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 d├ęcor 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.