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, April 27, 2011

Students Learn About Historic Downtown San Antonio

By Maureen "Mo" Brown, Casa Navarro Site Manager

Last month, Casa Navarro State Historic Site welcomed a school tour of third to fifth graders from Burke Elementary who were focusing on San Antonio’s downtown structures, including historic buildings and their changes over time. I met them in Military Plaza/Plaza de Armas and led the tour from there to City Hall, where Mayor Julian Castro greeted the students and took photos with them. From there, we went to the Spanish Governor’s Palace and finally to the front of Casa Navarro. The photos below are from our tour.

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.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Real Frontier Women of Fort Griffin

By Mitch Baird, Fort Griffin Site Manager

Last month, Fort Griffin State Historic Site, Frontier Women’s Living History Association, and Fort Concho presented the 7th Annual Frontier Women’s Conference. The conference was held at Fort Concho in San Angelo, which once again allowed the women to use Officer’s Quarters 1 and 8 as well as the barracks and stables for no charge. Fort Griffin assisted with purchasing materials and hat frames for the projects, and the Frontier Women organized and presented the conference and prepared the meals.

The conference featured hands-on sewing workshops presented by Robin Gillian and Jane Lenoir, both from the Texas Historical Commission. Robin led the advanced seamstress in a pattern-draping workshop that provided the attendees with a basic pattern that could be modified for most dress styles from 1850–1880. Jane instructed the group of Girl Scouts from Midland and others on basic hand-sewing techniques and helped them get started on creating a period-appropriate skirt. They also learned how to decorate a buckram frame hat with period-correct materials.

The women from Fort McKavett organized a formal tea with music provided by a string trio of young living historians. In Officer’s Quarters 8, an area was set up where the women could sell or exchange items such as period clothing, shawls, purses, bonnets, gloves, crochet hooks, jewelry, and just about anything else a frontier lady might need. Meals included a light breakfast on Saturday and Sunday and an authentic Victorian lunch consisting of Chicken Fricassee (Thomas Jefferson’s own recipe), early spring green salad, green beans, peas, and apple pie. A light fare of luncheon meats, breads, and cheese was also served on Sunday.

The goal of the conference is to assist women interested in living history with correct interpretations of frontier women ranging from the 1850s–90s, allowing them to convey the real story of women on the frontier and dispelling the Hollywood image that is often times portrayed as truth. This year’s conference gathered women from as far away as Kansas, New Mexico, and Louisiana as well as many local Texas women. The conference is held annually on the second weekend of March, in conjunction with National Women’s Month.

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

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Postmarks and Passports at San Felipe de Austin

By Shelley Wong, Visitors Services Manager at San Felipe de Austin

Many historic sites participate in the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) Celebration Station program, creating special, one-time use cancellations for those who attend events and programs. The commemorative postmarks are only available for a specified period of time. And like most things related to the postal system, these cancellations have an ardent following among philatelists. Collectors from all over the country and beyond monitor USPS postings about available cancellations.

During the 2010 Father of Texas Celebration at San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site, site staff partnered with the THC’s Marketing Communications division to design a commemorative postmark for the event, this being the 175th anniversary year of Texas’ independence. After the event was over and the site restored to everyday operation, the real fun began. Requests for the cancellation came pouring in, and the response was phenomenal. We were pleasantly surprised at the number of collectors who specifically sought to have our stamp added to their collection (apparently the Father of Texas still has some game).

Nearly 50 people sent in self-addressed stamped envelopes, representing 19 states and two foreign countries, including Canada, Belgium, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, New York, and more. The envelopes contained the papers or cardstock and instructions from the collectors as to how and where the postmark was to be stamped in order to be included in their prized collections. One of these requests, sent from Albion, Nebraska, came from a writer who had included a scan of the 1833 portrait of Stephen F. Austin in hunting regalia (painted by William Howard in Mexico City) on his envelope submittal. This request envelope also featured a Texas centennial stamp (see image below).

Staffers were inspired to participate in the program because similar cancellations had been done for past Father of Texas events, and because the Josey Store mercantile building (1840s), which currently serves as the site’s visitors center, was the community post office years ago. San Felipe de Austin’s Friends organization was so excited by the effort that they paid for postage so that site postcards with the cancellation could be given away for free to guests in attendance.

Stamping will continue to be a big part of the fun at San Felipe de Austin this year as the site celebrates the independence story by participating in the 175th Texas Revolution Anniversary passport program. As noted in a recent Houston Chronicle feature, visitors to the participating sites can get their passports stamped to record their support for the independence story. The San Felipe de Austin stamp incorporates the same artwork as our postal cancellation, which was taken from an image found on the 1928 obelisk on the site grounds.

The Celebration Station program is a great way to spread the word about special events, and who knows, it might even lead to a visit from a few of these collectors should they happen to find themselves traveling the Texas Independence Trail.

San Felipe de Austin is located in south central Texas, approximately 50 miles west of Houston. The site is part of the Texas Independence Trail Region.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Presidents’ Day Weekend at Eisenhower Birthplace

By Sylvia Rushing and Mary Crawley, Eisenhower Birthplace staff

Presidents’ Day weekend was busy at Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site. On Friday, February 18, second-grade students from Roundtree Elementary in Allen, Texas toured the site. View the photos below to see all the activity.

On Presidents’ Day afternoon, the U.S. Army color guard from Fort Sill, Oklahoma presented flags to Site Manager Robin Gilliam. The occasion marked the dedication of the new Eisenhower monument. Congressman Ralph Hall and County Judge Drue Bynum were speakers at the auditorium and at the dedication site. Congressman Hall made another unscheduled speech on the front steps of the Eisenhower Birthplace. The congressman is a World War II veteran and had met Mr. Eisenhower on several occasions.

Eisenhower Birthplace staff, from left to right: Mary “Chris” Crawley, Sylvia Rushing (seated), John Garbutt, and Jonathan Dryden. Robin Gilliam custom made the ladies’ dresses in 2009.

Roundtree Elementary students and teachers walking up the street to the Birthplace.

 The students entering the Birthplace through the front door.

SMUDGE, our social rooster.

In the dining room, the tour guides read Smudge’s story for him. Smudge has written a story to guide the children through the Birthplace.

Chris Crawley and Sylvia Rushing explain to the students how Mrs. Eisenhower did her laundry.

Eisenhower Birthplace is located in Denison, approximately 75 miles north of Dallas. The site is part of the Texas Lakes Trail Region.