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San Antonio, TX 78295

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Focus on the Collection

Early San Antonio Views

     Among the earliest photographic images on paper in the library's collections are oval prints of San Antonio views believed to date from the 1850's or 1860's, some of them  still crisp and clear today.  Several of the prints were given to the library by the late Stella Elmendorf Tylor, a member of one of the early German families in San Antonio and an active San Antonio artist. 
     Donor records have not been found for the other early prints, but six of them are inscribed with the name J. French Piano Co., a well-known American manufacturer of pianos established in Rochester, New York, in 1875.  The library photographs are most certainly from a group that was sent in 1917 by Jesse French & Sons to a music store in San Antonio owned by Thomas Goggan, to display in the windows of the store, then located at Houston and Navarro.  (For a time Goggan had a store at the southwest corner of Travis and Broadway, and the building at that corner still carries the Goggan name and the date of the founding of the business, 1866, high on the Broadway façade.) All six of the French Piano Company photographs show the discoloration of the overmats used to display them, and they bear identifying captions, perhaps inscribed specifically for the exhibit, whereas those from other sources do not. 

     The photographs sent for display were published, with the permission of the lender, in the San Antonio Express, June 3, 1917.  With only two exceptions, photographs of Mission Concepcion and a Mexican jacal, the images pictured in the newspaper article are now in the DRT Library collection, and the search continues for records to clarify the last step in their passage to the Alamo.    

     The photographic process of these prints and the photographer who made them have been matters of curiosity and study for many years.  Some have thought the prints might be salted paper; others have considered them to be albumen.  All the photographs show discoloration of the original tones and have been coated, with surface streaks evident on some.  Recently several experienced conservators and photographic specialists have examined another copy of one of the prints, and have generally agreed that the medium is probably albumen or carries a coating of albumen -- with the reservation that it could be other than that and the coating itself could be another substance.  The library may not have a more definitive answer on the process until the prints are directly examined by a photographic scientist. 
     As the medium is not firmly identified, so the photographer remains even less certain.  For some time the name of William DeRyee has been associated with these prints.  DeRyee was a chemist, among other professions and trades, born in Bavaria in 1825, the family name Düry, and an immigrant to America in the late 1840's.  In 1856, after travels, inventions, and prospecting, and on his way to mines in Arizona, DeRyee came to Texas and stopped in San Antonio.  Here he began working as a chemist and, in connection with that, as a photographer.  In 1859 he had a studio in the French Building, completed the preceding year at the southeast corner of Main Plaza and the subject of one of the photographs given by Mrs. Tylor.  At various times in his career, DeRyee was associated with the artists Carl G. von Iwonski, Hermann Lungkwitz, and William C. A. Thielepape.  The latter was also a musician and a post-Civil War mayor of San Antonio, whose home was on the grounds of the Alamo and pictured in a well-known Hermann Lungkwitz drawing, painting, and lithograph of Crockett Street.

          James Patrick McGuire, biographer of Carl G. von Iwonski, suggested, by inclusion of many of these photographs in his work on Iwonski, that they were made by that artist in partnership with Hermann Lungkwitz while the two worked together in San Antonio. McGuire suggested attribution of the Main Plaza surrender scene to Iwonski and DeRyee.  DeRyee had also created a homeograph, a photographic print from a drawing by Iwonski, of the subject, although an entirely different composition.


Selected Images

"Alamo Church & Plaza," 1858?

    We have long considered this to be the library's earliest original photograph of the Alamo, and for many years thought the image to be unique. Recently we were shown a similar view from the Smithsonian Institution by a visitor, who gave the library copies of that print. The same view in a different format, the Smithsonian print is rectangular, recorded as 3 x 7 inches (the library's oval photograph is 5 5/16 x 7 5/16 inches), and is in an album of images and clippings collected by James Earl Taylor, an artist-correspondent for Leslie's Illustrated Weekly Newspaper during the years 1863-1883. Taylor's album photograph of the Alamo is dated 1858.

    The library's view may have been enhanced at some time, as rooflines appear unusually straight and crisp, particularly in those sections of the structure that extend to the church.


"Mission of San Joseph -- 134 years old,"   1854?

    The view of Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo from the southwest shows the splendid carved entrance, and a single man in a suit posed at the top, a hand resting on the uppermost pinnacle of stone. On the bell tower other men, clothed as workers, stand on its ledge, some braving the edge, others apparently clinging to the wall. The long convento is abbreviated in this view, and the Rose Window difficult to see, but the dome of the church is clearly visible. This is considered one of the earlier photographs of Mission San Jose, particularly so if the date suggested in the title refers to the decree establishing the mission in 1720. As the photograph pre-dates the collapse of the dome in 1868, the title would not refer to the date this actual building was begun after it was moved to its present location in 1739.

"Commerce St. San Antonio"   SC11479

     This view of the old Commerce Street bridge is perhaps the most picturesque of the series. In fact, there are associations with a possible Hermann Lungkwitz painting and an Ernst Raba drawing that lead to speculation about the original image as well as the exact photographic process the photographer used. The scene is a view across the bridge from the east side of the river -- from which point today one sees the cylindrical Clifford Building on the north side of the street just west of the bridge, and Schilo's delicatessen on the south side of the street, a little further west.

    The San Antonio Express published a similar photograph in the issue of November 6, 1947, that shows the same scene but of an image executed by a different technique, with the appearance of a photograph of a painting, and it is described as a photograph reconstructed from a salt silver print by E.(Ernst) Raba, well-known photographer and collector of early photographs. This same image was published with a newspaper article by Fred Mosebach, a copy of which is in the Texas History Scrapbook of Bess Carroll in the DRT Library. It too is described as a photograph by Raba, but one that had been "made from a drawing by one of San Antonio's early artists." The same image is found in the Claude B. Aniol Collection in the library, with the date identified as 1854 in a typed label on the back and the photograph copyrighted by Raba in 1914.

    Charles Ramsdell published this image, slightly cropped, in his historical and pictorial guide to San Antonio and named the artist as Hermann Lungkwitz and the date as 1854. Ramsdell had borrowed the photograph from the San Antonio Public Library in 1958 from a collection given by Ted James, this information provided by Frank Faulkner of the Texana Department. The photograph, in the holdings of the department, has an inscription of "Lunkwitz" on the print, the copyright notice by E. Raba, and a separate caption with a date of 1850.

    James Patrick McGuire did not include the painting in his catalog raisonné of the work of Hermann Lungkwitz, and comparing the subject of the Raba photographs of the scene with the crisp, meticulous painting Lungkwitz made of Crockett Street, now in the Witte Museum, seems to dismiss the attribution altogether. The original photograph of the bridge might more nearly match the skill of Lungkwitz.

    The DRT Library has been given a drawing of the scene that is signed by Raba, but the photographs are not of this particular drawing. Finally, a clipping in the library vertical files suggests that a painting by Iwonski, not Lungkwitz, was the source of a published wood engraving of a similar view published in 1879 in Homer Thrall's Pictorial History of Texas.

    The two original photographs of the Commerce Street bridge in the DRT Library collection, one of which was reproduced in the 1917 newspaper article mentioned in the introduction, show special details -- the reeds in the river, wood stacked near the houses on the opposite bank, the planks of the bridge itself, the figures on the bridge and the covered wagons up the street, with a sign on the nearest house almost, not quite, readable. All the parts illuminate an early San Antonio street scene that is actually appealing, a place where one might like to spend some time, unlike the old city views most often seen, with drab buildings and empty streets. The versions of this scene by artists or later photographers suggest that they too found it an especially attractive view, but their versions, as they survive in photographic copies and prints, never approach the quality of the early photograph itself, and it may be that they all derive from the photograph that was "reconstructed" by Ernst Raba.

    Mrs. Sarah Eagar, who was born in San Antonio in 1842, was quoted in the Mosebach article as having recalled crossing the bridge as a girl in the years before the Civil War, perhaps as early as 1854 or 1856, and although we cannot with certainty date the photograph that early, it may not be far removed.

"Texas troops at San Antonio at the time of the surrender of the U.S. arms,"   1861.

    The view is toward the north side of Main Plaza, San Antonio, Texas, the date, February 16, 1861, in the morning hours, with long shadows cast by the buildings on the east side of the plaza. The scene is the surrender of Major General David Twiggs, the commander of United States troops stationed in Texas, to Col. Ben McCullough of the Texas cavalry at the beginning of the Civil War in Texas. McCullough had sent about 90 men into San Antonio before dawn that day to stand guard, and then led about 500 volunteers to seize all the federal properties and munitions for the Confederacy. General Twiggs, after some delay, agreed to the surrender and to evacuate all federal troops stationed in Texas, including those in frontier posts, some 2,700 men in all, on the condition that they could leave with their arms. This action took place before the voters in Texas had approved the ordinance of secession passed by the Secession Convention on February 1st. When troops of the local garrison marched out, under the Eighth Regimental banner, many of San Antonio's citizens lined the streets and cheered and wept.

    The photograph appears to have been taken from the upper level of the French Building, at the southeast corner of the plaza. We are not aware of other original photographic prints of this scene and are interested in knowing if others exist and if they are similarly identified. Although the print does not have the clarity of another view of the north side of Main Plaza in this series of photographs, the historical importance of the occasion, as identified by the title, gives the image extraordinary significance. It also provides a comparable date for other images of the same format and appearance and locale. Much depends on the accuracy of the caption.

Main Plaza, north side, with covered wagons,   1861?

    This clearer view of Main Plaza, like the surrender scene, appears to have been taken from the French Building, at the southeast corner of the plaza, suggesting a possible connection with William DeRyee and his studio in that building, although that is recorded for an earlier year.

    The shadows indicate another morning view, very slightly later than the surrender scene, with the foreground sheds and their furnishings in clearer view, but much the same. The buildings at the eastern side of the composition are more sharply in focus than those more distant ones toward the west side of the plaza. The tall structure in the distance, northwest of the plaza, appears to be the First Presbyterian Church, at the corner of Houston and Flores Street; it is somewhat more clearly seen, as are the other buildings on the west side, in the surrender scene.

    The photograph is a striking one, with the gathering of 18 or 19 covered wagons in front of the Plaza House and the grocery and grain stores beside it.

    In the library collection is yet another Main Plaza view from the same vantage point but printed in a rectangular format that includes slightly more of the structures on the western side of the plaza. It shows a line of covered wagons across the plaza. In this view sheds in the foreground are lacking and the fragment of stone wall visible in the other images stretches farther into the plaza.

Military Plaza

     This view of Military Plaza, directly west of Main Plaza, has been previously identified as the south side of the plaza. It poses more questions.

    What appears to be a tall, stout flag pole is at the center, with what might be a flag suspended loosely right of the pole. The large gathering of people, on foot and in carriages, in the doorways and at least one window of buildings in the background, and the inclusion of women and some children, suggests an assembly of importance, and, perhaps, solemnity, as there are no festive decorations or banners to be seen. As well as can be distinguished, the people gathered appear to be facing toward the flag pole. A cluster of light disks at the left of the pole is another curious element and might be seen as the open bells of the instruments of a brass band.

    A second copy of this photograph has been found, but also without identification of the scene or the photographer. It is the second copy that has been examined by specialists to try to determine the photographic process used.

    An engraving of Military Plaza, plate 47 in the Emory Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, shows a flagpole in Military Plaza more clearly, and shows it with a prominent crow's nest part-way up, in a view of the plaza towards the east rather than the south. This may be the same flagpole that is visible in the engraving of St. Antonio (Texas) from Meyer's Universum, which shows a platform rather than the cage part-way up the pole. The angle of this view does make it a problem to place the pole in Military Plaza, however. Both these prints may be found in the library's print and drawing collection (Box 6/18,19, and 40).

French Building

     When the French Building was completed in 1858, at the southeast corner of Main Plaza, it was the most modern office building in San Antonio. William DeRyee had his photography studio in the building in 1859, and it appears to have been from the balcony of this building that the views of Main Plaza were photographed.

    This particular image is also found in a rectangular format in the library's Grandjean Collection and appears to have been more widely distributed than other images in the series presented here.

    The building portrait is also one of the more noticeably posed photographs in the group, with most of the men facing the camera or standing in place for it. The odd tilt of the adobe structure in the foreground, housing the post office, and the striking pose of the man in front of it, add a curious distraction to the stateliness of the main subject, with its balcony tracery, pillars, and handsome central window.

" Old Mexican Cathedral on Plaza"

    The parish church of San Fernando was located on the west side of the Plaza de las Islas, Main Plaza, considered the center of the villa of San Fernando de Bexar when the site was chosen in 1731. The cornerstone of the church is believed to have been laid in 1738, and the church building was completed in 1755. With dirt floors and the original walls of limestone rubble mortared with goat milk, the church fell into serious disrepair following the Texas revolution. Needed renovations were not begun until 1868, when the architect François Giraud started work on a Gothic Revival design. The original bell-tower was replaced by a squared stone tower with buttresses, and three entrances replaced the single door of the early building. The parish church was designated a cathedral in 1874.

    This photograph shows the parish church as it was, with its original bell-tower and surrounding wall, having survived a flood in 1819 and a fire in 1828. The original dome is visible and still intact and would stand until its collapse in 1872. In the background at the right, on the Plaza de las Armas, Military Plaza, is the old Bat Cave.

    The library has photographs showing the redesigned church with its new bell-tower, when the outer wall still stood, and later photographs after the wall was removed. In one of these later views the adjacent buildings and power lines and a landscaped plaza have begun to crowd the space. Finally there are photographs of a much more imposing San Fernando Cathedral with its two towers and the street curving in front and around a curbed plaza.

"Burros with Load of Corn"

     The library has two copies of this photograph, the second without the title and less clear. Early views of laden burros are not uncommon as picturesque elements of Mexican life in San Antonio, but this particular photograph, with its balanced composition centered on a single burro and leading to a focused portrait of a man and his burro at the right, gives a more sympathetic and human view of the subject than most and a dignity not always present in such pictures.

    Two or three decades later a series of cabinet cards issued by E.K. Sturdevant typified much of the photography of Mexican people in San Antonio at the time. Titled "Mexicans in San Antonio, Texas, 1887," the photographs carried the same text on the back of each card, the tone generally condescending and written primarily for visitors to the city. The photographs themselves are excellent, clear and sharp, showing details of the pieced dwellings of the poor, and of the posed families, some standing in front of their homes, some of the women bent over metates.

    This earlier photograph seems by contrast to be a more respectful portrayal and appears neither to exploit its subjects nor carry an evident social message. The sophistication, or fortunate accident, of the photography, in the blurred and muted faces save one, provides a gentle, natural study of burros and those who work with them, and a rather remarkable portrait of a particular man with the animal beside him.

Note on sources

    David Haynes, photographer and photographic historian, and Dorothy Sloan, appraiser and rare-book dealer, have generously shared information about these photographs, including opinions of conservators and other prominent photographic historians.  More recently, Stephen Fletcher, Photographic Archivist, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has seen the photographs and added further insight to their descriptions.

    Detailed biographies of William DeRyee are included in Pioneer Photographers from the Mississippi to the Continental Divide: A Biographical Dictionary, 1839-1865 by Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailborn and in the 1894 Memorial and Genealogical Record of Southwest Texas, copies of both in the DRT Library, and by Frank Wagner in The Handbook of Texas Online.

    Dr. Bruce Winders, Alamo Curator, recommended The Exodus of Federal Forces from Texas, 1861, for information, explanations, and first-hand accounts of the surrender of the U.S. troops in San Antonio.

    Ann Graham Gaines's article on San Fernando Cathedral in The Handbook of Texas Online provided the basic information for the history and description of the church.  Ann is a former staff member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library where she specialized in rare book and map cataloging.

Martha Utterback



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