A San Antonio Tale

This past week, we spent Monday through Thursday in San Antonio, Texas.  What started out as a typical, hot Texas work week, turned into an emergency situation.  The first couple of days, we worked in the Acequias surrounding the San Antonio Missions. Acequias  are irrigation ditches created in the early 1700’s to divert water from the San Antonio river to farmlands surrounding the Missions.  Our job was to cut down and herbicide invasive plant life, such as Chinaberry, Ligustrum, Cat Claw and Arundo species.  Our sponsors and Parks crew for the week, Eric, Greg and Mario were all very knowledgeable and helpful.  All was well for the first two days – though hot and humid, the work was new and exciting because we were in an interesting and historic environment and we had chances to learn more about plant identification in areas outside of Austin.

On Wednesday, the work started off normally, but we soon were thrown into an unexpected situation.  Right before lunch two crew members were using brush cutters to cut down Arundo in an overgrown area near the San Juan Mission.  The vibrations from the brush cutters disturbed a hive of Africanized honey bees which caused them to swarm.  The bees began attacking and we all ran to exit the densely covered Arundo patch as quickly as we could.  The two members using brush cutters were hit the hardest and needed medical attention.  Luckily, we were surrounded by great people who were really helpful and got everyone the attention that was needed as quickly as possible. It was quite the experience, but definitely bonded us as a crew and we will now be more aware of the dangers presented by Texas wildlife.

Molly Coffman and Calla Gentiles, ECorps Members

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