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 25, 2012

Levi Jordan Plantation Preservation Celebration

By Amanda McVay, Site Educator

In March, Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site hosted a Preservation Celebration, held in conjunction with the annual Brazoria Heritage Festival. Transportation to the site was provided for festival attendees, and the Texas Historical Commission (THC) received recognition from the Brazoria Heritage Foundation for preservation work on the plantation house. The celebration offered a chance for community residents and stakeholders to get an up-close look at the recently completed foundation stabilization and exterior restoration of the house. Several of the project partners were in attendance.

Before restoration
Before restoration
After restoration
After restoration
Guests to the Preservation Celebration were treated to a musical performance by the Brazosport Choral Union, under the direction of Rodney Mason, just prior to the ceremony. Speakers at the ceremony included THC Executive Director Mark Wolfe, State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, Precinct 4 Brazoria County Commissioner Larry Stanley, and Levi Jordan descendant Ginny McNeil Raska, who transcribed and edited The Uncompromising Diary of Sallie McNeill 1858-1867 (this diary provides a compelling view of 19th-century Southern society from the perspective of Sallie McNeill, Levi Jordan’s granddaughter). You can read Raska's full speech here. Elder Roland K. Hendricks of Mt. Zion Church in Brazoria offered an invocation to the crowd of 125 attendees.

Brazosport Choral Union
State Rep. Dennis Bonnen speaking
Levi Jordan descendant Ginny McNeil Raska speaking
Following the ceremony, guests were treated to tours of the site by Site Manager Bryan McAuley and of the slave quarters area by University of Houston’s Dr. Ken Brown. Dr. Brown supervised the archeological field work conducted at the Levi Jordan Plantation in the 1980s and 1990s. This archeological investigation produced significant information and artifacts that offer unique insight into the African American experience in 19th century Texas.

Dr. Ken Brown giving a tour of the slave quarters area
This carved shell cameo was one of thousands of artifacts found at Levi Jordan Plantation that offer unique insight into the lives of African Americans in 19th century Texas.
The sankofa is a West African tribal symbol (seen added to the spoon handle) that acknowledges the importance of looking to the past for guidance in everyday life.
Throughout the day, more than 200 guests visited the site and were encouraged to leave their fingerprints on a community thumbprint tree, drawn by Maintenance Technician Dusty Fritts to reflect the large oak trees at Levi Jordan Plantation. The art piece was meant to show how community participation and support can lead to impressive collective results. In addition, during the restoration of the house, contractors discovered many fingerprints embedded into the plantation bricks from the chimneys; these fingerprints are a lasting mark of the enslaved workers that built this house more than 150 years ago.

Community tree thumbprints
Slave-made brick with thumbprint
The event was co-sponsored by the Levi Jordan Plantation Historical Society with staff assistance from nearby Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historic Site. Numerous volunteers, community supporters, and Austin-based THC staff also helped make this a successful celebration. The Levi Jordan Plantation Historical Society sponsored refreshments for guests, including cookies featuring images of the house and a sankofa, an image from West African cultures that encourages valuing the past. A sankofa was discovered by the University of Houston archeological team affixed to a spoon.

Complimentary commemorative buttons featuring images of the house, sankofa, and cameo—one of the amazing artifacts recovered from the quarters excavation—were available to guests as a memento of the special day.

Levi Jordan descendants
Brazoria Heritage Foundation award
Preservation project team
Event buttons for attendees
Special thanks to Confederate Reunion Grounds for their support and loaned resources! Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site is located in Brazoria, in the Texas Independence Trail Region.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Preserving the Frontier Women’s Way of Life

By Mitch Baird, Fort Griffin Site Manager

The 8th Annual Frontier Women’s Living History Conference concluded last month, after three days of educational workshops and networking. Like last year, the conference was held at Fort Concho, in San Angelo, and hosted by Fort Griffin State Historic Site and the Frontier Women’s Living History Association. Friday’s activities included bunk set-up for those staying in the barracks and a Tunisian crochet workshop presented by Angela Grabowski.

Saturday was a full day of activities, starting off with registration and breakfast. The participants had the opportunity to participate in either an advanced seamstress workshop with Robin Gilliam, site manager at Eisenhower Birthplace, or a beginner seamstress workshop with Jane Lenoir, office manager at Fort Griffin. Many ladies brought dresses and other projects they needed help completing. Robin’s expertise in period dresses was greatly appreciated. Jane helped the ladies make an apron, which most finished over the course of the weekend. Afterward, Ann Dixon hosted a workshop on reticules—small, decorative, cloth purses.

As with past events, an 1870s-themed meal was served for lunch and was kept as period-correct as possible. This year, ham and sweet potatoes with salad and spring mix were served along with mixed vegetables, cold pea salad, and a gelatin desert. Period-correct gelatin deserts were researched, planned for, and almost implemented; however, cold and rainy weather caused a last-minute menu change, which included more hot dishes instead. Most participants appreciated the hot food, especially since we had more than an inch and a half of rain and mud!

After lunch, Rusty Garner showed the ladies how to prepare their hair in period-correct fashions. Rusty’s presentation even included the scientific explanation for why curly hair curls and other interesting facts about styling hair. Afterward, Angela Grabowski presented a Tunisian crochet trim workshop, and Sara Reeves concluded the day with a tea and fashion show. Most of the attendees stayed until well past 6 p.m., and by 7 p.m., Officer’s Quarters 8 was locked up for the night.

Sunday started bright and early with crazy quilts with Judy Moore. Next, Sharon Baird showed the ladies the art of quilling, which was so popular the ladies from Fort McKavett State Historic Site took quilling needles, paper, glue, and their new knowledge back to Fort McKavett to use at their West Texas Heritage Days event at the end of March. Joan Garrett finished the workshop off with a cross stitch design workshop.

More than 40 women participated this year, traveling from as far away as Kansas, Louisiana, and the distant corners of Texas. Next year’s conference will be held again at Fort Concho on March 7–9, 2013, and is tentatively titled “Who, What, Where and How do I Dress for an Event: Ladies, Gents, and Children Properly Clothed.” The general idea is to help people dress properly for their time period, fort, or event. This section of the conference will include lectures by historic preservation professionals and workshops to help people with their dresses, uniforms, and children’s clothing. If you are interested in learning more, contact Fort Griffin staff at 325.762.3592.

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Celebrating 100 Years of Girl Scouting: 1912–2012

By Jose Zapata, Landmark Inn Site Manager

On March 12, 1912, Juliette Gordon Low held the first Girl Scout meeting in Savannah, Georgia. Girl Scouts of the USA now has more than 3 million members and more than 50 million alumnae. In commemoration of the 100th anniversary, the Landmark Inn State Historic Site hosted the opening for the Girl Scout exhibit on Sunday, March 11.

On this beautiful, sunny day, everyone gathered outside the Landmark Inn as long-time Girl Scout Estella Reyna Kierce welcomed visitors and thanked everyone who collaborated in her efforts to put together this exhibit. She introduced City Councilman Jeff Gardner who, on behalf of Mayor Robert Lee and the City of Castroville, read the Girl Scout Centennial Proclamation. The festivities continued with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Close to 100 guests were treated to cake and lemonade as they made their way into the Landmark Inn lobby. With over 60 years of girl scouting behind her, Kierce has collected an assortment of Girl Scout and Brownie uniforms from the 1920s through the 1980s. She also has several pieces of jewelry, pins, badges, and cookie sale prizes, as well as a large collection of books. Local Girl Scout and Brownie troops put together some very colorful photo boards featuring their activities.

Among the guests were several current and former Girl Scouts and troop leaders. The Castroville Chamber of Commerce had several members of the Red Vest Committee on-hand to help with the celebration. The exhibit was open to the public March 12-31.

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