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, May 30, 2012

El Paso Historic Treasure Reopens after Preservation

By Leslie Bergloff, Magoffin Home Site Manager

A festive day was had by all during the grand reopening celebration at the Magoffin Home State Historic Site. With the 1875 adobe building gleaming in the bright sunshine and Mariachi Frontera playing, the celebration got underway with a ribbon cutting in which Texas Historical Commission (THC) Executive Director Mark Wolfe, State Rep. Marisa Marquez, and State Rep. Dee Margo cut a red ribbon signaling the opening of the home after a 16-month preservation project.

A new roof, improved drainage, and updated mechanical systems were only part of the extensive preservation work. Original faux finishes were restored to all of the exterior wood surfaces, reflecting the uniqueness of the home in the late 1800s. Adobe and plaster repairs along with an exterior lime wash to protect the adobe walls ensure this El Paso treasure will survive for many more generations.

Family members and visitors from throughout the community and Juarez, Mexico attended the opening to see the transformation. Booths were set up across the 1.5-acre site. Sewing, weaving, and adobe demonstrations, the Horseless Carriage Club, a doll maker, blacksmith, artists, and other community groups shared their expertise with visitors. The El Paso Museum of History, the Archeology Museum, Hueco Tanks State Park, and Lynx Museum also had interactive booths enjoyed by both children and adults.

Musicians played throughout the day, including the El Paso Cowboy Gospel Band, the 1st Armored Division Brass Quintet, Luis Aguilar, and El Paso High School. Ballet Folklorico of El Paso and Paso Del Norte Ballet Folklorico entertained the crowd, who cheered and clapped in appreciation.

It was truly a day of celebration in honor of the Magoffin Home’s role in preserving community history and heritage. The Magoffin Home is located in downtown El Paso and is part of the Texas Mountain Trail Region

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reopening Celebration at the Sam Rayburn House Museum

By Anne Ruppert, Sam Rayburn House Museum

After one year of closure and nine months of extensive exterior restoration, the Sam Rayburn House Museum reopened to the public during an event on Saturday, March 17. Site Manager Carole Stanton served as the master of ceremonies during the celebration, which was held on the home’s restored front porch. Dignitaries who spoke during the event included Bonham Mayor Roy Floyd, Friends of Sam Rayburn President Allen Sanderson, Rep. Larry Phillips, Sen. Bob Deuell, Texas Historical Commission (THC) Executive Director Mark Wolfe, and Rayburn family members.

Several Rayburn family members who made the trek to Bonham to attend the festivities received a special preview tour of the house with Carole Stanton. Rayburn relatives who attended included great niece Linda Cormack, great nephew Robert Bartley, Jr., and great, great nephew Eric Langford.

The free event included tours of the house, the display of Sam Rayburn’s 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood, and admission to the museum’s exhibit gallery featuring a new exhibit, “Bringing Order to the House: The Restoration of the Sam Rayburn House Museum,” a detailed interpretation of the recent restoration. Refreshments were provided by Brookshire’s and the Friends of Sam Rayburn. Other groups who assisted with the event included the CAP Texoma Composite Squadron TX-262, Fannin County 4-H, and staff from the THC and local THC historic sites, including Eisenhower Birthplace in Denison and Sam Bell Maxey House in Paris.

Restoration work at the site began in June 2011, though the site closed to the public in March 2011 to allow staff time to pack and move the many artifacts that make up the furnishings and personal belongings in the house. The home, originally constructed by Rayburn and members of his family in 1916, became a historic house museum in 1975. Time, use, and gradual deterioration necessitated the restoration.

The purpose of the restoration was twofold: to restore the home’s historic appearance and preserve the structure. THC architects worked alongside preservation architecture firm Quimby-McCoy and contractor Phoenix I Restoration Construction to complete the project.

Specific structural preservation aspects of the project included replacing deteriorated wood siding and framing, stabilizing the foundation, restoring windows, roofing, and painting. The home now resembles its 1961 appearance (the year Rayburn died) because of the restoration of several historic elements. The construction crew restored the former concrete porch to its wood and brick appearance during Rayburn’s lifetime. They also demolished concrete sidewalks on the north side of the home and installed a paving stone walkway extending from the porch. A rear porch, enclosed as an office for site staff, was returned to its original function as a screened porch enjoyed by the Rayburn family after its addition to the home in 1934.

The museum has several activities planned for the spring and summer. On Saturday, May 19, Rayburn’s Cadillac will be on display during the Bonham Veteran’s Administration car show. On Saturday, July 28, the museum will feature a display of Rayburn’s historic quilts and quilts from Sam Bell Maxey House’s collection during Bonham’s annual Quilt Hop. Mark your calendars now for these upcoming events!

The Sam Rayburn House Museum is located at 890 W. State Hwy. 56, two miles west of Bonham, in the Texas Lakes Trail Region. The home is open for tours Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Visit Texas Historic Sites for Free Sunday

Texas Travel & Tourism Week and Preservation Month are currently underway, and the Texas Historical Commission (THC) encourages you to celebrate by visiting our state historic sites for free during the annual THC Historic Sites Day on Sunday, May 13.

Many of the THC’s historic sites—including Starr Family Home, Sam Bell Maxey House, Casa Navarro, Sam Rayburn House Museum, and Levi Jordan Plantation—completed major restoration projects over the past year and recently reopened their doors to the public (note: Levi Jordan Plantation is open only on a limited schedule). For a full list of sites offering free admission on May 13, visit our Historic Sites Free Day web page.

Restored exterior of Sam Bell Maxey House
New interactive exhibit at Casa Navarro
Levi Jordan Plantation post renovation
Newly restored interior of Starr Family Home

Texas Travel and Tourism Week, May 5–13, recognizes the Texas travel industry and its significant contribution to the state economy. Preservation Month, sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, encourages community members to celebrate and become involved in local preservation projects and historic sites. This year’s theme is “Discover America's Hidden Gems.”

Also this week, join us for a special celebration in El Paso on Saturday, May 12 for the reopening of the Magoffin Home State Historic Site. The circa-1875 adobe home has undergone significant restoration for more than a year and will commemorate the reopening with a day-long event featuring special speakers, interactive booths, community vendors, and more. For more information, visit the Magoffin Home website.

Magoffin Home reopening May 12

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Eating Like a Soldier in the 1870s

By Mitch Baird, Fort Griffin Site Manager

At Fort McKavett’s annual West Texas Heritage Days living history event this spring, Fort Griffin State Historic Site staff demonstrated how the military fed horses and mules at Fort Griffin during the 1870s. We also included the subject of feeding soldiers and what food products were available at the sutler store operated by Conrad and Rath. Many folks don’t know that, in 1971, the military at Fort Griffin contracted with local farmers to plant more than 1,000 acres of corn to feed the horses, mules, and soldiers at Fort Griffin for the upcoming year.

Part of our demonstration was to trick kids into learning. We asked them: “Who helps make cornbread at home?” After someone answered that question, we handed them an ear of dried dent corn and told them to “show me how!” This was usually met with a blank stare or a confused look. After a few moments, we took the kids from the goat cart full of dried corn to the corn sheller, and let them crank the handle and get the corn off the cob. Next, we showed them the food mill and let them grind corn meal.

After that, we talked about milking cows and making butter, getting eggs from the chickens, mixing the cornbread, splitting wood, building a fire, and how only now we can bake our cornbread. Most kids comment, “That’s a lot of work!” And we reply, “but wait, we don’t just want cornbread for supper! Do you want pork or chicken with your cornbread?” When someone answers we tell them, “then go catch it and get it ready to cook!”

We also talked about green coffee beans and hard tack crackers, or worm castles as we call them, which were commonly infested with weevils (as shown below). Yum!

We showed the children other food items that soldiers could purchase at the sutler store: canned oysters or lobster costing .45 cents for one pound or .80 cents for two pounds; sardines costing .30 cents for a quarter-can or .50 cents for half a can; and different types of processed meats, such as wild game sausage, which were also available at various prices. Canned corn could be purchased for .35 cents, and fresh ears of corn in the summer were only .05 cents an ear. We introduced the history subject of the U.S. Reconstruction Period by explaining that soldiers used Tabasco sauce to eat the sardines or oysters. Did you know that Tabasco is a product of Reconstruction in Louisiana?

While the kids cranked the handles and grinded the corn, they didn’t realize it until it was too late—they learned something and had fun at the same time. And we had fun, too. Next, we take this demonstration to Fort Chadbourne on May 4–5, and then to Fort Lancaster on May 18–19. Come make corn meal with us and see our weevil-infested hard tack!

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