Through a generous grant from the Mary Hobbs Griffith Foundation, the 289-year-old National Historic Landmark is offering free admission in March, April and May of 2011 to 10,000 Texas students in 4th- and 7th-grade social studies, as well as funds to help underwrite transportation costs.
“Education is what Presidio La Bahia is all about,” said Newton M. Warzecha, director of the Presidio since 1991. “We’ve been concerned that students were not learning about the rich Spanish, Mexican and Texas history here at the Presidio and Goliad. School field trips have declined from 5,000 students five years ago to 2,200 this spring.”
David Vickers, a seventh-grade social studies teacher in Beeville, is developing a lesson plan which will enable the Presidio to show schools “that we are going to teach the students what the curriculum indicates they should know about our history,” Warzecha emphasized.
“This program is on a first-come, first-served basis,” he said. “To qualify, reservations have to be made in advance. We will even have historic re-enactors here to add to the student’s Presidio experience.”
The transportation grants to the schools will be based on the student miles traveled and will typically cover about one-half of the transportation cost, to a maximum of $5 per student.
About 170 politicians, historians, archaeologists, re-enactors, news media, Friends of the Fort (FOF) members and astonished tourists witnessed the museum re-opening, ribbon cutting and formal blessing. The museum was fully renovated at a cost of more than $500,000 during the past 3½ years.
Bishop David E. Fellhauer of the Diocese of Victoria explained how the Diocese came to own such a sacred pantheon of Texas, Mexican, Spanish and Catholic history. In addition to its colonial periods, the Presidio was central to the Texas Revolution of 1836. Just beyond and within its three-foot-thick walls, 342 Texians were massacred under orders from Mexican Gen. Santa Anna.
After years of negotiation, the crumbling Our Lady of Loreto Chapel and the ruins of the fort were purchased from the City of Goliad in 1853 for $1,000. The first full restoration of the fortress occurred in the 1960s with extensive funds from the Kathryn Stoner O’Connor Foundation.
In his blessing, Bishop Fellhauer proclaimed, “God is the Lord of history. History is a form of truth. We proclaim His majesty in many and varied ways.
“May all who come to the museum in pursuit of knowledge and understanding always be docile to the wisdom of Your word... and will strive to create a more civilized world,” he prayed.
The bishop was assisted in the ribbon cutting by Louise O’Connor of Austin, granddaughter of Kathryn O’Connor, and Suzi Warzecha, coordinator of the Friends of the Fort.
The hilltop bastion is located one mile south of Goliad on U.S. Hwy. 183 (77A), a few hundred yards from the San Antonio River. It features eight-foot-tall stone walls, parapets, cannons, a bell tower containing two bells, a religious statue estimated at 300 years old, a charming Texas-version fresco of the Annunciation and more than 150 artifacts on display from among more than 54,694 collected from the grounds..
“The Quarters,” previously used by officers and later priests, can accommodate four persons for overnight stays in one of the most historic – and eerie – lodging accommodations in America.
The most recent improvements to the complex were completed with funds provided by members of the Presidio La Bahia Foundation, its Advisory Board, FOF members and numerous individuals and area foundations.
Re-enactors in period costumes from around South Texas were on hand for the museum tours and to salute the occasion by firing a recently acquired, 250-year-old bronze cannon.
Lunch was served on the Quadrangle grounds, compliments of Sally and David Johnson of Goliad, directors of the foundation. Their Johnsons’ barbecue team, the Farm Industrial Good Guys, prepared the food, which was served by members of the Goliad County Historical Commission.
Museum now first-class
Museum designer Drew Patterson of Drew Patterson Studios in Austin believes “This may be the only presidio on what was the northern frontier of New Spain that is totally intact. The museum now accommodates a high quality look into Spanish Colonial life and the later Mexican culture, as well as Texas’ quest for independence,” said the physical anthropologist.
“The exhibits have been re-designed with new, museum-quality cases and lighting, and all interiors have been repainted; murals and decorations refreshed; the floors repaired and re-sealed and the gift shop expanded,” Patterson said. “The soldiers’ barracks have been upgraded and the entry and museum are now more wheelchair accessible.”
“Our daily admission prices for the Presidio offer real family value and real educational opportunities,” Warzecha insisted. “Many fans of the Texas Independence (tourist) Trail have seen the Alamo in San Antonio, the San Jacinto Battleground and Monument, even Gonzales or Independence, Texas.
“But if they have not visited the Presidio and Goliad, they are missing one of the bloodiest, enlightening and educational chapters of the Texas revolution and our great state’s history.”
Admissions are $4 (ages 12-59); $3.50 for (60 and older and military personnel), and $1 for children (ages 6-11). Children age 5 and younger are admitted free. Group rates are available with advance reservations. The Presidio’s Facebook Fan Page is at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/PresidioLaBahia?ref=ts .