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, January 27, 2010

Chautauqua & Coffee learning series

by Dixie Hoover, site manager at Confederate Reunion Grounds

The Chautauqua & Coffee learning series hosted by the Confederate Reunion Grounds coordinated its December event with the Mexia Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Mistletoe Music and Magic” last month to begin the holiday festivities in Limestone County.
Beneath the 1893 dance pavilion, the band Time Was performed holiday music using traditional 18th and 19th century instruments. David Turner played the banjo, with Cheryl Turner on the hammer and mountain dulcimer, and Brenda Jeter plucking the string bass. Other instruments included the mandolin, pennywhistle and a crazy assortment of percussion “toys.”

Percussionist Mike Jeter created quite an interest among spectators in his choice of instruments to “set the beat” using anything from a jaw bone to a banana seed pod.

At the conclusion of David Turner’s recitation of The Night Before Christmas, sleigh bells were handed out and everyone took a sleigh ride to the tune of “Jingle Bells.” Mike Jeter provided the crack of the whip and called to the horses as we sleighed to a 19th-century holiday house party.

We arrived at the house party to find refreshments provided by Coffee Cabaret of Mexia. My favorite was the roasted chestnut coffee; this flavor also proved to be the favorite of many others as it didn’t take long for the pot to be emptied.

For those who needed more warmth than hot chocolate, coffee, or hot tea could provide, a campfire outside the pavilion attracted groups and individuals throughout the afternoon’s performance.
The house party concluded the event with dance demonstrations and lessons for all who wanted to participate.
Even those who weren’t brave enough to line up for the Grand March or expend the energy needed as an aerobic workout to the Virginia Reel dance found enjoyment in simply watching.

The next event scheduled for the Chautauqua and Coffee learning series will be March 2010. Lynn Deal, site manager for Sam Bell Maxey House, will discuss the history of Southern quilts. Robin Gilliam, site manager for Eisenhower Birthplace, will follow up with a discussion about care and storage of heirloom quilts.

The Chautauqua and Coffee learning series is patterned after a movement spread through the rural U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that provided educational lectures and entertainment for the average American before the advent of mass media.
The Confederate Reunion Grounds is located 6 miles south of Mexia on State Highway 14, then 2.5 miles west on FM 2705 in the Texas Brazos Trail Region.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Cadi Will Not Lack

by Anne Carlson, site staff at Sam Rayburn House Museum

Sam Rayburn’s 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood is one of the most visible and well-known attractions at the Sam Rayburn House Museum. Many visitors often ask about “Mr. Sam’s Cadillac” and are eager to hear how he acquired it. The story about how Sam Rayburn came to own the car tells a lot about the Congressman’s character and his relationship with his fellow political colleagues. See the full story at Our Stories page.

Sam Rayburn's 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood at the Sam Rayburn House Museum prior to transport to Canton, TX for mechanical restoration.

In recent years, the car has not been mobile due to needed engine and brake repairs.

Cadillac in the shop at Hatfield Restorations

A generous donation to the Friends of Sam Rayburn, combined with money from the Texas Historical Commission, gave the museum the opportunity to have the mechanical restoration completed. Since August 2009, the Cadillac has been off-site undergoing repairs at Hatfield Restorations, a well known and highly respected vintage car restoration shop. As of December 2009, mechanics have replaced all the brake components and were rebuilding the engine and transmission.

Carole Stanton, site manager of Sam Rayburn House Museum and Gary Hatfield, owner of Hatfield Restorations take a look at the undercarriage of the Cadillac

Once the work is completed, the Cadillac will once again be operable and will be featured prominently in events at the museum and parades in Bonham. The classic car is expected to return to Bonham in spring 2010.

** The Sam Rayburn House Museum is located two miles west of Bonham on West State Highway 56 in the Texas Lakes Trail Region.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Beauty in a Bottle

by Laura DeNormandie-Bass, chief curator of the Historic Sites

In late October, Kerri Wilhelm (archeology curator for historic sites) and I visited Fort McKavett in Menard, Texas. Upon our arrival, we found something unexpected: a treasury of intact historic bottles from the fort’s 19th century trash dump! Cody Mobley, Fort McKavett curatorial technician and Jay Wright, staff member at Fort McKavett, encountered this stunning collection in a fort storage room as they were conducting collections inventories late last summer.

The bottles range in age from 100-plus years old and are diverse in source, shape and color. From milk of magnesia to perfume to whiskey, the bottles’ original contents reflect daily life at the fort at the turn of the 20th century.

Research found these artifacts had been acquired in the 1970s from a local source, Lee & Ed Antiques of Menard. THC staff looks forward to learning more about the collectors and circumstances associated with this important acquisition.

In the meantime, staff has packaged and documented the bottles and brought them to Austin’s Wheless Lab, a THC archeological storage and processing facility. This month, the bottles will travel once again, to Texas A&M’s Conservation Research Laboratory in Bryan, where at least 40 of the bottles will be conserved and stabilized. Once stabilized, a subset will be brought back to Fort McKavett as an exhibit. Others will be housed and stored in Austin as a research collection.

While Fort McKavett’s bottles’ historic value is significant, their beauty must also be acknowledged. Take a look at how gorgeous and intriguing these artifacts are!

**Fort McKavett is located west of Menard on FM 864 in the Texas Forts Trail Region.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Restacking the Military Cemetery Rock Wall at Fort Griffin

by Eric Abercrombie, assistant site manager at Fort Griffin State Historic Site

Recently, we had 159 Boy Scouts and 40 Scout Leaders, representing multiple troops from within the Double Mountain Region, come out to Fort Griffin for their annual gathering. Their purpose was to camp, work on merit badges and volunteer time to a worthy project. The project assigned to them was to restack our military cemetery rock perimeter wall. Until this past year, the rock wall had not been visible to the public because of years of vegetative growth. Fort Griffin maintenance staff devoted about a week last winter to clearing out brush growing in and around the wall to make it more visible. This was the first attempt at restoring the wall, but it still remained a simple pile of rubble forming the outline of the historic cemetery.

The wall and cemetery were built by the military in the 1870s for the purpose of burying fallen soldiers, their families, and a few Tonkawa Scouts. It served as the post cemetery until the military abandoned Fort Griffin in 1881. When the military abandoned the post, they retrieved approximately 70 bodies and reburied them in the national cemetery in San Antonio. Today there are no formal grave markers to indicate a cemetery, just a rock perimeter wall with a gate opening. A large rock remains with a piece of iron driven into it, which appears to be a hinge for the gate.

The Boy Scouts and their leaders contributed around 600 volunteer hours to the project in about a three hour period. They successfully restacked the rock wall to a condition worthy of interpretation. The wall is uneven in areas simply because of a lack of materials. It is likely that, before the state acquired the property in the 1930s, there were numerous rocks taken from the cemetery wall to be put to use for other purposes on some of the local ranches in the area. Thanks to the Boys Scouts of the Double Mountain Region, we now have a very nice looking rock wall for all visitors to see as they enter and leave the site!

Recently, the Shackelford County Historical Commission applied for designation of the Fort Griffin Cemetery as a Historic Texas Cemetery. Click here to find out more about Historic Texas Cemeteries and the RIP Guardian program.

**The Fort Griffin State Historic Site is located 15 miles north of Albany on U.S. Hwy 283 in the Texas Forts Trail Region.