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, January 16, 2013

Sam Rayburn House Museum Celebrates Holidays and “Mr. Sam’s” Birthday

By Anne Ruppert, Sam Rayburn House Museum

Visitors recently celebrated the holidays along with Sam Rayburn’s birthday at the Sam Rayburn House Museum in Bonham. The theme for the museum’s annual Holiday Open House was “Mr. Sam Comes Home for the Holidays.” The house was festooned with evergreen, mistletoe, poinsettias, candles, and a Christmas tree. The ornaments on the tree and the other holiday trimmings mimicked the traditional d├ęcor employed by the Rayburn family.

Other parts of the house appeared as if Rayburn had just arrived home from his hectic life in Washington, D.C. Files were scattered in Rayburn’s bedroom and sitting room, which often served as his office while visiting Bonham.

Rayburn’s bedroom included a multitude of suitcases, hatboxes, and clothing laid upon the bed as if being unpacked and ready to put away into the drawers and chests throughout the room. As guides toured visitors throughout the home, they spoke about the activities at the house surrounding Christmas preparations and Rayburn’s arrival home for the holidays.

Weeks after the holiday open house, the museum marked another special occasion: Sam Rayburn’s 131st birthday on January 6. The day also marked Sam Rayburn Day in Texas. Initially decreed in 1976 by the late Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe, the day was set aside to commemorate the life of one of Texas’ most revered and powerful political figures.

In honor of the late Speaker’s birthday, the museum celebrated with free admission and refreshments. One of Rayburn’s favorite foods, chili, was on the menu for the occasion, along with punch and birthday cake.

The Sam Rayburn House Museum is located at 890 W. State Hwy. 56, two miles west of Bonham, in the Texas Lakes Trail Region. It tells the real story of Sam Rayburn, one of the most powerful and influential politicians of the 20th century, in his authentic 1916 home. The site is open for tours Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Candlelight Christmas at Varner-Hogg Plantation

By Amanda McVay, Varner-Hogg Plantation Educator

Last month, Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historic Site celebrated its annual “Candlelight Christmas” event. The night was very balmy, not exactly winter weather even for Texas, but it set the stage beautifully for our event.

Staff greeted visitors as they walked through the gates and saw the historic site decorated for the holidays. Among greenery, twinkling white lights, candles, and lanterns, guests listened to traditional Christmas carols performed by the Brazosport Choral Union and visited with a Victorian Santa Claus.

Guests stepped back in time and toured the plantation house, where Varner-Hogg Plantation’s Friends and Volunteers dressed in period costume and explained the holiday decorations in each room and how they reflected an 1800s Texas Christmas. The decorations ranged from a beautiful feather tree to children’s toys to a dining room table set for a special holiday feast.

This event would not have been possible without the support of our Friends and Volunteers. Special thanks to our amazing staff who worked above and beyond to make this event a success!

Donations raised during the “Candlelight Christmas” will go toward the purchase of a new sugar kettle. For more than 50 years, the rose garden between the plantation house and the kitchen building featured a small black kettle pond. With the donations, the Varner-Hogg Friends and Volunteers will purchase a new cast iron kettle to return the pond to its original appearance.

Varner-Hogg Plantation is located approximately 60 miles south of Houston and is part of the Texas Independence Trail Region.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Going Green & Keeping Fit with Historic Downtown San Antonio Tour

By Mo Brown, Casa Navarro Site Manager

Last month, Casa Navarro State Historic Site hosted the San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation’s Go! Historic SA Guided Running & Walking Tour. The tour started and ended at the Texas Historical Commission’s Casa Navarro, and highlighted San Antonio's historic downtown, including Main Plaza and the beautifully lit Bexar County Courthouse, historic Houston Street, La Villita, the River Walk, the Alamo, and more.

The tour featured new energy-efficient and festive holiday lighting downtown, including the City’s newly-installed LED lights on the River Walk and the downtown buildings participating in the Mayor’s Light Up Downtown Holiday Contest (which included Casa Navarro). All provided an alluring backdrop for the guided tours of our historic downtown.

Casa Navarro staff hung 100 percent LED holiday lights, decorated the exteriors and interiors, provided open house self-guided tours, and donated refreshments for the occasion. Historic preservation staff and volunteers guided small groups of 92 walkers and runners, who chose to walk, run, or jog along the 2.25-mile tour.

This family-friendly tour was the perfect way for locals to enjoy their city, learn more about historic downtown, see holiday lights, and exercise all in one. Go green with historic preservation!

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.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Caroling at the Mansion

By Marsha Hendrix, Fulton Mansion Site Manager

The sounds of traditional carols rang out over the lawn at Fulton Mansion State Historic Site on December 8, 2012, when a record number of visitors attended the annual candlelight event. More than 350 people enjoyed temperate coastal weather as they sang along with the Rockport-Fulton Middle School Choir. For the past eight years, the award-winning choir has led the crowd in singing Christmas carols. With guidance by choir director Linda Foster and accompaniment by pianist Merlene Flourinoy, the students helped bring yuletide spirit to all in attendance.

Rockport-Fulton Middle School Choir boys
Rockport-Fulton Middle School Choir girls

 After enjoying the caroling, volunteers treated guests to gingerbread and wassail, and the mansion’s gardens were bright and festive with luminarias and Christmas lights.

Visitors wait in line for gingerbread cookies

In addition, the mansion was open for visitors to see the period rooms decorated in Christmas finery. An enthusiastic group of volunteers eagerly shared stories of Victorian holiday traditions.

Visitors experience the mansion's period rooms and holiday decor
Christmas tree in the parlor
George Fulton (aka Chuck Shamel) reads “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (which today we call “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”) to the youngest children on the steps of the mansion.

Fulton Mansion is located in the resort area of Rockport-Fulton, 30 miles north of Corpus Christi. The site is part of the Texas Tropical Trail Region.