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.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Conserved Artifacts Arrive at Fort McKavett

by Cody Mobley, Fort McKavett State Historic Site curator

On December 28, 2010, Fort McKavett State Historic Site received a late Christmas present—68 recently conserved artifacts. These artifacts were removed from Fort McKavett at the request of curatorial staff and taken to the Conservation and Research Laboratory at Texas A&M in College Station over the past two years. Kerri Wilhelm, Curator of Archeology for the THC, arrived with five boxes of conserved artifacts in tow.

Site curatorial staff began the mount-making process after the new year. Using acrylic for the mounts, as well as techniques learned through a one day workshop with the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum’s mount-making department, the staff of Fort McKavett got to work. The goal is to have all the restored artifacts in place by Fort McKavett’s West Texas Heritage Days celebration on March 25–26.

The following photos demonstrate the necessary steps to make a mount for one of the artifacts in our museum. This particular artifact is especially unique, as not only is it positively identified as belonging to a soldier stationed at Fort McKavett during the 1870s, it belonged to a soldier in the 24th U.S. Infantry—a Buffalo Soldier. This identification tag is of a design created during the Civil War for use on personal luggage. Its patriotic motif was popular with soldiers and civilians alike. Whether Pvt. James Harris used this tag on his personal baggage or on his person as a pseudo “dog tag” is unknown.

First, the original mount for the artifact is removed from the wall in the museum and the substrate is reused with the new mount.

Apparent in this photograph is the wax used to mount the identification tag when it was initially installed by Texas Parks & Wildlife during the 1970s. The grayscale image will be removed from the substrate and a color photo of the conserved identification tag will be inserted in its place.

The new acrylic mount must be designed to support the conserved artifact without being too obtrusive. Measurements and sketches are made with this in mind.

The overall shape of the tag is traced onto archival quality, acid-free paper. This tracing will be used in the mount-making process to shape the acrylic.

The acrylic is cut with a band saw into the basic rectangle shape, the sides are squared up on a belt sander, and the strip is heated and shaped using a heat gun. Once the acrylic has cooled, the profile of the tag is traced onto the acrylic and shaped with a belt sander. The “shelf” the artifact will rest upon is cut out of the acrylic sheet, sanded square, heated with the heat gun, and molded to the profile of the tag. All the sanded edges of the mount are then treated with a torch to clean up the sanding marks and improve the clarity of the edge of the acrylic.

Finally, the artifact and mount are re-installed in the Fort McKavett museum.

Visit Fort McKavett State Historic Site to see the results of the THC's conservation efforts, not only in the museum, but outside as well. Site staff recently finished whitewashing the buildings and are currently giving the woodwork a new coat of paint.

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

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sam Rayburn House Museum Celebrates 1947

By Anne Ruppert, Sam Rayburn House Museum

Last month, the Sam Rayburn House Museum celebrated the year 1947 during its annual Holiday Open House on December 16–18. The event featured themed house tours on Sam Rayburn’s political career in 1947 and activities at his Bonham home in 1947.

The year 1947 was a pivotal time for Rayburn, or Mr. Sam as he was known. Having made continuous strides in the political landscape, Mr. Sam suffered a setback when the 1947 Congressional session opened in January. Mr. Sam probably agreed with his friend President Harry Truman when he coined the term, “Do Nothing Congress” for the 80th Congress (1947–1949). Many of the forthcoming difficulties were a result of the November 1946 elections, which put the Republicans in power in Congress. After serving as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1940, Mr. Sam, a Democrat, lost his position to Republican Congressman Joe Martin of Massachusetts. Mr. Sam’s Democratic colleagues encouraged him to accept the nomination as the House Minority Leader, which he did, and in doing so became a much more vocal presence on the House floor. Throughout 1947, Mr. Sam waged battles against the Republican majority as they supported cutting the budget of Mr. Sam’s rural electrification and soil conservation projects, strict organized labor bills, and cutting President Truman’s proposed budget.

Mr. Sam (center) is presented with the keys to his new Cadillac on the steps of the Capitol building on January 30, 1947. Also shown are Congressman Frank Boykin of Alabama (left), who headed up the committee to procure the $25 donations, and Congressman and House Minority Whip John McCormack of Massachusetts (right). Photo credit: Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama
Mr. Sam did receive some good news during this time. After losing his congressionally funded limousine to the new Speaker Martin, 142 of his fellow Democratic Congressmen, who were instructed by Mr. Sam not to spend more than $25 each, all contributed and bought him a 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood. The presentation of the car was a day of great pride for Mr. Sam, realizing that though he may no longer be “Mr. Speaker” he was still considered “Mr. Democrat” by his many friends in the House. He used the vehicle while in Washington during the 80th Congress as the House Minority Leader and again when he lost the Speaker’s gavel to the Republicans in 1953. The car is now on display at the Sam Rayburn House Museum, as it has been since 1975 when it was donated by E.B. Chapman of Sherman, Texas. It recently underwent a mechanical restoration that took one year to complete. Restored to its 1947 appearance, the Cadillac is one of the most visible and popular symbols of the museum. 

During the Holiday Open House, visitors enjoyed free museum admission and were treated to historically appropriate Christmas d├ęcor that replicated the style of the Rayburn family, including poinsettias, holly, mistletoe, and candles. Baked pumpkin pie was on the table and scented the air in the breakfast room. And as though the Rayburns’ cook Bobbie Phillips was at work preparing Christmas dessert in the kitchen, the smell of sugar cookies drifted throughout the room.

Visitors were able to mingle and relax in the visitors center and were invited to sample refreshments appropriate to a 1947 Christmas celebration. Mr. Sam’s official Speaker of the House china, a gift to him from the 1940 Texas delegates in Congress, was on display in the exhibit gallery. Mr. Sam brought the china home to Bonham in 1947 after he left the Speaker’s office and dining room to Speaker Martin.

The Holiday Open House was a success thanks to our great volunteers, donors, and visitors.

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