GOLIAD — Standing among the centuries-old walls, it’s easy to get lost in imagination at Goliad’s Presidio La Bahia.
“I spend most of my time looking out and pretending what it would be like to be a guard,” said Suzanne Hendlinger, 56.
On a summer afternoon, Hendlinger navigated the fort’s original stone ramparts and murky rooms with her husband and children in tow. Hendlinger, who admitted she was enraptured by the visit, had traveled to the 18th-century Spanish fortress while on vacation from their home in Germany.
“This is where they would sleep,” she said, standing inside a dusty room that once served as barracks for soldiers stationed at the fort.
It’s common to see visitors, who come from all over the globe and all walks of life, become misty-eyed as they meander the site, said Scott McMahon, who serves as director for the historical site.
Unlike the Alamo, which lies in the heart of San Antonio, thick brush and expansive grasslands surround the Goliad fortress, making it easy to imagine life in the past, he said.
Founded in 1721 on the ruins of a failed French fort, the Presidio is a living reminder of the past, McMahon said.
McMahon said he thinks of the Presidio that way because it still serves as an important site for the Goliad community. With baptisms, weddings and receptions, National Guard change of command ceremonies and even car shows held there regularly, the fort is hardly forgotten, he said.
In fact, some local residents have family ties to those who once lived and died there.
Despite the modern activity, McMahon said the Presidio still stays true to its historic roots.
Unlike in many museums, all of the artifacts inside the Presidio’s museum were excavated on location.
“That’s pretty unique in the museum world,” McMahon said.
Taking in that museum already can require hours for the most dedicated visitors, but McMahon said a new exhibit featuring historical documents, including a soldier’s letter home, an officer’s letter of commission and newspaper clippings from the 1830s, should offer even more to look at.
McMahon said recent restoration work of the walls and an attached chapel was completed with a keen dedication to staying true to the past.
A new iron gate at the chapel was commissioned from a local blacksmith who wrought the metal by hand.
“It’s just like the gate would have been in the old days,” he said. “Everything is blacksmithed together – hammered literally.”
For Hendlinger, that dedication to preserving the past was apparent and appreciated.
“It’s impressive,” she said. “I always regret when I go to places and I can’t see how it might have been.”