Building Nos. 2 and 62 – Post
The Regiment House has been
called by many names. Although small in stature, it has a
diverse history. Not only has its use and title changed many
times since it was built, it has also misled some local
historians into reporting it as being located at different
places. Once affectionately known as “The Little Chapel at
Fort Brown,” it originally stood with its back to the Rio Grande
and faced the parade grounds near the present Gateway
International Bridge and Customs facilities.
Sources noted it had “been moved
from its original location to a point near the international
bridge.” Another account described the chapel as once being
located near the Jefferson entrance and used as a school for
African-American soldiers. These minor errors that crept into
historical record made Building No. 2. an interesting study.
There were actually two chapels; each one moved one time and
still in use today.
The first chapel was originally
built to be used as a school and library. In 1889, plans were originally
designed for it to be made of wood. However, a hurricane
in 1880 may have convinced the Army that a brick building would
last longer. Maps showed that building No. 2 was built
between 1882 and 1884. It was used as a school until 1907.
Between 1907 and 1922 its use is uncertain. From 1922 to 1941 it was used as a Post Chapel, N.C.O.
“Bachelors'” Quarters, Officers’ Guests Quarters, Post Office
and N.C.O. Quarters, and the Chaplain’s office prior to October
1941 as will be explained later. Earliest Post Engineer’s
records show that a single 20’ x 30’ ft. bedroom and 16’ x 18’
living room comprised the floor space with an open porch.
time it listed a capacity for 50 persons. “The larger room was
the chapel’s auditorium, while the smaller room was its
vestry.” Later records show the building was divided with a
hall to make three bedrooms and small kitchen to house a single
family by 1938. It was also painted at one time. By then, the.
porch was screened.
In 1951, the Little Chapel at
Fort Brown was remembered at the time for being a “popular place
for weddings of soldiers and local girls” when it was
transferred by the city of Brownsville as a museum to the
Brownsville Historical Association. The BHA restored the building and opened
it in 1952. The BHA was organized in 1946 and granted a charter by the state of
Texas in 1947. They were granted use of the Chapel as a museum
for 50 years. However, by 1958,
the Stillman house at 1305 E. Washington Street was purchased by
Chauncey Stillman, a great-grandson of Charles Stillman, and
donated to the BHA as their permanent home. When businessmen in
downtown Brownsville heard about this, they petitioned to oppose the BHA relocating there under the charge that “a
museum would stifle the growth of the immediate area.” The BHA
restored the home and moved in by 1960. Now with the expanded
Brownsville Heritage Complex,
the BHA continues to organize a wide range of activities to
promote local history and preserve historical records.
From 1960 to 1991,
Building No. 2 was used as an office for the General Services
Administration (GSA) and a tool and maintenance building.
Little maintenance had been done on the building and after
thirty years of neglect, the building had seen better days.
In 1992 when expansion of the U.S. Customs facility would require that
it be removed, the “Little Chapel” was suddenly in need
of a few small miracles.
Mark Lund, Director of City
Planning, (Heritage Officer for Brownsville at the time) had
first hand experience from the initial dismantling, storage, and
restoration of Building No. 2. He stated that the city had a
contract with the GSA to remove (demolish) the building. When
the Texas State Historical Commission became involved, the
“Planning staff and Heritage Council persuaded the City
Commission to intervene such that the building’s demolition
(disassembly) was done carefully to allow it at a future date to
be possibly reassembled.”
The GSA was anxious to remove
Building No. 2 because it delayed construction by standing in
the way of a road that had to be widened for trucks to make a
sharp turn from the bridge for inspection. Once the Historical
Commission was satisfied assessment requirements were met, the
process to demolish was approved. When the city was contracted
by the GSA to demolish Building No. 2, Mr. Lund involved the
Heritage Council and Planning Director Joe Galvan, who spoke with
Butch Barbosa of the City Commission, to find what could be done
to save the little building.
Bricks were not numbered as
previously believed. Instead, temporary workers were hired and
instructed to carefully remove the bricks and place them on
pallets to be stored for future use. The City Manager, Kirby
Lellijedahl, sent Parks Department trucks to transport brick and
wooden pieces, which were labeled and protected by tarps.
There was no funding to
immediately relocate the building. One ideal plan was to
situate the building near the entrance at the Fort Brown
Memorial Golf Course as a visitor’s center. Until Building No.
2’s fate would be known, components would be temporarily stored
in Brownsville Compress warehouses free of rent for several
months by compress owners. After several months, the city
was asked to begin paying rent. Since the building was eligible
to receive funds from the Community Development Block Grant –
Community Development Funds (CBDG), approximately $1,200 was
used to keep the parts in storage until it could be decided
where it would be rebuilt. Around this time Los Caminos Del
Rio was producing a film to highlight significant
architectural buildings along both sides of the Rio Grande
Valley to be aired by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). The
Dallas-based philanthropic Meadows Foundation supported this
production and representatives were visiting Brownsville. After
learning about Building No. 2, they advised the City to write a
formal grant proposal.
Once funding by the Meadows Foundation was
assured, TSC got involved with the Texas Historical Commission and the City
Planning Department in planning a new site for the building on the historical campus. TSC
officials must have considered Building 2 as an inherent part of
the historical assemblage of fort buildings and that it would be
turned over to them, even though it had fallen under ownership of
the GSA and later, transferred to the City. The project was
entitled “Building Number Two” by the City and an Inter-Local
Agreement was signed between the City and TSC under which the
City would pay all costs once a $50,000 grant was secured by the
Meadows Foundation. Construction was to be supervised by
Heritage Officer Mark Lund and progress of the work would be
reported to Michael Putegnat, TSC Executive Director. Once the
job was completed, the City would “turn over title and control
to TSC. Costs involved for TSC would be time and landscaping.”
Bricks were delivered near the
parking lot on the site it would be rebuilt. This pile caused
rainwater to flood the parking lot and Michael Putegnat, was
pressured to correct this situation. For a short while,
stagnant water became known as “Putegnat’s Pond.” Bricks had to
be reset aside to allow for proper drainage.
the contractor became dissatisfied with the amount of his
reimbursement when the small building proved to be a bigger
challenge than he anticipated. He had stored some of the
wooden pieces from the Brownsville Compress in his garage and
held up construction. Mark Lund was faced with two
problems: One was to hire a new contractor to complete the
half-finished project with the amount of funds that were left
over (most contractors would not want to bid on a half-finished job) and the second was
to get the wooden pieces back. Lund had the police called in
as a precautionary measure to ensure parts would be delivered.
The Parks Department was used again to deliver wooden parts to
the second contractor, Carroll Adams, who saw the project to the
end. (His nephew, Jearel Adams, worked on the
Cavalry building). Some
wooden pieces had become damaged from being taken apart, stepped
on, or exposed to moisture. Carroll Adams, having worked
on historic building restoration jobs before and seeing Mark had
been scraping pieces of interior wood trim so that they may be
used again, took it upon himself to purchase wood pieces with
his money to see the job be done correctly.
Another obstacle to rebuilding
was met below the ground on which Building No. 2 now stands.
Because of its heavy 12” brick walls, a continuous concrete
brick foundation had to be placed below the ground. Utility pipes obstructed digging and
created problems for re-builders:
Boxed openings were made in the
reinforced concrete foundation. Steel pieces were placed on the
top of the openings after the concrete cured. This was done to
handle the loads of substantial masonry walls. The City
sidewalk crew (under the direction of Santana Vallejo) built
this concrete foundation. They did very well in dealing with
the challenges presented by the existing utilities. The
foundation design was done by the City Engineer, P. J. Garcia,
P. E. The private contractor was hired to do the subsequent
work… after the foundation was completed.
Mark Lund also had the odious
task of placing insulation from the crawl space beneath the
floor of Building No. 2. Work was completed by 1993 and it now
sits near the Art Annex Building No. 89. Most peculiar about
this building is that there is no historical subject marker on
the Little Chapel for visitors to inform them where the building
was once located, what it was used for, and to memorialize the
people who all worked together to save it.
A second Post Chapel (Building
No. 62) once stood in the area between Tandy Hall and the
Lightner Student Center, next to the Post Theater. This
chapel was the actual “Regimental” chapel. It had a larger
capacity to hold services for a larger number of men. The
large wood-frame structure with a steeple was built in 1941 and
had a 350 person capacity. It measured 81’-3” long and 37’
wide. The Quartermaster record lists it as a “temporary”
building and classify it as a “Regimental Chapel” on the floor
plan. It was dedicated on Sunday, October 26, 1941.
There was a movable altar for Jewish, Catholic, or Protestant services.
Before that, services were held in the service club near
Building No. 2. Chaplain Stephan K. Callahan moved his office
from Building No. 2 into the new chapel the following Monday.
In 1947, the two chapels and other
buildings at Fort Brown were declared surplus property by the
War Assets Administration (WAA). An appeal was made to the WAA
to secure Building No. 2 (The Little Chapel) as a museum for the
BHA that had just had its first annual meeting at the
Brownsville Chamber of Commerce after being chartered by the
State of Texas. Immaculate Conception Church bought
Building No. 62 for the St. Joseph Church on the corner of Sixth
and 555 W. St. Francis. Luke Waters of Harlingen took the job of
moving the building from the fort to its new site. For a job
that would have normally lasted a few days or couple of weeks at
the most, it actually took nearly five months. It was a
burden Mr. Waters carried to the end.
Waters began the task in October
of 1947. To move it presented a problem because streets were
only 30 feet wide. Weighing 150,000 pounds, it was moved by heavy
trucks. Telephone cables were either lowered or raised to make
way for the chapel. Electric lines were also cut. This upset
some people who found themselves temporarily without electricity. The weather caused
the greatest problems. Whenever it rained, the job would be
halted, as the earth was too soft to move over without getting
the load stuck in the mud, which it did at various points. The
"front end" was pulled out of one of Water’s trucks. Two winch
trucks were damaged and cable lines broke several times. Mr.
Waters also broke his arm in a fall on January 2nd.
Asked if he remembered the exact route that was followed in
moving, his reply was “I certainly do. I’ll never forget it.”
After leaving Fort Brown, the building proceeded on Jefferson to East Ninth, turned north to Madison,
west on Madison to Seventh, north on Seventh to Van Buren, west
on Van Buren across the Southern Pacific railroad tracks to
Ninth, south on Ninth to Jackson, west on Jackson between the
Resaca and City Cemetery, across Palm Blvd. to West First, south
across vacant lots to Jefferson, west on Jefferson to W.
Seventh, south to Elizabeth, east to half-way between W. Fourth
and Fifth, west again to Seventh, south on Seventh to St.
Francis, and finally to its destination at W. Sixth and St.
For the “wandering church” to
reach its destination, brush had to be cleared on some vacant
lots to move it. It finally reached its destination on February
17, 1948. Father Chateau officiated services and Father Casey
was appointed first pastor in 1953. It remained a parish until
1962 when a new church was built across the street.
Research material showed that historian A. A. Champion and his
wife, Isabel, were members of this church. The church has
been covered in brick with an addition on its west side and the
steeple has been removed. It now serves as a youth center for
Studies in Rio Grande Valley History
published by the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. Look for the 31-page
article in the book titled: “From Old to New: The Alteration, Restoration and
Preservation of Historical Fort Brown Buildings of UTB/TSC.”
Postcard images courtesy of Ambrosio Villarreal.
Find the Little
Chapel in these aerial photographs before it was moved in the
early 1990s. Remember, it is next to the bridge.