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, May 23, 2011

Pacific Combat Living History at the Nimitz

By Elizabeth Taylor, National Museum of the Pacific War staff

This Memorial Day weekend, the National Museum of the Pacific War will come alive with the sights and sounds of World War II as reenactors demonstrate and discuss the weapons, tactics, and strategy that won the war. Reenactments will take place three times a day on May 28 and 29 at the Pacific Combat Zone, located two blocks northeast of the museum. One of the highlights of the program is the use of a WWII-era flamethrower (shown below).

Nearly 2,000 people attended the previous weekend program during Spring Break, and museum staff has recently expanded the seating area to accommodate more fans. For more information and to buy tickets online, visit the museum’s website.

Also that weekend, a Memorial Day ceremony will be held on Monday, May 30, at 10 a.m. in the Memorial Courtyard of the museum. Commemorating those who have died in service, the event will include a performance by the Fredericksburg High School band, a rifle salute, wreath dedications, speaker Lt. Gen. L.D. Holder (Ret.), and a book signing with Thomas P. Ostrom, author of The United States Coast Guard in WWII.

The National Museum of the Pacific War is a Texas Historical Commission property located in Fredericksburg and is supported, operated, and managed by the Admiral Nimitz Foundation. The site is part of the Texas Hill Country Trail Region.

Friday, May 13, 2011

See the Sites for Free Sunday

Don’t forget that this Sunday, May 15, is the Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) Historic Sites Day. Many state historic sites will be offering free admission all day in celebration of National Preservation Month. View a few of the sites below, and visit the THC website for more information and a full list of participating sites. Celebrate your local history and visit a state historic site for free!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Uncovering Starr’s Real Stories

By Megan Maxwell and Jeff Campbell, Starr Family Home staff

In the past few months, the staff of the Starr Family Home has conducted research at the East Texas Baptist University Library, the Marshall Texas Public Library, the East Texas Research Center at Stephen F. Austin State University, and the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

Research reveals information a historian does not always expect. Available publications indicate one thing, yet the story often turns out to be somewhat different or more complicated. History books published in a specific time period not only tell about their subject matter, but are also a reflection of the times in which they are published.

Starr Family Home site staff researching Dr. Starr

For example, a booklet compiled in 1881 of Dr. James Harper Starr’s biographical notes contains little mention of slavery. The only mention is on page 4 of his notes on how he started to Texas with his wife and her servant (not slave) Tempie, in February 1834. Research in Austin revealed bills of sale that Dr. Starr had not only purchased Tempie but also six other slaves. Dr. Starr was writing about his memories during the time of Reconstruction in the South, when citizens and historians were framing how the stories surrounding the Civil War would be told.

In 1950, John Nathan Cravens wrote and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas published a biography of Dr. Starr. He states on page 120 that Starr once declared, “I never purchased a slave with the view of selling him again and shall never so purchase one.” The author continues by saying there is only one record of Dr. Starr selling a slave, named Watt, because the slave was habitually drunk. Recent research indicated that Dr. Starr bought a slave named Peter in 1862 and sold him in 1863.

Biographical notes and Cravens' biography of Dr. Starr

On pages 119 and 120 of James Harper Starr: Financier of the Republic of Texas, Cravens reveals Dr. Starr’s views on slavery: “As a boy in the North he had acquired anti-slavery sentiments, particularly from his mother.” [Page 119] As he experienced slavery in Georgia, Alabama, and Texas, his views changed. “He conceded that the slavery system did have its evils but held that time would correct them if the South were left alone.” [Pages 119 and 120] Research reveals a deeper conflict. Letters from Dr. Starr’s brothers in Ohio and Massachusetts show their strong abolitionist views and their fervent disagreement with Dr. Starr’s view of slavery.

These letters of strong disagreement also allow us to see how a family continued to love and care for each other while at the same time standing on opposite sides of a major conflict. Although these brothers’ views on slavery were in conflict, their love for one another kept them writing regularly to each other.

While books, periodicals, and other publications can reveal some truths, in-depth research of documents and letters can often tell us the rest of the story.

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

Friday, May 6, 2011

Restoration and Renovation at the Sam Rayburn House Museum

By Anne Ruppert, Sam Rayburn House Museum

Changes are coming to the Sam Rayburn House Museum. A restoration for the site begins this month, which has been in the planning stages for several years and will positively impact both the appearance of the house and the physical structure.

In March, the community had its first opportunity to see the proposed architectural changes when the museum opened the exhibit, “Preserving the Speaker’s Legacy: Restoration and Renovation at the Sam Rayburn House Museum.” The exhibit highlights the multiple restoration projects proposed for Sam Rayburn’s home in Bonham and is also now available on the museum’s website.

Along with details of the renovation, the exhibit includes historic photos illustrating how the work will return the structure as closely as possible to its appearance in 1961, a significant year because it marks Rayburn’s death and therefore the last year he lived in the house. The home’s front porch, walkways, and screened-in porch will return to their 1960s appearance. Along with these changes, construction crews will replace rotting wood from the exterior walls and around the home’s windows. They will also modify and secure window screens and replace missing hardware from the doors and windows.

The museum’s visitors center will receive a facelift, too. Crews will enlarge the concrete walkway around the building, upgrade and modify the public restrooms, remove the chain link fence, and construct a new handicap-accessible sidewalk from the building to the house. 

In addition to the proposed renovation of the house and visitors center, the “Preserving the Speaker’s Legacy” exhibit also features photos and text panels about the recent renovation of Rayburn’s garage, including installing heating and cooling systems, burglar and fire alarms, and thoroughly enclosing the building to protect against dust, pollutants, pests, and insects.

This renovation was necessitated by recent mechanical work done to Rayburn’s 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood. The car now is on display within the environmentally controlled and secured garage and is easily accessible to visitors thanks to the new concrete floor and interior modification that open more viewing space to visitors.

The “Preserving the Speaker’s Legacy” exhibit is on view at the Sam Rayburn House Museum visitors center and will remain open during much of the restoration project. Tours of the site are currently limited to the visitors center and are free.

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