telling the real stories at the Texas Historical Commission's real places
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.
You may have noticed that some artifacts are missing from Fort Lancaster and Fort McKavett’s visitor center exhibits. Over the last year, Texas Historical Commission (THC) staff has temporarily removed bottles, coins, buttons, armaments, saddles, and other significant fort objects for conservation. These artifacts were identified by curatorial staff for treatment as they were actively corroding, oxidizing, or degrading.
Conservation is the technology by which art and artifacts are preserved. Conservation treatments slow down the inevitable degradation of natural and man-made materials and include electrolysis, desalinization, and dehydration baths and the application of natural and artificial sealants. These processes must take place at a scientific laboratory, and the THC has contracted with the Conservation Research Lab (CRL) at Texas A&M University at College Station to perform treatment on these artifacts. Once stabilized at CRL, all artifacts will be returned and re-installed at each fort’s visitor center.
The photographs below highlight the benefits of conservation. This important artifact is an oval metal identification tag that belonged to James Harris, Company A, 24th regiment. This company was stationed at Fort McKavett between July 1871 and August 1872. The tag is made of sheet metal alloyed with silver. Retrieved from Fort McKavett’s trash dump in the 1970s, the item was put on exhibit in 1978. By 2009, oxidative processes had set in and corrosion had extended over the entire piece, making it illegible.
Photograph courtesy of Texas A&M’s Conservation Research Lab of College Station, TX
Conservator Catherine Sincich at CRL removed corrosion from the tag’s surface first by simmering the tag for two months in low voltage electrolysis. After three boiling rinses, Sincich polished the piece with bicarbonate paste and fiberglass, and then sealed it with clear acrylic sealant. Now conserved, the tag is no longer reactive and the intricate eagle motif has regained its depth and texture. As long as the tag receives routine maintenance it could remain chemically stable for decades.
Landmark Inn staff participated in Castroville’s 10th Annual Independence Day Parade by pitching in and working on the float over a period of three weeks. The float, a cardboard replica of the original Vance Hotel with the water tower in the back, was constructed with a variety of leftover cardboard, PVC pipes, string, and bailing wire.
This year’s parade featured fire trucks, color guards, school bands, antique cars, and floats from nearby communities. The Inn’s Maintenance Supervisor, Glenn Nuyttens, drove the tractor that pulled the float and Office Manager Sadie Torres distributed sweets to the children.
The fourth year of the Old Stories, New Voices summer camp launched at Fort McKavett State Historic Site where participants loaded up into the caravan heading to the Prude ranch near Fort Davis. The Friends of Fort McKavett furnished bottled water and snacks to the kids while they were on post and for the next leg of the trip.
The group then went on to Santa Fe, N.M. where they spent the night before heading for Gloretta Pass and the other Civil War sites. This year, 44 kids are participating in the program, 20 of who are from Texas—Menard, Fort McKavett, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. The trek took the kids from New Mexico all the way to Gettysburg, Pa. The group ended up at Gettysburg for the Fourth of July weekend reenactment before heading home.
There is more on this adventure and my involvement on the program’s blog. This is information on the program from the Facebook page “The Old Stories, New Voices Program offers youngsters a once-in-a-lifetime immersion in the history, diverse cultures, and natural landscape of their home state. By taking them back in time to experience the challenges of their pioneer ancestors, the program helps students increase their own resilience and sense of responsibility. Participants also learn to appreciate the importance of the past, as well as historic preservation and conservation.”