Old homes tell stories, we just have to be ready to listen. For the past 12 and a half years, my husband Victor and I have been trying to do just that, discovering tales about the never-ending circle of life that are begging to be heard in our neighborhood of Government Hill.
We bought our home on Mason Street in 2004 from Julia Mendoza. A widow, Mendoza had lived in the home for decades, even building a permanent altar to her son who died in Vietnam in the room that is now the front bedroom. We were unable to determine the exact age of the house, as it was already in existence at the time the San Antonio city property deeds were established in 1913.
Over the years, my husband and I have taken steps to restore the home, unearthing the original wood floors under layers of plywood in the kitchen, exposing shiplap walls once buried under sheetrock, opening up a hallway window (which had looked onto the original back porch, now the interior hallway), and replacing a 1970’s-era shower stall with a cast iron clawfoot tub. We also recently replaced the front cast iron columns with Edwardian-era wood columns as requested by the Office of Historic Preservation. In addition, we enclosed the end of the hallway to add a small second bathroom and removed a wooden shed in the backyard that was falling down. But the real fun was yet to come.
In 2006, our small nieces and nephews were playing in the backyard and decided to dig in a back corner while our dog Charlie whimpered in disapproval. They were in for quite a shock when Annie, not yet 10 years old at the time, unearthed the face of a tombstone with her very own name staring back at her. With a little more digging, the kids discovered that the buried tombstone contained the names of three infants who had all lived and died in the 1880s: Annie, Philip, and Katie.
We were unable to determine more given that the base of the grave had been exposed to the elements in a different part of the yard, thereby erasing the last name.
Those attending the Government Hill Historic Tour of Homes on Sunday, Dec. 11 are welcome to view the tombstone, now permanently displayed above ground.
In early 2016, I was once again digging in my yard with the intent of landscaping near the back shed. As I dug the last hole, my shovel hit the familiar sound of solid stone, revealing yet another gravestone – this time of an adult named John Evans, who died in 1893 at the age of 65.
Because the entire headstone had been protected underground, the inscription was perfectly preserved. However, rather than dig it up, I decided to cover the headstone back up again, positioning a potted cactus above ground to mark its place in the back corner of the yard.
My husband is the creative director at a local advertising agency and I am a portrait artist and muralist, as well as a stay at home mom to two young girls. In early 2016, we finished building a tiny backyard house, with the intent of it being my permanent art studio. However, I soon outgrew the space and decided to move my studio inside the home to the larger third bedroom.
The tiny house in now a guest home, complete with a fully functioning shower, kitchenette, full bed, and second loft sleeping area. It can be rented out for short stays here.
Are you interested in viewing homes like ours which tell their own unique stories? Pre-sale tickets for the Government Hill Historic Tour of Homes cost $15, while tickets purchased the day of are $20. Those interested can call Stella Ashley at 210-337-4870 or Marie Stout at 210-271-3677.