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Providence High School

May, 2010

On the very spot where Ben Milam issued his well-known challenge, “Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?” Where Winston Churchill’s own mother and other dignitaries visited. And in the home of a woman who gave us the Battle of Flowers parade, the city’s first free library, the Art League and Symphony …

History will be made once again as Providence Catholic School, 1215 N. St. Mary’s Street, officially dedicates the Najim Campus Center – Drought House, Thursday, May 13.

"We are all thrilled to be opening the Najim Campus Center for daily use at Providence. Thanks to the generosity of Mr. Najim, the Avery's, and many others, future San Antonian's will be able to enjoy this historic home for many years to come. With the restoration of the former Drought residence and Congregation of Divine Providence Convent complete, this beautiful structure will take its rightful place once again in the life of the city," said Anne Bristol, Past President, Providence Catholic School.

One of only a few such historic homes from its era in this part of downtown still remaining, the home of Henry and Ethel Drought was built by Atlee B. Ayres in 1901, and has served as the centerpiece of the Providence campus since the Congregation of Divine Providence purchased the property in 1950. 

With the addition of three middle-school grades at Providence in recent years, and the subsequent expanding student population, the $1.8 million Drought House project began in 2005 to capitalize on the vacant space, and restore the original beauty of the home while adapting it for use as a Campus Center.

The grand entry and main floor, which features an ornate staircase, two imported-tile hearths, original wood floors, leaded bay windows and soaring ceilings, will serve as a special event space, available by appointment to the Providence community and general public. A catering kitchen and accessible restrooms update the 3,000-square-foot level. The second floor of the Center has been converted into a state-of-the-art Library and Learning Resource Center for use by the school’s 350 students and faculty. The third floor will house advancement and admissions offices and staff, relieving space in the main building for classrooms. An elevator provides access between all three floors.

For all who step on to the historic property along the banks of the San Antonio River, the Drought House is a focal point and landmark, making it hard to imagine the home falling to the fate of a wrecking ball and demolition crew. Yet, nearly 14 years ago, that was its destiny.

The restoration and renovation was made possible by a $1 million grant from the Harvey E. Najim Foundation, as well as generous gifts from James and Estela Avery (‘70), the San Antonio Conservation Society, The Scanlan Foundation, The Strake Foundation, and many other alumni and friends of Providence.

Last month, the project was recognized by the San Antonio Downtown Alliance with a BEST Award in the category of Adaptive Use – Work in Progress.

Work on restoration of the house is under the direction of historical architectural consultant Lloyd W. Jary, FAIA, CSI, contractor Bill Cox of Construction Specialties, and former president Anne Bristol. The principal of Providence Catholic is Sister Antoinette Billeaud, CDP.

The Dedication and Ribbon-Cutting ceremony begins at 10 a.m. on the campus. The House will be available for tours following the ceremony, and by appointment after the event (210-224-6651210-224-6651.

About Providence Catholic

Providence Catholic School is a Catholic college preparatory institution for young women (in grades 6-12), sponsored by the Congregation of Divine Providence, and provides a program of academic excellence grounded in faith and trust in a Provident God. Providence prepares young women of diverse backgrounds for the world of tomorrow and encourages them to develop intellectual curiosity, deepen their faith, practice integrity and seek justice.

The Congregation of Divine Providence, which has been educating Texans since 1868, established Providence High School in 1951 to educate young women in San Antonio. For more than half a century, Providence has delivered excellence in education integrating these core values: Striving for Excellence, Nourishing Faith in God, Practicing Integrity, and Working for Justice.

History of the Property and the House

-          In December 1835, the poorly outfitted Texas army pitched camp at Molino Blanco (now Providence campus) where an old White Mill provided Ben Milam and his men to grind their corn.  It was there that Ben Milam issued his well known challenge, “Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?” (A granite marker commemorates the site.). The Old White Mill was another memorial of the place where Ben Milam and his men camped. 

-          Henry Patrick Drought married Ethel Tunstall in 1885, taking up residence at 323 Oakland on the corner of Trenton Avenue (now South McCullough). They had five sons. The house on Oakland was the Drought’s pride and joy. Much planning and several interesting features and facets went into the House. It was designed by Atlee B. Ayres & Company, and built using Louisiana pine and sycamore for the first floor trimmings.  As originally built, the house was bordered by square porches, but these were replaced by the wrap around veranda type in 1916. Previously, the diagonal fireplace in the north corner of the library had been removed and the library squared off in 1908. The Droughts had a new heating system installed in 1924, and in 1927, Mrs. Drought had a portion of the house extended for an art gallery.

-          Mrs. Drought’s varied interests and numerous friends made the house the center of memorable events and visitors, and provided a celebratory meeting site for many groups in the city. On Sunday evenings, Mrs. Drought gave her traditional Sunday night suppers. For her elegant balls, she opened two sets of sliding doors to form a grand ballroom with a transept of 62 to 75 feet. A patron of the arts, Mrs. Drought held the position of honorary life president of the San Antonio Art League. 

-          The Drought property from its origin has played a significant role in the life and times of the people and city of San Antonio. The qualities and properties of European culture and that of the early American/Texas traits converged here.

-          Providence Catholic School opened its doors in September 1951. The Drought House continued to play a prominent role in the life of the school. Twenty-one sisters were in residence in the remodeled home.  Music studios were on the first floor of the home and recitals were held on the porch with the audience below. The Sisters resided there until 1995.


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