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, March 30, 2011

Varner-Hogg Unveils New Visitors Center

By Sue Miller, Varner-Hogg Plantation site manager

Last month, staff at Varner-Hogg Plantation welcomed friends and guests to the opening of our newly renovated Visitor and Programming Center. Many of our supporters, friends, and neighbors came to see the building and celebrate with us. Donna Williams, Historic Sites Division Director, joined Bill Ghant of Rep. Dennis Bonnen’s office, Gloria Milsap from Sen. Joan Huffman’s office, and Site Manager Sue Miller in cutting the red ribbon.

Guests toured the building room by room, as staff members answered questions. Many admired our new museum-quality track lighting in the gift shop and exhibition room. Others thought our new offices gave staff a great working environment. After the tours, visitors were treated to cake, coffee, and punch in the new programming area, provided by our Friends and Volunteers group. Even our cake celebrated Texas and the great stories we tell here at the plantation! 

Varner-Hogg Plantation is just one of the many historic sites with new spaces and updated facilities that assist in educating the public about Texas history. We’re excited about the new opportunities this space provides us and we look forward to new programming, lectures, and workshops in the coming months.

Many thanks to THC architect Glenn Reed and project manager Ellen Colfax for all their hard work on this project.

Make a visit to Varner-Hogg Plantation this spring and enjoy all we have to offer. The plantation is located approximately 60 miles south of Houston and is part of the Texas Independence Trail Region.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sam Rayburn’s Cadillac Returns Home to Bonham

By Anne Ruppert, Sam Rayburn House Museum staff

After a year-long mechanical restoration, Sam Rayburn’s 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood is once again on display at the Sam Rayburn House Museum in Bonham. The vintage vehicle specialists at Hatfield Restorations in Canton, Texas repaired the engine and brake system, and the car is now on exhibit and ready to participate in local parades and appearances at festivals and events.

Following a generous donation to the Friends of Sam Rayburn, restoration work began on the Cadillac in September 2009. While the Cadillac was off-site, the Texas Historical Commission and the Sam Rayburn House Museum contracted with several companies to retrofit the historic garage where the vehicle is housed. Deterioration of the historic 1916 structure, combined with the need to preserve the Cadillac, led to the garage restoration. Work on the structure included replacing rotten wood, replacing the exterior doors, installing heating and cooling elements, and installation of interior lighting and a fire and security system. Visitors now have better access to the Cadillac, with the addition of a viewing space and exhibit area on the west side of the garage. With the new mobility of the vehicle, the museum staff can move it out of the garage during special events and drive it in local parades.

Garage exterior pre-renovation

Garage exterior post-renovation
Garage interior pre-renovation
Garage interior and Cadillac post-renovation
Mr. Sam’s Cadillac has been a part of the Sam Rayburn House Museum since 1975, and its story begins with Mr. Sam’s election to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1940. One of his perks as speaker was a congressionally funded limousine and chauffer.

After losing his position as speaker in 1947, Rayburn also lost the limousine. Preferring to save his money rather than buy himself a new car, Mr. Sam chose to take cab rides and walk to and from the Capitol building. Several fellow House Democrats offered to buy him a car, but he rejected their offers, citing his many years as an honest public servant, never taking large gifts that could be misconstrued as bribes. If a gift were to be accepted, Mr. Sam stipulated that no one could pay more than $25. Rayburn’s friend, Congressman Frank Boykin of Alabama, asked all the Democrats in the House of Representatives to each donate $25, and 142 members obliged, making Mr. Sam the proud owner of a new Cadillac Fleetwood.

After Mr. Sam’s death, his family sold the car to E.B. Chapman of Sherman, Texas. When the Sam Rayburn House Museum opened in 1975, Chapman donated the car to the museum, where it has remained on display.

The Sam Rayburn House Museum has a new exhibit that showcases photographs of the garage and Cadillac before, during, and after restoration. The exhibit will also detail the planned house renovation that is scheduled to begin in May 2011.

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, March 16, 2011

Landmark Inn’s 15th Annual Kid Fish

By José E. Zapata, Landmark Inn site manager

On Saturday February 26, Landmark Inn State Historic Site hosted the 15th annual Kid Fish, sponsored by the Friends of the Landmark Inn. Several Friends members were in attendance to hand out hot cocoa, and the Landmark Inn staff was assisted by friends and family, as well as staff from Casa Navarro. Local vendors donated door prizes consisting of fishing kits, free meals, and gift cards.

A total of 322 children signed up for the event, which was held in the mill stream that had been stocked with 1,000 rainbow trout. Boy Scout Troop 471 of Castroville provided the cane poles and bait, and assisted the children with baiting and collecting the fish that were caught.

A tent was set up in the waiting area, where the children were able to enjoy several hands-on activities, such as wool carding and spinning, calligraphy, artifact sorting and identification, and making their own ball and cup toy. A few visitors were even treated to a tour of the 1840s Grist Mill.

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

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Restoring the Beauty of the Maxey House

By Kristie Lee, Sam Bell Maxey House staff

My name is Kristie Lee and I’m the new administrative assistant at the Sam Bell Maxey House in Paris. Currently, the Maxey House is under renovation, and I’ve been watching out my window every day as more and more activity goes on around me.

I’ve watched construction crews take the roof off of the mudroom and replace it, and take boards off of the side of the house with a crowbar. I’ve also watched them chipping the mortar off the bricks in the chimney and removing the widow’s walk from the top of the house. I’ve even learned which construction workers run from you when you walk out the door with a camera to take pictures of all the wonderful work they are doing!

I cannot wait for this grand old house to get her good looks back. When I was young, it was a big deal to come to the Maxey House and have a party. I have memories of my grandmother getting ready to go to the Maxey House on Saturday afternoon to attend a tea with her white gloves on. One year, my mom and I dropped her off at the house, and that was the first time I entered the Maxey—right through the front door! I still remember admiring the silver tea service and white linen tablecloths. I believe the house was decorated for Christmas, because I remember the red velvet bows and poinsettias everywhere. I was inside for maybe all of 10 minutes, but the elegance and special atmosphere of this Maxey House memory has always remained with me.

For way too many years, we’ve driven past this house and hoped for someone to come in and make it beautiful again. I’m so glad to be a part of the wonderful team working here to bring about those changes.

The Sam Bell Maxey House is located in Paris at the corner of Church and Washington streets in the Texas Lakes Trail Region.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Artifacts Get a Freezing Treatment at Starr Family Home

By Jeff Campbell, Starr Family Home State Historic Site staff

Why would a historic house or museum need a walk-in freezer? A house museum is not in the grocery or restaurant business, however, a freezer is important for a different reason. It is used to kill insects and microorganisms in rugs, curtains, books, and other textile or paper artifacts.

Freezing is preferred over traditional methods, which can cause a number of problems for both the artifact and the museum staff. The chemicals contained in pesticides can damage the artifact and fumigants can induce chemical changes. These chemicals can also result in short-term or long-term health problems for museum staff. Once the chemically treated artifact is back on display, it could also affect the health of museum guests. Using the freezer eliminates the potential for all these situations.

At Starr Family Home State Historic Site, artifacts are first wrapped in plastic and then sealed with tape, to keep moisture out.

They are then stored and frozen for at least two weeks at a temperature of –10 degrees. This temperature and time frame will ensure that all insects and microorganisms present in the artifacts are eliminated.

Some artifacts are not suited for the freezing process. Artifacts containing plastic can become brittle. Metal and glass should not be frozen because they are non-absorbent materials. Also, artifacts that contain glue or finished surfaces, such as lacquered wooden objects or finished furniture, should not be frozen as their materials may react differently.

In the future, the freezer will be an asset not only for Starr Family Home but also the East Texas museum community. If any other museum would like to use the Starr Family Home freezer, please contact Site Manager Whit Edwards.

Starr Family Home is located in Marshall on the corner of Travis and S. Grove streets in the Texas Forest Trail Region.