The earliest structures in Texas were simple dwellings built by indigenous Native Americans with materials ranging from animal hide to adobe. The existence of these structures is documented through written accounts; very few of them survive today.
By the end of the 17th century, the Spanish were establishing presidios, missions and towns throughout Texas based on building traditions and town patterns from Spain (Meinig
1969, 24). Missions were fortified churches that included convents, apartments and defense walls. Those built in the East Texas pine forests such as San Francisco de los Tejas, established in 1690 were
crudely built with local materials, including wood and thatch. While most of these were eventually deserted or relocated, more durable missions were constructed in San Antonio and El Paso. As a response to the environment, these missions used adobe construction consisting of sun-baked mud bricks laid in beds of mud. Others used stone and were ornamented with such Spanish features as turned column shafts, classical entablatures and statues of saints (Robinson 1974, 6). Five missions are extant in San Antonio: Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña, Mission San Francisco de la Espada, Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo and Mission San Juan Capistrano. Extant Missions in the El Paso area include Mission Ysleta, Mission Socorro and the San Elizario Church..
During Mexican control (from 1821-1835), Anglo-Americans from the southeastern states were issued land grants to settle much of central Texas (Meinig 1969, 29). Since these settlers were primarily interested in protecting themselves from enemies and the climate, most relied upon simple and functional log cabin construction, which became the principal building method throughout the eastern half of Texas well into the 19th century (Jordan 1978, 27).
Like other types of building in Texas, log cabins varied according to climate and available materials. For instance, without the advantage of air conditioning, settlers in the
more humid regions of east Texas relied upon orientation to cool their houses. Often referred to as dog-trot, these houses allowed prevailing breezes to circulate by means of a central hall cut between
two rooms connected by a common roof. Other factors such as the types of available trees determined room size and construction method. The small trees in west Texas produced smaller logs, and therefore smaller rooms, while the tall east Texas pines allowed for rooms as long as 20 feet (Jordan 1978, 15). In addition, the shortage of trees as settlers moved west sometimes required palisado construction, which consisted of logs driven vertically into the ground like posts and filled in with mud, thatch and other locally available materials. Examples of log houses are rare today, partially because of the large amount of maintenance required with wood construction, and also because more advanced building methods such as frame, brick and stone construction became symbolic of upward mobility, leading to the decline of log construction (Jordan 1978, 5).
Jordan, Terry G. Texas Log Buildings: A Folk Architecture. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1978.
Meinig, D. W. Imperial Texas: An Interpretive Essay in Cultural Geography. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1969.
Robinson, Willard B. Photographs by Todd Webb. Texas Public Buildings of the 19th Century. Austin, Tex.: Published for the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art by University of Texas Press, 1974.