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 21, 2011

Sam Rayburn House Museum Opens Joint Exhibit at the Sam Rayburn Museum

By Anne Ruppert, Sam Rayburn House Museum

November 16, 1961 was a day heavy in the hearts of many. Early that morning, Dr. Joe Risser, Sam Rayburn’s personal physician, announced the Speaker’s death to the media gathered in his small Bonham clinic. The Speaker had been ailing since the summer, and had returned to Texas in September to recuperate. As his health diminished, local and national media reported on his condition on a daily basis. After testing at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas revealed that the Speaker was suffering from incurable cancer, the public collectively held its breath until the end came.

The fateful news of November 16, 1961 would precede the largest gathering of U.S. political leaders outside Washington, D.C. that the nation had ever seen. Rayburn’s November 18, 1961 funeral was attended by President Kennedy, Vice President Johnson, former Presidents Eisenhower and Truman, and a multitude of representatives from both houses of Congress.

In preparation for the funeral services, the Bonham police chief recruited 190 Texas Highway Patrol officers, county sheriff’s deputies, and local city police to assist with the crowds and direct traffic. Hotel rooms quickly filled and soon private citizens were asked to open their homes to the visitors. Most businesses closed for Rayburn’s funeral, except for cafes, which remained open to serve the many out-of-towners. The 10,000 residents of Bonham were joined by an additional 15,000 people in mourning the Speaker.  

Fifty years later, the Sam Rayburn House Museum, in cooperation with the Sam Rayburn Museum, developed the exhibit “Laying Down the Gavel” to pay tribute to the Speaker. The exhibit opened at the Sam Rayburn Museum on the 50th anniversary of Sam Rayburn’s death, November 16, 2011. In a timeline format, the exhibit expands upon the events leading up to Rayburn’s death, his funeral, and preparations for the memorial services in Bonham. The effect of Rayburn’s death on the House of Representatives and in the Fourth Congressional District of Texas and the many honors bestowed upon Rayburn posthumously are also featured in the exhibit.

Several rarely seen photos, documents, and artifacts are on display. Exhibited documents include the typed transcript from the news conference announcing Sam Rayburn’s death, status reports regarding Rayburn’s health from Baylor and Risser Hospitals where Sam Rayburn was a patient, and photos of both the funeral and graveside services.

Also in recognition of the 50 years that have passed since Rayburn’s death, both museums co-hosted a progressive history tour on November 18. The progressive tour, based on the “Laying Down the Gavel” exhibit, included the Bonham Visitor Information Center, Creative Arts Center, Fannin County Historical Commission, Fannin County Museum of History, and the First Baptist Church of Bonham. Bus service provided free of charge by the Texoma Area Para-transit System allowed participants to easily travel from site to site. The event ended at the Sam Rayburn Museum, where attendees viewed the last two sections of the exhibit, artifacts, and film footage from the day of Sam Rayburn’s funeral.

The “Laying Down the Gavel” exhibit will remain on display at the Sam Rayburn Museum (800 W. Sam Rayburn Drive, Bonham) through January 7, 2012. The Sam Rayburn House Museum is located at 890 W. State Hwy. 56, two miles west of Bonham, in the Texas Lakes Trail Region.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Forgotten Period of Texas Civil War History Comes Back to Life

By Cody Mobley, Fort McKavett State Historic Site

Living historians from 13 states traveled to Fort McKavett State Historic Site to commemorate the six months during the winter of 1861-62 that Fort McKavett was used as a temporary prisoner-of-war camp. On the weekend of November 18-20, 2011, participants in the event represented members of Co. E, 1st Texas Mounted Rifles and members of the 8th U.S. Infantry captured at the Battle of Adam’s Hill north of San Antonio in May 1861.

Daily life at the frontier fort was recreated based on period accounts and military protocol. The prisoners spent their time mending their worn clothing, visiting Sam Wallick’s sutler store, sleeping, or looking for a source of entertainment.

The Texans spent the event doing fatigue details, standing guard, visiting the sutler’s store, and trying to keep out of trouble. It wasn’t easy for everyone: a Texan private was brought up on charges during the event for disorderly conduct toward officers, profanity, insubordination on work details, shooting at fellow soldiers, and discharging a firearm in the barracks. He was sentenced to be hung by his thumbs for two hours on the parade ground to serve as a warning to the Texans and prisoners.

The rations for the event were based on what was seasonal and what was historically being shipped to Fort McKavett from San Antonio. The diet consisted of locally foraged venison, cabbage, potatoes, beans, canned tomatoes, and hard tack. Some of the participants gathered watercress from the springs.

Samuel Wallick was the post sutler during this period and was represented during the event by site staff. The stock of his sutler’s store was specially recreated for this event based on his ledgers and antebellum accounts from soldiers stationed at Fort McKavett during the 1850s. Each participant had $3 in sutler chits to purchase items from Mr. Wallick, gamble away, or to keep as a memento from the event.

For more information about the history behind this event, please visit the event website. Fort McKavett is located west of Menard on FM 864 in the Texas Forts Trail Region.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pioneer Day at Landmark Inn

By Jose Zapata, Landmark Inn Site Manager

Young and old alike enjoyed a day-long journey into the past during Pioneer Day at the Landmark Inn. Held on Nov. 12, the weather was very agreeable for outdoor demonstrations. There were 14 exhibitors, all dressed in 19th-century attire and eager to demonstrate and discuss toy-making, hand tools, woodworking, laundry day, school house, outdoor cooking, wine making, and an assortment of military and old west displays. Most of the exhibitors were from Castroville, while others were from nearby Hondo, Uvalde, and San Antonio. We also had an exhibitor from Buchanan Dam and another from Brackettville.

The Buffalo Soldier camp was popular, as was their rocking horse. The laundry day demonstration was a big hit with the little ones, as they took turns working the “old time” washboard and clothes wringer. Hop-scotch and stilts were a favorite among young and old, as were hand-made lacing and quilt-making. The Landmark Inn’s historic buildings and grounds were a great backdrop for this event.  

At midday, the exhibitors took a break and savored the food prepared by Carolyn and Vincent Biedeger, who demonstrated Dutch-oven cooking. Overall, Pioneer Day at the Landmark Inn was well-received and will be reinstated as an annual community event.   

Landmark Inn State Historic Site is located in Castroville, approximately 20 miles west of San Antonio, in the Texas Hill Country Trail Region.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

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

By Jose Zapata (Landmark Inn) and Maureen Brown (Casa Navarro)

Casa Navarro and Landmark Inn state historic sites were among the many exhibitors celebrating San Antonio’s Founders Day on October 22 at the Alamo. In its eighth year, San Antonio Founders Day celebrates the area’s rich cultural heritage through live music and dance; historical, cultural, and educational displays from more than 40 organizations; and hands-on crafts and educational activities for children. This was a free, family-oriented event, and we had plenty of local, national, and international visitors. Event organizers recorded more than 8,800 visitors to the event at the Alamo that day!

Landmark Inn staff set up a booth featuring a laundry area, photos, and a general store. Visitors of all ages had a great time in the laundry area, viewing the historic photos and the general store display.  

The Casa Navarro (and Friends) booth featured two hands-on activities this year. One activity allowed visitors of all ages to sign their names with quill feathers and ink on a large sheet of paper. The aim was to provide a fun activity that connects the past with the present as well as awareness of the fact that José Antonio Navarro was one of two native Texans to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence. Signatures at the event included visitors from all over the U.S., Canada, and China. We even had “Flat Stanley’s” signature.

Another “History Detective” activity involved searching for clues to Casa Navarro and Navarro’s past with copies of key historical primary sources and magnifying glasses.

We are looking forward to participating in next year’s event. Landmark Inn is located in Castroville, approximately 20 miles west of San Antonio, in the Texas Hill Country Trail Region. Casa Navarro is located at the corner of S. Laredo and W. Nueva streets in downtown San Antonio, in the Texas Independence and Hill Country Trail Regions.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Young Texans Experience Living History at Fort Griffin

By Mitch Baird, Fort Griffin Site Manager

Fort Griffin State Historic Site held its annual living history event last month, with a school day on Friday, October 7. The weather was windy with steady 20-30 mile-an-hour winds, but no one seemed to mind. More than 750 students and 120 teachers and parents traveled from as far away as Abilene and Oleny to attend.

To help educate the students, volunteers from all over Texas came to teach traditional activities, including stage coach rides, corn shucking and grinding, and laundry demonstrations. Oddly enough, teaching the students how to wash and iron clothes the old-fashioned way, with a scrub board and sad iron, was very popular!

The students also loved seeing the big longhorn steers on display and listening to tall tales of cattle rustling, drives, and stampedes. But most of all they seemed to be attracted to Drummer Boy Ice Cream, which was selling homemade ice cream, root beer floats, and more. 

Another annual favorite is the large cannon and mortar from Fort Concho. This is always an exciting demonstration for the students because it is loud and produces lots of smoke. Bruce Frazer of Frazer Brothers Sutlery entertained the kids with tales of Indians and how to use an atlatl, while his wife, Gay, watched over the military clothing, buttons, and kepis for sale in their store. Overall, the school day was great success.

Saturday morning was met with clouds and the threat of severe weather. Who would have thought that during Texas’ most severe drought in 50 years, Saturday’s living history event would be washed out? Nonetheless, word was given early to “bug out if you don’t want to get wet!” Canvas dropped, cannons flew onto trailers, horses and stagecoaches flew off site, and within an hour and a half only a few brave souls remained.

About an hour later, the rain came and stayed for three days. In the end, we received 4.5 inches of much-needed rain. But Saturday was also the day that the Texas Forts Tour was due to ride through Fort Griffin, and by golly the cyclists still came—wet, cold, and hungry, but they still came. In the end, more than 62 riders stopped at the Fort Griffin rest stop to get a snack of fresh fruit and a drink before pedaling off in the pouring rain for the final 15 miles of the day’s ride. 

By 4 p.m., only staff remained at the site. We all looked at each other and then the rain and laughingly agreed, “If this is what it takes to get rain, we’ll do it again next weekend!” 

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Preserving the Past at Magoffin Home

By Leslie Bergloff, Magoffin Home Site Manager

For the last four months, the Magoffin Home State Historic Site in El Paso has been undergoing a transformation. This historic adobe building has been the focus of an important preservation project that combines the materials of the past with the best preservation technologies of the present. The renovations will ensure that many more generations of visitors can be transported back in time to enjoy and learn more about the Magoffin Home and early Southwest history.

More than 50 El Pasoans have been hired to work with Stoddard Construction Management, Inc. on the project. The leaking roof is being replaced and the wood exterior trims repaired and repainted. Repairs to the adobe are also included in the work, along with updates to the electrical and mechanical systems. New drainage and grading around the building will prevent any more damage to the adobe bricks.

Each contractor is dedicated to making sure they meet all the requirements of the Antiquities Code as well as the Secretary of the Interiors standards for the preservation of historic buildings. It won’t be long before the home is open and in better condition than it has been for many years.

During a recent paint analysis, some unusual paint finishes were discovered. These “faux finishes” will be restored the building’s exterior doors, windows, and screens. This will more accurately represent the exterior of the Magoffin Home in the late 1800s, when the scoring on the plastered adobe was originally completed. The new paint will make the home even more authentic for visitors.

Community support has been positive throughout the project. People stop by to see what is going on and call to thank the Texas Historical Commission for making sure this El Paso treasure is being preserved. The outpouring of their encouragement and support shows the level of commitment the community has for preserving this historic site. Hardly a day goes by without someone asking when it will open again. Although the work will not be completed until spring 2012, it will all be worth the wait!

For updates and more photos of the project, go to The Magoffin Home is located in downtown El Paso and is part of the Texas Mountain Trail Region.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Students Get Spooky for Fulton Mansion

By Cassie Dieterich, Fulton Mansion Educator

Fulton Mansion State Historic Site has announced its 2011 Spooky Stories Contest winners. Congratulations to Sapphire Rodriguez, middle school winner, and Juliet Jones, elementary school winner. The top two prize-winning stories along with eight semi-finalists’ stories will be published in the Fulton Mansion’s third annual Spooky Story booklet. The book is available for purchase year-round in the Fulton Mansion gift shop.

Read an excerpt of Sapphire Rodriquez’s story below. Find the complete story, along with Juliet Jones’ “The Ghost of the Fulton Mansion,” on Fulton Mansion’s Facebook Page.

Artwork by Larry Zink

The Haunted Bite
by Sapphire E. Rodriguez, Cunningham Middle School

It was one of those nights again. The light kept flickering off and on, the wind had a bitter holler and all I could do was take small steps up the stairs—stairs that so many had walked on and were never seen again.

“Why bother with this old house?” you may say. Trust me. It is something worth talking about. Over three thousand people have tried to solve the mystery of this abandoned house for over a hundred years, but none ever succeeded. They would go in on nights like this and never see the light of day again. I procrastinated before going down the hall of the house where all the bedrooms were. Whoever last lived in this house was a total mess. They also had left the windows open, which caused the wind to seep into the house, giving me an eerie feeling.


What was that!? Slowly, long, white footprints started appearing. They kept going down the long narrow hallway until they stopped directly at a door. The door led to the highest window in the house and it was blocked with many thorns and overgrown vines.

“Deep breath—just take a deep breath,” I said to myself. I was there to find out the mystery of this old abandoned mansion, and I would come out with an answer.
Continue reading the full story.

Fulton Mansion is located in the resort area of Rockport-Fulton, 30 miles north of Corpus Christi. The site is part of the Tropical Trail Region.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Before & After: Conserving Fort Griffin's Trunk

By Laura DeNormandie-Bass, chief curator for the THC Historic Sites

A traveling trunk from Fort Griffin State Historic Site was recently conserved at Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory in College Station. The trunk was treated for metals deterioration, wood preservation, and paper conservation utilizing Japanese rice paper and a cellulose-based adhesive.

This particular travel/steamer trunk is composed of a tinned steel shell with wood slats and small wheels embedded on the bottom. The trunk appears to have belonged to “Caleb B. Cupp” of Colorado, TX, and the lock is stamped “PAT’D Mar. 69 & Apr. 77.” The inside of the trunk was papered at least twice, the first time with a pale pink, heavily water-stained paper and the second time with a white/neutral paper with dark stippling.

View photos of the trunk before and after conservation below:

Before conservation

After conservation

Before conservation

After conservation
 Before conservation

After conservation

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

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Relive the Battle of Sabine Pass

Visitors to Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site can now visually experience the military action of September 1863, when members of the Davis Guard—led by Lt. Richard “Dick” Dowling—held off a Union attack at Sabine Pass, a key port for Confederate shipments of supplies.  A new battle-scene viewer, just one of many recent improvements at the site, gives visitors a look at how events emerged as Dowling and his 46 men defeated the Union ships’ invasion.

New outdoor educational exhibits were also recently completed at the site, including text panels with maps detailing the important Civil War battle and the site’s continued role in coastal defense through the mid-20th century. New signs throughout the 58-acre site provide information on the important role Sabine Pass played in Texas history.

A highlight of the new outdoor exhibits is a scale model of the Civil War-era fort and battle, showing the positions of Confederate defenders and the Federal gunboats that unsuccessfully tried to sail up the pass. A viewing scope assists in sighting the historic Sabine Pass lighthouse that stands on the Louisiana shore. The new exhibits replace an installation destroyed by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Other improvements to the site include the installation of new flag poles, a gate at the site entrance, and directional signs.

Come explore these new features at Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site, located 1.5 miles south of the town of Sabine Pass on Dick Dowling Rd. and 15 miles south of Port Arthur. The site is part of the Texas Forest Trail Region.