Building La Frontera: the form and technology of historic ranch architecture in Zapata County, Texas

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1998-05

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Abstract

With the exception of the hauntingly beautiful missions of San Antonio, the architectural legacy of Spain's colonial rule is the subject of scholarly research on a surprisingly infrequent basis. Studies of vernacular ranch buildings, in particular, are a notable exclusion given their historical significance. For the first hundred years of European settlement, secular buildings were the most prevalent building type, greatly outnumbering forty-odd missions and presidial complexes. This study considers the settlement of Texas during the Spanish and Mexican Colonial period, particularly the occupational role of civilian ranchers, and investigates the form and technology of their architecture. Specific attention is paid to historic buildings remaining on Rio Grande ranches near Laredo and San Ygnacio, Texas. The survey, architectural documentation, and analysis of these ranch buildings provide a regional vernacular context for evaluation of Los Corralitos in Zapata County, Texas. Building features, such as gunports, demonstrate that protection was the primary consideration of settlers until the last quarter of the nineteenth century. An assessment of the development of a regional architectural vocabulary as well as archival documents suggest that the fortified building, or casafuerte, at Los Corralitos dates from the late eighteenth rather than late nineteenth century as previous documentation efforts have indicated. In light of this study then, Los Corralitos stands as a testimony to the significant contribution of the earliest Spanish Colonial ranchers in building/^ Frontera.

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Keywords

Architecture -- Texas -- Zapata County -- History, Historic buildings -- Texas -- Zapata County -- History, Ranch houses -- Texas -- Zapata County -- Designs and plans, Ranching -- Texas -- History, Historic buildings -- Texas -- Zapata County -- Conservation and restoration, Architecture, Spanish -- America -- Conservation and restoration

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