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.

Friday, November 30, 2012

President Eisenhower’s Victorious Birthday Bash

By Carole Stanton, Eisenhower Birthplace Interim Site Manager, and Johnny Pairsh, Eisenhower Birthplace Maintenance Specialist

This year, Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site celebrated Dwight D. Eisenhower’s birthday (October 14, 1890) in style, with a World War II military reenactment event befitting the president-general. Reenactors representing both German and American soldiers took part in the action. Here’s how it went down:

On the afternoon of October 12, a German military troop “invaded” the site grounds and set up camp north of the crossroads of two streets that dissect the site. The Germans arrived with standard gear and equipment including three BMW motorcycles with sidecars. Later that day, the members of the U.S. 82nd Airborne arrived and set up camp south of the crossroads. The Americans were equipped with a jeep, military transport trucks, and a half-track military vehicle (a vehicle with an endless chain-track drive system and wheels in the front).

Reenactors at camp
Soldier reenactors
Motorcycle with sidecar
A view to a kill

On his way to a top-secret military briefing the next morning, General Eisenhower arrived and spoke with the troops. That afternoon, the battle of the crossroads began. The Americans attacked with superior numbers and firepower, eventually defeating the enemy troops. The Germans suffered several casualties and many soldiers were wounded before they finally surrendered. Only one American soldier was wounded in the battle that secured the strategic crossroads for Allied troops.

Doing battle
The battle rages
Still going...
The German and American reenactment camps were open to visitors all day, and more than 200 people enjoyed experiencing first-hand what the lives of German and American soldiers in the field were like during World War II. Following the battle, reenactors from both camps held weapons demonstrations for visitors. Tours throughout the day of Eisenhower’s first home allowed visitors to fully experience the site, enjoy cake, and sing Happy Birthday to the president-general.

A man and his statue
Reenactors gather at Eisenhower's statue
It's really all about the cake

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fort Griffin Living History Days a Demonstrable Success

By Eric Abercrombie, Fort Griffin Program Specialist

Every year, we host an event called Living History Days at Fort Griffin State Historic Site on the second weekend of October. The purpose of the event is to reach out to people of all ages to provide them with the opportunity to not only learn about history, but experience it in fun and interactive ways. On October 12–13, living historians from across the state volunteered at this year’s event to provide interpretations and activities of all types, including military demonstrations, authentic stage coach rides, frontier living and skills, Native American culture, and frontier sutlery.

Stage coach ride

Many local area schools were invited to attend the first day, a Friday, and more than 1,000 students and teachers turned out. Students reported that their favorite activities at Living History Days included riding the stage coach, seeing the Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd, watching the cannon-firing demonstrations, learning about flint knapping, and listening to a live period band. Of course, in addition to those activities, the students also really enjoyed homemade ice cream, a corn grinding demonstration, a leather shoe-making demonstration by Cody Mobley of Fort McKavett State Historic Site, and a frontier ranching demonstration. Saturday’s activities were similar to Friday, but catered more toward the general public than schools. There was a decent Saturday turnout, despite periodic rain.

Students watch artillery demonstration

There were several new volunteers this year who discovered a passion for living history. Vic Kimbrough of Leuders learned about the event through Fort Griffin State Historic Site’s official Facebook page and asked if he could participate. We invited him out and he participated on his own the first day, then returned with his son on Saturday, with both of them dressed as 1870s U.S. infantry soldiers.

Living historian

The volunteer who arguably found the greatest enjoyment that weekend was Jonathan Hopkins from Rising Star. Jonathan is a young man with a hearing impairment, who doesn’t let that keep him from doing what he loves. He is a bright young man who already had a love for history, but discovered that living history interpretation ignited in him an even greater passion for the subject. He arrived early on Friday morning and was issued an 1870s infantry uniform and an 1863 Springfield muzzleloader. For the rest of the weekend, he was involved in a host of activities, including crewing the cannons for firing demonstrations, marching with fellow soldiers, serving on the color detail to raise and lower our 1870s period-correct American flag, and patrolling the camps. He said the folks at Fort Griffin State Historic Site were the nicest people he had ever met, and he plans to continue volunteering with us at every event possible. We’re confident we now have ourselves a new, dependable member of our living history program!

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

Singing Praises at San Felipe de Austin

By Bryan McAuley, San Felipe de Austin Site Manager

It’s not every day that music fills the air at San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site. Bright and early on a recent Saturday morning in September, 50 choir students from Westside High School in Houston dropped by the site for a visit. The kids got a quick primer on Stephen F. Austin and colonial Texas (it was a refresher for most, as they remembered their 7th grade Texas history classes), including a short session about the cash-poor, barter economy of Austin’s colony. Students visited the grounds and enjoyed a short program about a one-bit piece of a Spanish 8 real coin associated with the site. And by extension, they learned the origins of the “2 bits, 4 bits, 6 bits, a dollar” cheer that remains common at high school football games across the state. On their way to the bus, the choir—under the direction of Jason Carson—offered an impromptu version of the “Star Spangled Banner” in front of the Father of Texas’ statue.

Westside High School choir

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.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Confederate Reunion Grounds Hosts Navasota River Cleanup

By Dixie Hoover, Confederate Reunion Grounds Site Manager

Confederate Reunion Grounds State Historic Site partnered with Fort Parker State Park to participate in the National Public Lands Day (NPLD) annual event “Helping Hands for America’s Lands” on Saturday, September 29. NPLD has been held since 1994, and is the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer event for public lands. The 2012 event was the largest in NPLD history, with about 175,000 volunteers participating at 2,206 sites throughout every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

Volunteers in Limestone County participated to help clean up the Limestone Bluffs Paddling Trail on the Navasota River, a five-mile stretch between the Confederate Reunion Grounds and Fort Parker State Park that also includes the 750-acre Fort Parker Lake. The cleanup included the waterway, river banks, and lake shoreline.

Limestone Bluffs Paddling Trail (courtesy TPWD)

Scout Troop 258 from Corsicana arrived Friday evening to camp overnight at the Confederate Reunion Grounds.

Scouts camping

Early Saturday morning, other volunteers gathered with the Scouts for coffee and donuts beneath the historic 1893 dance pavilion before launching canoes and kayaks to head down river.

Coffee and donuts beneath pavilion

Several years ago, site maintenance staff constructed a launch to help paddlers access the river and get canoes and kayaks down the steps that remain from the historic 1920s bathhouse. Volunteers for the NPLD event were very appreciative of the launch as they moved numerous canoes used for the event from the trailers into the river.

Canoe launch

Once canoes were brought down to the launch, they were carried to the lower historic dam to set into the river. At the end of the summer (before autumn rains), the river is typically low between the two historic dams built in the 1920s at the Confederate Reunion Grounds, and access to the main river channel for canoes and kayaks is easiest by launching below the “blown out” dam. This dam was blown out during the severe drought of the 1950s due to being Groesbeck’s drinking water and Texas water rights laws.

Canoes carried to lower dam
Canoes set into river

Despite light, steady rains and lower participation than anticipated, 24 dedicated volunteers persevered through less-than-ideal conditions to remove trash from the river, its banks, and trees. Paddlers left the Confederate Reunion Grounds around 8 a.m. and arrived at Fort Parker State Park around noon. Trash removed included two televisions, three tires, and 12 large trash bags filled with bottles, cans, plastic bags, hay bale wraps, and numerous other items that wash downriver when it floods. One extremely dedicated volunteer even removed the remains of a deer from the river! Some items had to be left behind because they were unsafe for volunteers to remove from high in trees, or they were buried too deep in mud.

Paddlers on river
Paddlers on river

Everyone involved has already committed to participating in the 20th anniversary of NPLD on September 28, 2013. In addition to keeping the Limestone Bluffs Paddling Trail beautiful and clean of trash and debris, it is also important for the health of the river and the wildlife that lives in and uses its resources. Additionally, residue from up-river trash and debris ends up in Groesbeck’s drinking water.

Be sure and watch for the 2013 Limestone Bluffs Paddling Trail annual cleanup event and other upcoming events on our website!

Confederate Reunion Grounds State Historic Site is located southwest of Mexia on FM 2705 in the Texas Brazos Trail Region.