Portscheller, Heinrich (1840–1915)

By: Eugene George

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: April 26, 2016

Heinrich Portscheller, architect and builder, was born in Germany in 1840; various towns are given as his birthplace: Hamburg, Neuenkirchen, or Zweibrücken in the Palatinate. The family trade was building. Portscheller and a friend, Frederick Ellert, arrived at the Mexican port of Veracruz in 1865, where they were impressed into Maximilian's army. They were assigned to a unit composed of German nationals called the "Contre-Guerillas" that operated in northern Mexico. As the tide of war turned against Maximilian's forces, the northern units were often left to forage without support from central agencies and became demoralized. Both Ellert and Portscheller deserted to Texas by June 1866. Encouraged by the agents of Gen. Mariano Escobedo to join the Mexican cause, both men participated in the battle of Santa Gertrudis, near Camargo, on June 15, 1866. With cessation of military activities Portscheller worked as a mason at Fort Ringgold and later in the vicinities of Rio Grande City, Roma, and Mier. In 1879 he married Leonarda Campos; they became the parents of three daughters and a son. On February 26, 1883, Portscheller declared his intention to become a United States citizen. After a brief residence in Mier (1879–81) he moved his family to Roma, which with Rio Grande City was a flourishing trade center. Portscheller established a brickyard at Roma, organized an efficient construction crew, and began serious construction activity. His ability as a craftsman had already proved excellent, and he became a successful architect. His work shows lively experimentation, particularly in utilizing light and shadow to aesthetic advantage. He built many fine houses and commercial structures. The cemetery at Roma contains tombs and vaults designed by Portscheller and constructed by his craftsmen. Among his clients in the 1880s were Manuel Guerra, Antonio Saenz, Nestor Saenz, Pablo Ramírez, and Rafael García Ramírez. Perhaps his greatest effort was in Rio Grande City in 1886-the construction of the Silverior de la Peña building with drugstore, post office, and family living quarters. In 1894, following an economic slump, Portscheller moved his family to Laredo, where he eventually built a residence and office at 1005 San Dario. He built St. Peter's Church (probably from plans prepared by others), an iron bridge in south Laredo, many cisterns, and several houses. About 1900 he went to Monterrey, Nuevo León, to construct a building for the Civil College (destroyed in 1962). He died in 1915 and was buried in the Protestant cemetery in Laredo.

  • Architecture
  • Architects
  • Peoples
  • Germans

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Eugene George, “Portscheller, Heinrich,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 06, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/portscheller-heinrich.

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April 26, 2016