This block was once surrounded by a ten-foot wall enclosing a beautiful structure housing America's first colony of Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, a cloistered teaching order. The convent had a history of vicissitudes and heroism. Arriving in the frontier village of Brownsville in 1853 from their mother house in Lyons, France, the nuns moved into an unfurnished former warehouse to begin their school while their first convent was being built. For their bilingual (Spanish-English) pupils, they were compelled to translate from French and print textbooks on a small hand press.
Indian raids, yellow fever epidemics, storms, and the Civil War (1861-65) did not deter the Sisters, who taught without interruption until 1867, when the original convent was destroyed by a hurricane. On petition of patrons, the Sisters agreed to reopen their school. On this site was built, at cost of $20,000 in Specie, a New Orleans French-style convent of distinctive architecture. The Sisters occupied it on Dec. 25, 1868. For many generations it served as a boarding and day school for girls, until in 1967 the Sisters moved to Villa Maria, a modern educational center.