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.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Farming Heritage Day at the Sam Rayburn House Museum

By Anne Ruppert, Sam Rayburn House Museum

Sam Rayburn House Museum hosted Farming Heritage Day on Saturday, October 2, 2010. The event offered visitors the opportunity to take part in farming activities, farm chores and dairy foods preparation, games, coloring activities, and hands-on demonstrations. Visitors also enjoyed free dairy treats such as cheese and ice cream.

Farming Heritage Day was developed to share Sam Rayburn’s love of farming and rural life with members of the contemporary community. The event included programs for both children and adults.
In tribute to Rayburn’s farming heritage, the event featured a cattle judging activity. As a Jersey cattle breeder, Rayburn had to know how well a cow could produce milk and reproduce offspring just by examining it. His cattle were considered some of the best in the region and known to give milk with a very high butterfat content, making them highly coveted at auction. In his later life, Rayburn began raising Polled Herefords for meat production. During Farming Heritage Day, participants learned about the traits that determine a good quality beef cow. Visitors then judged the cattle for themselves and entered their cattle score card for a chance to win movie tickets.
Farming Heritage Day activities included stations where visitors could learn to play lawn games, such as horseshoes and croquet along with Rayburn’s favorite game, dominoes. In his spare time, Rayburn preferred the simple aspects of rural country living, such as fishing, riding his horse throughout the nearby fields, and spending time with his family. One of the Rayburn family’s favorite activities was playing dominoes. They often gathered together in the home’s sitting room to play a domino game.
After Rayburn installed electricity in his home in 1935, the family eagerly added modern conveniences. A freezer was added and Lucinda Rayburn, Sam’s sister, was highly enthusiastic at the prospect of being able to make and easily keep frozen ice cream at home, something that they were unable to do previously. To add flavor to her vanilla ice cream, Lucinda often added Grape Nuts cereal to it to mimic the flavor of actual nuts. Visitors to Farming Heritage Day assisted in making homemade, hand churned ice cream and sampled it.
The Bells High School FFA from Bells, Texas gave a demonstration of the parliamentary procedure, something that Sam Rayburn was well-versed in. Other hands-on activities included farm chores, cornhusk doll-making, soil and water conservation, vegetable gardening, cotton seed planting, harvesting, and ginning along with demonstrations regarding popcorn and chickens.
For more information about Farming Heritage Day or the Sam Rayburn House Museum, contact Marion Wilson at 903.583.5558 or email or visit the museum’s website.

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

Monday, December 13, 2010

Landmark Inn and Casa Navarro Join Forces at San Antonio’s Founders Day

By Jose Zapata, Landmark Inn site manager and Maureen Brown, Casa Navarro site manager

On Saturday, October 23, Casa Navarro and the Landmark Inn were among the many exhibitors celebrating San Antonio’s Founders Day on the grounds of the Alamo. In its seventh year, San Antonio Founders Day serves to celebrate the area’s rich cultural heritage through live music and dance, historical reenactments, educational displays, and loads of fun for the little ones. This was a free family-oriented event and we had plenty of local visitors, others from throughout the U.S., and international visitors. Event organizers recorded more than 11,800 visitors to the event at the Alamo that day!
The Landmark Inn booth featured a “wheel of history,” which depicted several key elements of the historic inn. Assisting this year were Glenn Nuytten and his son Levi, Sadie Torres, and Libby Tschirhart. Libby wore a traditional Alsace dress and produced the wheel’s artwork. Visitors young and old had a great time spinning the wheel and winning prizes.
The Casa Navarro (and Friends) booth featured a hands-on activity that allowed visitors to sign their names with quill feathers and ink on parchment. The aim was to provide a fun activity that connects the past with the present and to provide an awareness link to the fact that Jose Antonio Navarro was one of two native Texans to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence. He spent much of his life writing and advocating for Tejano rights in Texas. Assisting this year included Sarah Salinas, Mark and Ceira Kohnitz, Robert Alvarado, and Rosemary and Jerry Geyer. Visitors of all ages practiced signing their names, including Dr. Felix Almaraz, noted historian of Tejano history and UTSA history professor (shown in photo wearing a robe). We are looking forward to participating in the event again next year.
**Casa Navarro is located at the corner of S. Laredo and W. Nueva street in downtown San Antonio in the Texas Independence and Hill Country Trail Regions

**Landmark Inn is located in Castroville, one block west of the Medina River bridge at the corner of Florence Street and Hwy. 90 in the Texas Hill Country Trail Region.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Young Stars in Marshall, TX

By Whit Edwards, Starr Family Home State Historic Site

Junior Docents underwent collection preservation training on October 16 at the Starr Family Home. The high school girls are receiving training so they can assist with the packing and care of the artifacts in the Starr Home. The training was conducted by Megan Maxwell, Jeff Campbell, and Adella Jackson of the Starr Family Home staff.
The Junior Docents that participated in this training exercise were: Amanda Warwick, Estrella Calderon, Samantha Herman, Catherine Mottershaw, Jessica Smith, Miranda Green, Aisha Thomas, Ellen Bray, and Anna Craig.
The girls learned about different methods of care required for the artifacts based on the composition of the artifact. Glass, paper, cloth, and leather all have unique features that require unique ways of handling. Each item was documented with a written description before being carefully wrapped and boxed away for safe keeping.
** Starr Family Home is located in Marshall on the corner of Travis and S. Grove streets in the Texas Forest Trail Region.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fall Harvest at Varner-Hogg

by Sue Miller, Varner-Hogg Plantation site manager

This year’s Third Annual Harvest Festival at Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historic Site included scarecrows, hayrides, cane tasting, and even a marriage proposal! One guest brought his daughters, along with his girlfriend’s daughters, all dressed in pink and black for a photo session that included a marriage proposal. He had his girls holding signs that spelled out “Will you marry our daddy?” A photographer was there to commemorate the moment, as he planned to get down on one knee and propose. Staff even got to see the engagement ring. We hope she said yes!
The evening also featured a visit from donkeys Pablo and Duke, who educated families about the different roles of plantation animals in early Texas.
Additionally, kids experienced what it was like to pick cotton (and fill and weigh a cotton sack), designed two different crafts, and enjoyed storytelling with the local librarian.
The night was fun for all, and both staff and visitors alike are looking forward to celebrating the spirit of the harvest in 2011.
**Varner-Hogg Plantation is located two miles north of West Columbia on FM 2852 in the Texas Independence Trail Region.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Archeology Month Program and Star Party at Fort McKavett

By Cody Mobley, Fort McKavett staff
October 9, 2010 was a busy day for site staff at Fort McKavett State Historic Site. I presented an archeology program at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. about the archeological surveys done on site during the years of 1969-1982. On display were examples of original artifacts which were uncovered during these excavations, as well as donated artifacts with provenance to the site.
Throughout the day, visitors observed experimental archeology in action as flint knappers created reproduction stone tools, arrowheads, and spear points using original methods and techniques. I spoke to the visitors about period woodworking techniques and demonstrated how these methods would have been used by the soldiers stationed at Fort McKavett during the mid-19th century in the construction and upkeep of the buildings onsite. A mock archeology dig kept the junior archeologists, assisted by site staff, busy for most of the day.
Later in the day, the Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society held their biennial Star Party. These events occur in the spring and fall on the weekend closest to the emergence of a new moon. After the sun went down, visitors began lining up for their turn to peer through the high powered telescopes and witness the enormity of the galaxy firsthand.
**Fort McKavett is located west of Menard on FM 864 in the Texas Forts Trail Region.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Taking Casita Navarro to the Community

By Maureen (Mo) Brown, Casa Navarro site manager

Casa Navarro State Historic Site staff, Friends, and volunteers built a “Parque de Casita Navarro” as part of the two-day “First Annual San Antonio Park(ing) Day” event on Sept 17-18. The event was organized by the San Antonio Architectural Foundation as part of the international “Park(ing) Day” events that occurred in cities worldwide and in more than 140 cities around the U.S.
San Antonio‘s standard metered parking spaces were temporarily transformed into innovative public open-space green parks for creative socializing. The event was located along the street from Casa Navarro, next to the popular Pearl Farmer’s Market.
We created “Parque de Casita Navarro” to include a specially built little house (“Casita Navarro”) for this occasion and to use in other outreach events. The little casa was made to be lightweight, transportable, and easily assembled by using two sheets of 8x4-foot plywood. One sheet was used for the house front (cut in half and hinged in the middle) and the other was for the roof, front door, window shutters, and porch floor. We also made a front porch railing.
In addition to the “casita,” our temporary park included a lawn of Astroturf loaned to us by the Via Metro staff, as well as flowerpots, benches, and traditional board games (i.e. chess and dominos) for the public to hang out, play, and enjoy our park. We also handed out brochures for Casa Navarro, Friends, and the THC. This was a great event to highlight temporary innovative green spaces and historic house sites as traditionally being green.
We had fun with our local partnering organizations in the process of creating the parks, sharing them with each other and the public, and getting drenched both days while dismantling our parks in a major rainstorm. We’re already looking forward to participating in next September’s Second Annual Parking Day event!
**Casa Navarro is located at the corner of S. Laredo and W. Nueva street in downtown San Antonio in the Texas Independence and Hill Country Trail Regions

Friday, October 22, 2010

Museum Day 2010

By Mary Ann Goodall, Confederate Reunion Grounds office manager

The sixth annual Smithsonian Museum Day was the final event in a very busy September at the Confederate Reunion Grounds (CRG). In addition to the 1990 class reunion held under the 1893 Dance Pavilion for Mexia High School graduates, special events for September 25 included free admission for visitors who presented the Museum Day Admission Card they had downloaded from

Museum Day visitors walking down the steps to Humphrey’s Spring

The Class of ’90 enjoyed seeing old classmates and catching up. There were many positive comments to site staff aboutimprovements and changes to the site in the past 20 years since graduation.

Mexia High School Class of 1990 football game

As the Class of ‘90 went their separate ways and vacated the pavilion, the Friends of the CRG moved underneath to host their Friends and Future Friends annual membership drive kick-off. They hosted Camp Coffee and Cobbler from a chuckwagon and a bluegrass jam for visitor entertainment, featuring the Rainey Creek Ramblers. A few visitors even brought their own instruments to jam with the Waco-area group for the evening. Most just enjoyed the music from their lawn chairs as they slowly sipped their coffee (it’s very hot when cooked over a camp fire) and savored every bite of cherry or apple cobbler. A few of us even had both!

Refreshments for Museum Day’s evening events included chuckwagon camp coffee and cobbler hosted by the Friends of the Confederate Reunion Grounds.

Rainey Creek Ramblers provide entertainment for Museum Day evening visitors.

The cobbler was great, the music was fantastic, visitor attendance was exceptional, and a good time was had by all! Plans are already being made for Museum Day 2011, scheduled for Saturday, September 24, 2011. Watch for upcoming events on our website.

**The Confederate Reunion Grounds is located southwest of Mexia on FM 2705 on the Texas Brazos Trail

Friday, October 15, 2010

Texas Archeology Month at the Sites

By Brett Cruse, Military and Archeological Sites Supervisor for the Historic Sites

Throughout the month at the Aransas County Public Library in Rockport, visitors can view a special exhibit on the archeology of the Fulton Mansion State Historic Site. The exhibit features objects recovered from the 1978 and 2007 archeological excavations, photographs, and details about the exciting process of discovering the 19th-century lives of the Fulton family.

Throughout the month of October, as part of its Texas Archeology Month celebration, Fort Lancaster State Historic Site near Sheffield in Pecos County will offer a variety of hands-on activities for children. Children can try a mock archeology dig, make replica arrowheads, try to piece together pottery, or make a Native American art rubbing.
A suspender clip from Fort Lancaster

Archeology Family Days will be at the Confederate Reunion Grounds State Historic Site near Mexia in Limestone County on October 16. With its towering burr oaks and crystal springs, people have gathered at the bend of the Navasota River at the juncture of Jack’s Creek for more than 5,000 years. This year, site staff will celebrate Texas Archeology Month with a program that includes demonstrations of native crafts and technologies, lectures on archeological topics, and hands-on activities, such as mock digs, rock art replication, and spear throwing using an atlatl.
Reenactors at Confederate Reunion Grounds

Also on October 16 at Sealy in Austin County, will be an event entitled “New Insights into Old Texas: Recent Findings from San Felipe de Austin, Washington-on-the-Brazos, and the Bernardo Plantation. This event includes two tours of the Bernardo Plantation and a lecture program. Sponsored by Friends of the San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site and THC.

On November 5–6 in San Felipe, Austin County, is the Father of Texas Birthday Celebration. This two-day event celebrating Stephen F. Austin’s birthday features a grand ceremony (Saturday, 2 p.m.), reenactments and living history programs, lectures, hands-on activities that include archeology-themed stations, and walking tours of the ceremonial site. Friday (9 a.m.–2 p.m.) is Austin County school day; Saturday (9 a.m.–4 p.m.) is public day.

Visit one of these historic sites in October and help celebrate and experience Texas Archeology Month!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Home Town Spirit on 9/11

By Cheryl Dowell, Fort Lancaster site staff

On 9/11 Fort Lancaster State Historic Site was honored to be represented during the Iraan/Sheffield Homecoming parade. The local Pecos River 4-H club decorated a float in support of our troops. Dozens of students who worked on this project have their freedom due to the brave men and women that have chosen to serve this great country.
The students made posters depicting Fort Lancaster and some of their 4-H projects. These students learned about community service throughout the year as they worked on different 4-H projects.
This year a group of young students will be working on a living history project for Fort Lancaster. The staff at Fort Lancaster is very excited to have students interested in learning about early Texas history. They will then have the opportunity to share their knowledge with others. Our hope is that this project will instill a sense of appreciation and ownership of our rich Texas history that the students will take into adulthood.
**Fort Lancaster is located near Sheffield in the Texas Pecos Trail Region.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

San Felipe de Austin Visitor has the Preservation Spirit

By Bryan McAuley, San Felipe de Austin site manager and Jeremy Brooks, HSD Curatorial Intern

On July 4th, following a couple of days of heavy rain, Christina Bernal of Houston and her parents, George and Virginia Bernal, made a stop at the San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site. After looking at the markers and the statue of Stephen F. Austin, Virginia took a seat on the wooden bench under the site’s large oak tree. She noticed what she thought was a heavily corroded dime on the ground near her feet and picked it up and put it in her pocket.
So began the final chapter of a remarkable journey of a half reale Spanish coin that traveled from Mexico City (its place of minting) likely to Austin’s colony (and soon to an Austin’s colony museum) by way of…the United States? Interior Mexico? San Antonio? What stories it could tell.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of this story is what happened, after realizing the “dime” was an historic 1816 Spanish coin. While state law prohibits the removal of resources from historic sites, it’s easy to imagine many visitors being tempted to simply walk away with a remarkable souvenir. This story has a different ending.
On July 5th, Bryan McAuley, San Felipe de Austin site manager, arrived at his desk to find an email from Christina. It included the following: “I understand there will eventually be a museum at the site, and it pleases me to think the coin could be put on display for everybody to see. (Our family loves history!)”

That afternoon the coin was in THC possession and within days was sent to curatorial staff in Austin for research and initial conservation.

The Historic Sites Division’s first priority was to digitally photograph the half reale coin to reduce the amount of physical handling of the artifact, and also retrieve high-resolution details of the coin that may elude the eye. After digitally documenting the coin curatorial staffers were able to extract unseen elements through a series of light and color filters. Once the filtration process was complete the image of the coin was returned to its original state.
Above is the actual coin found at San Felipe de Austin. Several of the key features listed beside the coin became known as the Historic Sites Division continued research.

The most noticeable marking on the obverse side is the bust of King Ferdinand VII. This particular bust, specifically named the “Laurent and Drape Bust” but commonly called the “Standard Bust” is a definable characteristic of the reale from the years 1808–1814. Also minted on the obverse end is “FERDIN•VII” “DEI•GRATIA”, which names the king (Ferdinand VII) during its minted year (1816) “[By the] Grace of God”.

On the reverse side of the coin are additional components which aided in the discovery of the coin’s origin. Located on the right side is the phrase, “HISPAN•ET•IND•” (Spain and Indies). Other coins of this same era typically had the phrase, “HISPAN•ET IND•REX” (King of Spain and Indies). The half reale is unique because it lacks the “REX” portion of the phrase.

Looking at the left side of the reverse end are three important features: the R, Ṁ, and J•J•. The value of the coin is a prefix to the R, an 8R is an 8 reale, 1R is 1 reale, leading to an R, which is a half reale. The second feature indicates this particular half reale origin of mint. The Ṁ denotes Mexico City as the place where this coin was manufactured. Lastly, the J.J. stands for the initials of the assayer, or the person who determines the specific qualities of the coin’s metal. Unfortunately the actual name of the assayer with initials J•J• has not been determined, but the average quality of the half Spanish Reale is measured at .86 fine silver (.048 troy ounces).

Not noted in the picture above, but definitely the most identifiable element of the coin is the Coat of Arms of the Spanish Monarch flanked by the Pillars of Hercules.

Thanks for checking in to learn about this unique artifact from San Felipe de Austin. And a big thanks to George, Virginia, and Christina Bernal for their commitment to Texas history.

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