From western forts to Victorian mansions and pivotal battlegrounds, the Texas Historical Commission's 20 state historic sites exemplify a breadth of Texas history. Come explore the real stories at the real places.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Home for the Holidays at the Sam Rayburn House Museum

by Anne Carlson, staff member at Sam Rayburn House Museum

The Sam Rayburn House Museum held its annual Holiday Open House on December 10 and December 12. The theme for this year’s open house was “A 1950s Cold War Christmas.” This event showcased holiday décor appropriate for the Rayburn’s home during the 1950s and featured Christmas music and radio programs of that period. Themed tours focused on Cold War events such as communism, McCarthyism, and the space race. Other 1950s related topics included the Korean War, Civil Rights, and the popularity of radio and television.

Visitors toured the home and were invited to enjoy refreshments also based on the 1950s theme. Foods invented during the decade were featured such as Ruffles potato chips and peanut M&Ms. Popular dishes of the decade, such as ham salad spread, cheese spread, “wedgies” (slices of bologna layered with cream cheese, horseradish and chives) and dried beef rolls were also served to visitors. Sam Rayburn’s favorite dessert, coconut cake, was served during the event.

The house decorations included a Christmas tree in 1950s trim, evergreen, mistletoe and holly garlands along with candles and poinsettias. These were typical decorating styles utilized by the Rayburn family during the holidays. Holiday scents of pine, pumpkin pie and sugar cookies wafted through the home while radios played Christmas music and radios programs, such as I Was a Communist for the FBI, Father Knows Best, and The Jack Benny Program.

There is truly no place like home for the holidays, especially one that has seen so many joyful holiday seasons. Happy holidays from everyone at the Sam Rayburn House Museum.

**The Sam Rayburn House Museum is located at 890 W. State Hwy. 56, two miles west of Bonham on highway 56 in the Texas Lakes Trail Region.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dallas Model A Car Club Visits CRG

by Phil Hubbs, Confederate Reunion Grounds staff member

In November, the Dallas Model A Car Club stopped by the Confederate Reunion Grounds while on one of its drives. Club members reserved the pavilion and enjoyed a beautiful day here. It was quite a sight as many of these cars were the kind that would have been driven to the reunions in the early 20th century.

Here are a few photos from the day:

Here you can see some of the Model A's parked outside the pavilion, along with a gorgeous early model Mustang.

Here is the group driving around the circle at the Confederate Reunion Grounds; the cars are probably about as old as those trees!

Some more Model A's parked alongside the pavilion. It was a great day to be at work at the grounds.

Confederate Reunion Grounds is southwest of Mexia on FM 2705 in the Texas Brazos Trail Region.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Historic Sites Spa Treatment

by Bryan McAuley, Site Manager for the San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site.
Photos by THC staff, except for historic image of statue (from TxDOT library collection).

Over two weeks this past October, The Gilder’s Studio (in contract with the Texas Historical Commission) completed a significant conservation/restoration treatment to the heroic bronze statue of Stephen F. Austin at San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site. The statue was originally staged in 1938, having been commissioned as part of the centennial preparations for 1936. A mostly forgotten bit of this statue’s history: it was intended for placement in Brazoria County, where Austin died and was originally buried. Efforts by San Felipe Park Association President George W. Hill convinced the Commission of Control for Texas Centennial Celebrations to redirect the statue to San Felipe de Austin.
SFA Memorial Statue as it appeared in the early 1940s (original installation in the fall of 1938)

Architect Donald Nelson planned the design of the monument at San Felipe - an outer frame with granite curbs enclosing a “tool-finished paving.” Inside this framed walkway, atop a mound, sits the monument itself — a six-block base made of Marble Falls pink granite in the form of a truncated pyramid, supporting the bronze of Austin created by sculptor John Angel.

The Gilder’s Studio staff set out to strip away uneven layers of waxing and to address areas of wear on the surface of the statue. In addition, the monument’s base was re-pointed and original lead shims were removed and replaced with lime-based mortar.
Over the decades considerable wear and discoloration had occurred, giving the statue a mottled and sickly appearance.

Over the course of his “spa” treatment, the Austin statue was enclosed in scaffolding to provide easy access to the work surface. The granite base was wrapped in plastic to protect it from the chemical applications and washing done to the statue. After testing several solvents on the bronze surface of the statue, a chemical peel was applied (under plastic) and allowed to work overnight. The statue was cleaned with medium force pressure washing (water) and with non-ionic detergents and bristle brushes to remove fine dirt. The San Felipe-Frydek Volunteer Fire Department generously supplied water for the project as the site has no water source.
Scaffolding and plastic covers are in place in preparation for the work on the statue.

Gilder's Studio conservators begin applying a chemical peel to remove layers of wax and oxidation. The entire statue was plastic-wrapped overnight.

Gilder's Studio conservators are shrouded in mist as they pressure-wash the statue to remove the chemical peel and layers of buildup and grime.

Re-bronzing the statue in progress. The left side of Austin's forhead shows the "before" condition, while the right side has received the bronze colorization.

The San Felipe-Frydek VFD provided much-needed water for the conservation project.

Last, the statue was coated with microcrystalline wax to seal and protect it. The wax will need to be reapplied in approximately 18 months. Once the scaffolding was removed, the stone work was done in one day. A pressure-wash of the outer walkway had a dramatic effect, removing years of dirt build up and returning the color to a pinkish gray from what had become a dark, sooty black/brown.
A masonry contractor removes original lead shims which had been installed between the granite blocks.

A final dramatic improvement involved lithochrome highlighting that was applied to the lettering in the monument base. What had previously been undecipherable can now be read with ease from the outer walkway.
The application of lithochrome highlighting to the carved lettering in the base of the monument. Application is from top to bottom, so effect can be seen on the upper letters (November 3, 1793, ie).

Project manager William Hayden of the Gilder's Studio puts the finishing touches on the lithochrome highlighting.

The final phase was landscaping. In years past, an effort to stop erosion of the soil at the monument’s base had involved placing landscape timbers (held in place by bare rebar) and a bricked platform near the monument. These elements were removed, as was a chain metal, black stanchion surrounding the monument. New sod was installed, with eco-friendly buffalo grass, to return the monument’s appearance close to its 1938 staging. Despite a late day of storms, the statue/monument project was completed on Thursday, October 29 – just in time for the annual Father of Texas celebration that weekend.
Installation of new buffalo grass sod in progress. The remnants of the landscaped timbers and bricks that were removed can be seen in the foreground.

Ready for my close-up and to welcome many year's of future visitors. Stephen F. Austin looks resplendent with the conservation project complete.

**The San Felipe de Austin is located west of San Felipe on FM 1458 in the Texas Independence Trail Region

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Happy Holidays in Paris

by Janie Moses, staff member at Sam Bell Maxey House

The holidays have arrived in Paris and at the Sam Bell Maxey House. We are in full swing with our newly developed tour written especially for the Holiday in Paris city-wide event. As I am the housekeeper and tour guide, getting the house ready for all the events is exciting. Cleaning up afterwards . . . not so exciting.

Our December tour this year compares the holiday traditions from the Gilded Age of the late 1800s with the Roaring ‘20s of the 1900s. I always enjoy the children’s tours and this year is so much fun! Third graders toured the house during the first week of December and they were great. The girls tried on a replica lady’s hat from the Gilded Age era and flirted with the fan we had on display. The boys tried on the replica top hat and walked with the gentleman’s cane, just as Senator Maxey might have done. My favorite part of the tour was in the dining room, when the kids were shocked to learn ham came from pigs! And that flowers, such as rose petals, could be eaten!

The community came out in full force to see the house and hear our new tour. We greeted our Maxey House guests with beautiful Victrola music and served them rock cookies — both were popular at the Maxey House during the 1920s. December is an exciting month in Paris, for it gives us an opportunity to work side by side with the community.

** Sam Bell Maxey House is located in Paris at the corner of Church and Washington streets in the Texas Lakes Trail Region.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Visitor Center Improvements at Fort Griffin

by Eric Abercrombie, assistant site manager at Fort Griffin

We at Fort Griffin are excited to see much-needed improvements done to the interior of our nearly 40-year-old visitor center. The center has received a fresh coat of paint and stain from a local contractor, Abilene Constructors & Tile, on wood and drywall surfaces within the main room. The drop cloths, ladders, buckets, scaffolding and paint fumes have been the telltale signs of progress. As a result, the visitor center was closed to the public, now with project completion we have reopened.

The purpose of the fresh, clean improvements is to prepare for a much larger project of improving our interpretive displays, which is expected to commence in January 2010. The interpretive display project is much anticipated and has been in the works since last spring when a diverse committee of historians, local Fort Griffin enthusiasts and THC staff first met with the 106 Group to discuss what was to be done. We are now in the final planning stages and are confident our visitors will absolutely love the new content, look and layout of the upcoming visitor center displays.

**Fort Griffin is located 15 miles north from Albany on U.S. Hwy 283 in the Texas Forts Trail Region.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Introducing New Web Sites for the THC Historic Sites

by Jennifer O'Hair, web content coordinator

All of us on the THC's historic sites staff have something to be very thankful for this Thanksgiving — new web sites! Each of our state historic sites has been upgraded from a single web page to a full, stand-alone web site. A variety of new features will help you discover more about the real stories of these real places in Texas and get you started planning your next visit to the sites, such as the Starr Family Home shown below.

To explore the new web sites, go to and select a historic property to open its new web site. Here are a few of the new features worth checking out:
  • Events calendar – Keep up with what's going on at the sites.
  • Share Your Story – Tell us about your visit to the sites or memories of them from the past, and read about the real experiences of others.
  • FAQs – Get your questions answered before you head out to see the sites.
  • Share & Bookmark – Use the Share & Bookmark feature in the upper-right corner of each page to share what you learn in an email to a friend or a post to your Facebook, Twitter and more.
  • Our Stories – Explore the real stories behind each of the historic sites, such as Sam Rayburn's 1947 Cadillac shown below.

We hope you enjoy the new web sites as much as we do. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think! We'll be continuing to add more interpretive and educational content to the sites, and we plan to incorporate additional features, such as video and podcasts, in the future.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Casa Navarro to Have a White Christmas

by Sarah Tober, senior marketing specialist for the Historic Sites

Thanks to the efforts of José (the site manager of Casa Navarro), staff and a few volunteers, Casa Navarro State Historic Site will be gleaming white again in time for Christmas! José is completing the annual whitewashing of all the main buildings and some of the Austin staff headed down to San Antonio to lend a hand. The team included Glenn, Ellen, Hal and I. We rolled up our sleeves and dared to get dirty as we methodically applied the whitewash to the exterior walls and eagerly learned about making the wash.

To make the whitewash, José starts with a lime mix in five one-gallon buckets mixed with water. In another mix he utilizes the diced cactus he has harvested from the big cactus plant on the grounds. He lets the cactus soak in water for a few days to release its gooey juices, which provide an adhesive base for the whitewash. Once the two compounds are mixed together, it’s ready to apply to the walls. Long precise strokes are necessary for even distribution of the wash, an art Ellen easily mastered.

We also had the opportunity to check out the newly recovered 16-foot-deep cistern on the property. The cistern was once used for storing captured rainwater from the roofs and is being restored again for the same use. We were able to climb down and observe the unique space inside the cistern two and three staff members at a time. I captured some pictures of the staff emerging from the cistern, like this one of Hal. Look for more on the restoration and use of the cistern to come!

**Casa Navarro is located in downtown San Antonio at the corner of S. Laredo and W. Nueva streets in the Texas Independence Trail and Hill Country Trail Regions.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Good News from the Maxey House!

by Lynn Deal, site manager for the Sam Bell Maxey House

Here at the Sam Bell Maxey House we are celebrating great news for the Friends of the Maxey House, a 501(c) 3 organization that supports our mission. On Oct. 27, the Friends of the Maxey House received the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce 2009 Visionaries Award. The award recognized the Friends’ 16-year-commitment to the Sam Bell Maxey House State Historic Site (formerly known as the Sam Bell Maxey House State Historic Structure) through their various contributions, including the purchase and planting of flowers on the Maxey grounds.

The transition of site ownership from Texas Parks & Wildlife to a state museum run by the Texas Historical Commission, as well as the state’s current four-year exterior preservation project at the Sam Bell Maxey House was also acknowledged at the awards ceremony. The Friends of the Maxey House currently consists of approximately 65 members. Seven of the 15 board members were present to receive the award at the Chamber’s 105th awards banquet. The current board includes President Daisy Harvill, Vice President Laura Carrington, Treasurer Judy Gibbons, Secretary Phyllis Bryan, Chairman Carl Covert, Judy Martin, Brady Fisher, Jeanette Bender, Caroleen Thornton, Betty Ann Entzminger, Martha Stephens, Devon Mason, Armand Frank, George Kimbrough and Arvin Starrett. A big congratulations goes out to our Friends, we appreciate all you do!

**The Sam Bell Maxey House is located in Paris at the corner of Church and Washington streets in the Texas Lakes Trail Region.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

THC Historic Sites Represent at State Fair

by Sarah Tober, senior marketing specialist for the Historic Sites

The Historic Sites represented at the Texas State Fair this last week, with Jennifer (our web content guru), Dixie (one of our fabulous site managers, she oversees the Confederate Reunion Grounds) and yours truly. Together we worked the Texas Historical Commission (THC) booth, meeting visitors and providing information about the Historic Sites and other THC-related programs. We made sure visitors left our booth with rack cards, historic sites' mint tins and a better understanding of what we offer in the way of preservation and heritage tourism.

Traveling all over Texas and getting to know other Texans is definitely one of the perks of my job. Having grown up in Texas I have always heard that we Texans are some of the most friendly bunch of people in the U.S., and I can now officially confirm the rumors as truth. Even in the big city of Dallas there were plenty of friendly faces and hearty storytellers.

Some highlights from the two days spent at the fair include: tornado tater twisters, Dr. Pepper floats, talking with Dixie about history and life in Texas, corndogs, the Go Texan store, hearing people recognize our program and appreciate Texas history, and finally seeing the big O, a Brazilian Spectacle Owl that is!

If you make it to the state fair next year, be sure to stop by the THC booth inside the Food and Fiber Pavilion, you never know what new things you could learn there! For more information on the state fair visit

Friday, October 9, 2009

The long road to Acton…

by Sarah Tober, senior marketing specialist for the Historic Sites

After being in my new position for two months, I am finally making it out to see the sites! First stop, Acton State Historic Site in Acton, TX. After a few detours yesterday (due to missed roads and a slightly misleading GPS), to and from Acton, I can say that I have successfully visited Acton and stood in front of the Elizabeth Crockett monument.

First impressions, we have some work to do in restoring the monument, making the area more accessible (to drivers and walkers) and crating some visitor seating near Crockett's resting place. However, ultimately I believe she has a beautiful resting place, surrounded by history and lush landscapes. I tagged along to this site visit with co-workers Brett, Ellen and Donna who are planning for potential improvements. They also met with the Acton cemetery board of directors, where both parties shared visions for enhancements and a few development obstacles.

Who knew a monument and a cemetery could be so interesting though! In addition to the monument, the cemetery features an Official Texas Historical Marker, beautiful old oak trees and is the resting place for a Teas Ranger by the name of Capt. John W. Middleton. It was nice to not only visit our historic site, but to take a moment and reflect on Elizabeth Crockett's life and to consider the idea of what it must have been like to be the wife of such an important historical figure. The monument reminds me of her tragic story as a widow, but also of her strength in life.

Some how these Texas treasures and the historical context in which they fit, becomes more palpable to me once I have experienced them firsthand. I'm looking forward to my future THC related adventures (whether they be GPS misguided or not) and seeing more Historic Sites in the coming weeks.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Spirit Tours at Magoffin Home Begin This Weekend

Throughout the month of October, hear the stories of spirits and other odd occurrences in the Magoffin Home. Built in 1875, Magoffin family members and their descendents lived in the home for more than 100 years, and it is now one of the oldest surviving adobe structures in the El Paso area.

The Casa Magoffin Compañeros are offering these special tours on October 3, 10 and 31 at 10 a.m. The cost is $5 and all proceeds go to supporting preservation of the home. Reservations are required; please call 915.533.5147 to reserve your spot. Magoffin Home State Historic Site is located in the heart of downtown El Paso at 1120 Magoffin Ave.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Restoration of Fort Griffin's Centennial Monument

In May of this year, the Centennial Monument at Fort Griffin was cleaned, restored and reassembled to its original 1936 Centennial configuration (see 1936 image at left). Originally comprised of three bronze bas-reliefs and massive blocks of pink granite from Marble Falls, Texas, the reliefs had been separated from their base by Texas Parks and Wildlife in 1969–70 and attached to a sloped sandstone wall near the entrance of Fort Griffin visitor's center. The granite blocks were dumped in a field below the visitor’s center, where they remained for 40 years.

The granite base of the monument was designed by architects Page & Sutherland and the reliefs were created by French sculptors Raoul Josset and Jose Martin. The bronze panels are rendered in the team’s signature Art Deco style and depict pioneers, buffalo hunters and surveyors who opened West Texas to Anglo-American settlement. Josset and Martin came to Texas as members of the artistic team responsible for creating many of the primary sculptures and building facades of Dallas's Fair Park for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition.

Originally situated in the middle of the historic parade ground, the monument now graces the western edge of the fort and its grand silhouette greets visitors as they arrive at the site.

Here are a few highlights of the two-week restoration process:

From 1969–2009, the bronze panels were attached to a sandstone wall at Fort Griffin's entrance.

The restoration specialist removed the bronze plaques from the sandstone wall.

The conservator removed areas of loose corrosion from the plaques using bronze brushes and bronze wool.

A coat of butcher’s wax was applied to help unify the appearance of the plaques and to provide temporary protection against the elements; the wax will wear off in approximately six months.

Each granite block was hauled from the field below the visitor's center by an all-terrain forklift.

The restoration specialist cleaned, gently scrubbed and rinsed all granite blocks with a stone cleaning solution.

The forklift helped to set the stones in place.

With restoration and reassembly complete, the monument is finished!

Written by Laura DeNormandie-Bass, Chief Curator for the THC's State Historic Sites

Friday, September 18, 2009

Free Admission on Museum Day, Sept. 26

Enjoy FREE admission at three state historic sites next weekend. Casa Navarro, Fulton Mansion and Sam Rayburn House Museum will be participating in the 5th annual Museum Day, presented by Smithsonian magazine on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009. To gain free entry, visitors must present the Museum Day Admission Card, which can be downloaded from Come on out and enjoy Texas history for free!

Sam Rayburn's Cadillac at the Sam Rayburn House Museum.

Children learning how to make adobe at Casa Navarro.

The ornate exterior of Fulton Mansion.