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, 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

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Summer Bedroom

By Sue Miller, site manager of Varner-Hogg Plantation

Have you ever wondered how South Texas residents stayed cool in the 1800s during the long, hot Texas summers? Everything from the architecture of houses to summertime bedroom fabrics played a part in easing the oppressive heat. Often, in the heat of summer, occupants would even move their mattresses to outside balconies to sleep!

At Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historic Site, visitors can learn more about these early techniques in the Summer Bedroom, a newly interpreted room at the plantation house.

The centerpiece of the room is the bed, made by local craftsman and store owner Henry Jansen during the mid 1800s. Mosquito netting surrounds it to keep insects from bothering the occupant during the summer months.

Keeping cool also meant that winter’s heavy rugs, carpets, and draperies made way for sheer panels on windows, and white muslin sheets and coverlets replaced heavy quilts and blankets on beds. Cotton slipcovers on upholstered furniture led to the light, white, cool look of the room.

Summer clothing took the same path. Lightweight cotton and muslin skirts and camisoles replaced heavy brocades and wools. Women and children wore flowing pieces made of fabric that could breathe. Large hats for dress or wide-brimmed bonnets for farm life shielded faces and eyes from the sun.

Come view the Summer Bedroom for yourself and peer in on the life of this southern Texas family. Varner-Hogg Plantation is located approximately 60 miles south of Houston and is part of the Texas Independence Trail Region.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Gun for Preservation and Restoration

By Eric Abercrombie, Fort Griffin State Historic Site

Due to the efforts of the Texas Historical Commission (THC) and the Friends of Fort Griffin, the powder magazine at Fort Griffin State Historic Site has recently been restored to its original 1870s condition. Prior to the restoration work, extensive research was conducted by Martha Freeman, Texas historian and author, to ensure this building was restored as closely to historically accurate as possible. The funding for the research and restoration was provided by our very supportive friends group, the Friends of Fort Griffin.



The original purpose of the powder magazine was to safely store powder and ammunition for the military. It was built a fair distance from other fort buildings, likely as a safeguard, in case the contents of the building were to discharge, causing a large explosion.


The walls were made from local limestone and contained three small, z-shaped vent holes, designed for ventilation while preventing entry of a flame or spark that could ignite the powder and ammunition inside. The powder magazine had a wooden roof with a “weather ridge,” the common style at the time. Rather than a ridge cap, which is commonly used today, the weather ridge is simply an overlapping of an additional row of wood shingles at the top of the ridge. In case of an explosion, the wood roof, which is weaker than the thick rock walls, would allow an explosion’s energy release to go up rather than out. Overall, construction of the magazine was very simple, yet effective for its intended purpose.


Fort Griffin and the THC plan to include interpretive displays inside the powder magazine in the near future. These displays will include period-correct cartridge, rifle and pistol boxes, and powder kegs. The powder magazine is one of the buildings that can be toured at the site, along with many of the other great buildings that make up Fort Griffin. Come tour Fort Griffin today!


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