Architectural Descriptions of Buildings and Structures

Presnall-Watson House/Land Heritage Institute

Presnall - Watson House

The Land Heritage Institute contains a number of historic buildings and structures.  Three are outside of the Presnall-Watson Homestead District designated area, but most are within the District.

Outside of the Presnall-Watson Homestead District

  • Applewhite House (1853)--Believed to be the oldest structure on the Land Heritage property, the stone remains of the house built by Stephen Applewhite and his wife around 1853 are densely overgrown with grasses and thorny shrubs.  Oral history says that this house was built first and then next the nearby Presnall House, around which the Watson House was later built.  Both of these stone houses were built from the same specifications, plans and materials, described below in the Presnall-Watson House information.1, 2, 3
  • ·          Stone cistern (unknown)--Immediately to the southeast of the Applewhite House ruins lies an underground stone cistern.4
  • ·          Corn crib (unknown)--A plastered stone corn crib sits only a few steps from the Applewhite house.  From 2009 to the present, this building houses an Anson Seale art exhibit with photos of vividly colored corn, representative of the original use of the building.5

Within the Presnall-Watson Homestead District

The Presnall-Watson Homestead District contains six buildings and three contributing structures.  Additionally, the District contains several other "non-contributing" structures.

Most of the following descriptions of buildings and structure within the Presnall-Watson Homestead District were taken from the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for the Presnall-Watson Homestead District, prepared by Imogen Cooper, in consultation with Herbert Uecker, Director and Principal Investigator, South Texas Archaeological Research Services, LLC, and Rachel Leibowitz and Gregory Smith, Texas Historical Commission.  As accessed on August 22, 2016, this document was available at:  https://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/NatReg/NR/nr_listed/pdfs/12000192/12000192.pdf

  • Kitchen (1854)--This simple building may well have served as the Presnall's first dwelling.  Located northeast of the Presnall-Watson House, it is a one-story, one-room, rectangular building of yellow sandstone block and rubble, with a pitched roof currently sheathed in corrugated metal. Exterior walls are covered with thin, white limestone stucco. On the east wall is an exterior chimney; a wood door with a heavy lintel is off-center on the north elevation; and a square 2/1 wood window is on the left side of the south elevation.
  • Presnall-Watson House (1854)--A modified two-story vernacular frame-and-stone house whose wood additions now completely surround and hide a small, stone house, complete with full basement and a central stone fireplace and chimney.  The entire dwelling is a two-part building and could be characterized as a T-plan, but it is truly a “double” I-house, with the stone-core house as one “I,” with the T crossed by a second “I”— the earliest (ca. 1884) and most imposing addition to the house. The two-story, rectangular addition is perpendicular to and south of the stone house.  

This stone house was built by Harrison Presnall, with assistance from his brother-in-law Stephen Applewhite, when the Presnall and Applewhite families first settled their adjacent properties between 1852 and 1854.  Constructed of soft, yellow sandstone blocks (the same stone as was used on the kitchen building) with mud mortar, this two-room masonry building contains a central chimney made of the same sandstone masonry blocks, and two fireplaces.  The house is built on a two-room basement, also with a fireplace, and is now accessed by masonry stairs; a separate set of stairs leads into the main rooms of the stone house.

The Watsons prospered after they bought the 655-acre homestead from Susan Presnall in 1883, and they added the first and most impressive of the four frame additions to the house. This raised, two-story, rectangular addition—which dominates the mass of the house with its deep, double-height porches—runs the full length of the front façade.  Set perpendicular to and south of the stone house, it was added sometime after 1883, perhaps as late as the 1890s. The hipped roof is clad with standing-seam metal. Formal and symmetrical, the addition has pairs of double-hung wood windows on either side of a wide front door. The formal approach to the house takes a wide front staircase to the raised porch, through the unadorned front door with squared sidelights and transom. Typical of the I-house floor plan, this wing of the house has a central hall and a steep interior staircase flanked by two large rooms. The second floor layout is identical to the first floor. Likely in response to the hot climate, this addition does not have chimneys, but there is a false hearth and mantel in the downstairs parlor, the walls of which are clad in richly beaded board work. The wood interior doors are in very good condition. All of the subsequent frame additions are raised on masonry piers to encourage ventilation during the hot summer months.

The second addition sits to the west of the original stone house. Its construction and materials are the same as the first addition, as are its architectural details, which include 4/4 double-hung wood sash windows. This western addition could have been built around 1900 or as late as the 1930s; its first floor now includes a kitchen, but it is not possible to confirm exactly when the addition was built or how it was used.

The third addition to the house was constructed on the east side of the original stone dwelling. Its floor is several inches lower than the first floor of the rest of the house. This addition may have been constructed as an open porch that was later enclosed and converted to a first floor bath and sitting area. Steel casement windows on this façade suggest that it was enclosed after 1940.

The fourth and final addition was constructed after 1940, at the northeast corner of the house. It opens into the first floor room at the rear of the stone house. Also added at the rear of the house is a back porch to the west of the bathroom. It was constructed at an unknown date and is framed of irregular dimensional lumber.

  • Large barn (1885)--The large barn reveals many different building periods and agricultural uses, encompassing at least four different building periods beginning in the 1880s. At the lower level, the west side—always open—faces the house in a series of open bays, with a loft above for the storage of hay; this would have allowed the family to keep an eye on the livestock from the house. The structure grew incrementally to the east until it reached its existing size. The oldest section of the main barn has vertical wood plank cladding, while the later walls and roof are clad in corrugated metal panels.
  • Outbuilding/shed (ca. 1900)--Located east of the kitchen building is a plank shed with corner posts holding up a standing seam metal roof.  Lightweight and easy to construct, the walls of this outbuilding are thin and its door is narrow—only 32 inches wide.  It likely served as a corn crib or storage structure and did not house machinery or animals.
  • Garage (ca. 1945)--Nearly square and built with a widely spaced wood frame, this building is clad with sheets of corrugated metal and v-crimp metal panels and is roofed with the same materials. Built as a garage for two cars, it has two sets of double doors in the west wall, facing toward the private lane to the public road.
  • Small barn (1930)--A one-story, one-room rectangular outbuilding of wood frame construction, entirely clad in corrugated metal panels. The small barn sits on a concrete curb and has two door-sized openings—one giving access to the corral on the south, and the other giving access to the barnyard to the north. It functions as a tack room.
  • Metal water tank (1930)--East of the house is an elevated water tank of wood construction supported by wood legs with a metal roof; adjacent to it, this cylindrical metal water tank sits on the ground. Historically, water was fed into the metal tank from above through a 16-inch round hole; a depression at its top suggests that the conduit used to fill the tank frequently overflowed or filled with rain.
  • Water trough (1920)--A circular concrete watering trough for stock, approximately thirteen feet in diameter. The trough sits in the middle of the corral on the west side of the barn.
  • Pond/stock tank--Called the “pond” by the Watson family members, this large natural feature is on the south side of the road opposite the house and barns.  It is clearly visible in older aerial photographs and is thought to have been spring fed, as written in several archaeological reports. When in use, it was lined with clay to prevent seepage.
  • Several other old buildings/structures on the property were considered "non-contributing" in the request for National Historic Site designation, as they were not original to this property.  Those buildings/structures included two pigeon cotes (one large and one small) that were moved onto the property from the historic Walsh Ranch across the Medina River in the 1990s when the City of San Antonio owned both the Presnall-Watson Homestead and the Walsh Ranch.  In a wind storm some years ago, the smaller of these two pigeon cotes fell and was destroyed.  An elevated wood water tank, moved onto the property around 2005, stands near the house where an older wood water tank previously stood.

Notes

1 A. Joachim McGraw and Kay Hindes, Chipped Stone and Adobe:  A Cultural Resources Assessment of the Proposed Applewhite Reservoir, Bexar County, Texas, p. 243, http://car.utsa.edu/CARResearch/Publications/ASRFiles/101-200/ASR%20No.%20163%20ABC_redacted.pdf, accessed August 29, 2016

2 Telephone conversation with Penelope Boyer of LHI on August 26, 2016

3 Telephone message from Peggy Oppelt, a Watson descendant, on July 28, 2016,

4 A. Joachim McGraw and Kay Hindes, Chipped Stone and Adobe:  A Cultural Resources Assessment of the Proposed Applewhite Reservoir, Bexar County, Texas, p. 243

5 A. Joachim McGraw and Kay Hindes, Chipped Stone and Adobe:  A Cultural Resources Assessment of the Proposed Applewhite Reservoir, Bexar County, Texas, p. 243

Patricia A. (Patsy) Kuentz

Historic Farm & Ranch Committee Member

San Antonio Conservation Society

Revised August, 2016