SAN ANTONIO — When Charles John and workers from his architecture firm began working on the Halff House in Hemisfair Park, they found something under the historic structure they had no idea was there.
Workers were pulling back some flooring to find some rotted beams and a large hole below in one corner of the home’s first floor.
The hole led to a cistern used to store water for the family that originally lived in the home.
“It’s a fascinating archaeological find, because nobody knew it was there,” he said. “There was no plumbing when this house was built, so they relied on cisterns.”
The Halff house was built in the mid-1870s, and the brick water tank is believed to have been installed around the same time. No one has lived inside the two-story house —located at 600 Hemisfair Way— since the 1968 Worlds’ Fair.
John clarified the cistern likely was only used for drinking water, as the residents likely had outhouses behind the home.
It is unclear how many gallons of water the tank can hold because workers are unable to measure the complete dimensions due to the location of the hole and the condition of the structure.
“It adds to the history of the house,” he said. “It demonstrates the way of living in the period of time when the original house was built.”
Various forms of stone were used to create the main home’s structure, but the cistern was protected with a brick and mortar dome.
When the Halff family became more prosperous, additional sections were added on top of the cistern’s dome, John said. A stone arch was built atop the cistern to connecting beams to support the home’s weight.
John said it was an interesting find since it shows a timeline of the home’s adaptive nature. The cistern may have had tubes used to collect rainwater, or it may have been used primarily for ground water.
John and his firm, Fisher Heck Architects, specialize in historic preservation and will install new mortar into the cistern to prevent it from caving in. The workers will then cover the cistern dome back up so that it can be rediscovered 100 years from now.
The architecture firm is focusing primarily on exterior and foundation renovations to prepare it for a future commercial tenant. Other homes in the area will be turned in microbreweries, coffee shops and more, John said.
Tyler White, MySanAntonio.com (Express News)