We save the real places that tell the real stories of Texas.
In 1598 near San Elizario, Don Juan de Oñate’s expedition arrived at the Rio Grande and celebrated a Mass that’s reenacted annually as America’s first Thanksgiving. Oñate’s La Toma (the taking) proclamation claimed for Spain all land drained by the river. The Spanish relocated San Elizario Presidio here in 1789. A flood destroyed the fort’s chapel, and the current Spanish Colonial Revival-style chapel was built in 1882 overlooking the town plaza.
Also facing the quaint plaza is Los Portales, the 1850s home of Texas Ranger and county judge Gregorio N. García. Now a visitors center and museum, the traditional adobe structure offers exhibits on historical topics, including the divisive Salt War of 1877. San Elizario was once the county seat, and its historic district now features adobe commercial buildings, an acequia (irrigation canal), and a refurbished jail from which, according to legend, famous outlaw Billy the Kid once freed a compadre.
The chapel was built just south of the San Bernal Plaza, the community’s spiritual hub took shape in traditional architectural fashion with thick adobe walls, massive buttresses and a flat ceiling beam roof. The chapel’s single-nave design moved purposefully toward a central altar, while tall, narrow, arched windows reached toward a triangular bell tower atop the facade. Simple, straightforward and largely unembellished, the chapel initially replicated the modest, box-like model of early Southwest mission architecture. As the Territorial period moved into the 20th century, the introduction of new European elements brought the chapel to its current Spanish Colonial Revival style.
Cover Photo by Shady via Flickr