Take your kids out of their textbooks and into Texas history. Visit these living museums that literally breathe life into history lessons.
Provided by the San Jacinto Museum
Children do not often get to experience what they learn in their Texas history books. They may read about Texas history in class, but few are given the opportunity to see first-hand the events described in their books.
This is where living history comes into play. Living history is any activity that incorporates historical tools, activities and dress into an interactive presentation that seeks to give observers and participants a sense of stepping back in time. Here in Houston, we are lucky enough to have access to several different living history platforms, all centered around the exceptional events of the Texas Revolution.
The Texas Revolution might seem like a foreign concept to anyone who didn’t grow up in the Lone Star State. Texans are proud of their state history and the role that Texas Independence played in America’s history. Without the Texas Revolution, much of the United States would not be united. By securing Texas’ Independence from Mexico, much of the western states (more than 1,000,000 miles) was also secured for the United States. That’s why it’s so important to not only tell the stories of the Revolution but also to show these stories.
Many events and places around the state impacted the Texas Revolution, but three of the most critical are located here in Houston. Washington on the Brazos, San Jacinto, and San Felipe de Austin historic sites were crucial to the Revolution at different times. Each of these sites is centered around the idea of living history, going beyond simply telling visitors about the events that took place, and giving people a chance to take part in significant, historical events. By immersing individuals and families in the history, the caretakers and curators of these sites hope visitors gain a stronger interest in and understanding of the Texas Revolution and the Republic of Texas that followed.
These historic sites are an ideal place for children and families, offering activities for all ages. The parks are free and charge only a modest entrance fees for amenities.
Washington on the Brazos State Historic Site
Washington on the Brazos State Historic Site–located on 293 acres of lush park land—gives visitors unique insights into the lives and times of the 59 delegates who met on this very spot on March 2, 1836, to make a formal declaration of independence from Mexico. From 1836 to 1846, the Republic of Texas proudly but precariously existed as a separate and unique nation. Washington on the Brazos is, indeed, “Where Texas Became Texas.”
The park, which is run by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), offers many onsite amenities that are open daily, as well as an incredible schedule of events and programs. Visitors can explore Independence Hall, where the representatives met in 1836 to write the Texas Declaration of Independence; the Star of the Republic Museum (collections honoring the history, cultures, diversity and values of early Texans), administered by Blinn College; and Barrington Living History Farm, where interpreters dress, talk, work, and farm as the earliest residents of the original farmstead did.
The site’s Visitor Center features interactive exhibits that present a timeline of the Texas Revolution and highlight the historic attractions located within the park. It also houses the spacious Washington Emporium Gift Shop, which offers snacks and a wide range of Texas-themed items and keepsakes. The Fanthorp Inn State Historic Site, located nearby in Anderson, Texas, offers visitors a wonderfully preserved example of a 19th century stagecoach inn.
The entrance to the park grounds, Visitor Center, and parking are always free; modest fees apply for access to Barrington Farm and the Star of the Republic Museum and for tours of Independence Hall. Park Association membership levels are available for individuals, families, and businesses and include free admission to the Site’s attractions for a year, including—for some levels—private parties during the park’s special celebrations. Visit www.wheretexasbecametexas.org for more details.
Big event: On Saturday, April 8, from 10 am to 4 pm, you can learn about 1850s medicine at Barrington Farm. Dr. Jones was a physician by trade and used different techniques to treat ailments than we do today. Learn all about pharmaceutical and medical interventions for disease in 1850 during this information-packed event. For details, email [email protected] On Saturday, April 15, from 10 am to 4:30 pm, enjoy “Living History Saturday.” Free to park visitors, this event invites you to travel back in time to where a nation was born in 1836. Staff and volunteers dressed in period clothing bring to life the people and events of Old Washington, providing a unique opportunity to discover various aspects of life surrounding the birth of the Republic of Texas. The program features activities suited for the entire family. Try your hand at writing with a quill pen, attend a blacksmithing demonstration, and view a Texian Militia display with black powder rifle demonstration at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. Traditional guided tours of Independence Hall will not be offered these days.
San Jacinto Museum of History and Monument
The San Jacinto Museum of History and the San Jacinto Monument are located on the 1,200-acre San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, where Texas gained its independence from Mexico in 1836. At nearly 570 feet tall, the San Jacinto Monument is the world’s tallest war memorial, topped with a 220-ton Lone Star of Texas. Finished in 1939, the monument hosts an observation deck where visitors can peer out over the ship channel and surrounding Gulf Coast.
The San Jacinto Museum of History Association sponsors the permanent and rotating exhibits in the monument where period artifacts, documents, prints and photographs share the story of Texas.
The Monument also houses the History Association’s Jesse H. Jones Theatre, which shows the movie “Texas Forever!! The Battle of San Jacinto.” This film transports visitors from the earliest Spanish colonies to the day the West was won.
On the grounds of this state park, visitors can walk the 1,210-foot-long marsh trail and boardwalk, where they can spot coastal birds and other wetland animals, or walk along the battleground and relive the famous Battle of San Jacinto.
A short walk or drive from the monument sits the Battleship Texas, the last remaining battleship that participated in both World War I and World War II, and the last dreadnaught ship in the world. On this memorial ship, visitors can view the restored sleeping quarters, medical facilities, engine room, guns, and anchors. Guided tours of parts of the ship are available. More information can be found at http://www.sanjacinto-museum.org.
Big event: The largest battle reenactment in the southwest is the centerpiece of the admission-free San Jacinto Day Festival held on Saturday, April 22, 2017 on the grounds surrounding the San Jacinto Monument. The day-long festival offers entertainment from three stages, rides, vendors, Native American presentations, 15+ food vendors; make-and-take activities for children; family activities, petting zoo, camel and electric bronco rides, cultural exhibitors, children’s games and fun set amidst living history, paying tribute to the decisive Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, where Texas won its independence from Mexico 181 years ago. At 3 pm, the official (and historically accurate) reenactment of the Battle of San Jacinto begins, with hundreds of history reenactors, cannons, horses and pyrotechnics. The Festival, park grounds, reenactment, parking, entrance to San Jacinto Monument and shuttles are free; there are modest fees for the elevator ride, movie and special exhibit inside the Monument. Organizers recommend guests come early and follow directions from TPWD and other parking staff.
San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site
San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site shares the stories of Stephen F. Austin and his colonists from their migration to Mexican Texas to the ultimate revolution against Mexico’s centralist government. After the Consultation of 1835, hosted at San Felipe de Austin, the provisional government formed there ran the war effort in the months leading up to the declaration of independence. In march 1836, during the Texian army’s retreat and the Runaway Scrape, the town was burned to the ground. In 1928, the community dedicated a memorial park in honor of Austin and San Felipe’s rich history. Donated to the State of Texas in 1940, the park is now operated by the Texas Historical Commission as the San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site. Visitors can explore the town site of San Felipe de Austin, the life of Austin, and his impact on the settlement and independence of Texas.
On a picturesque bluff overlooking the Brazos River, the stories of Austin and the pioneers that followed him to Texas are told through memorials that include the Centennial bronze statue of Austin, outdoor exhibit panels, a replica cabin, and a visitor center operated inside the historic Josey Store building. The facilities are open daily, 9 am to 5 pm. For more information, go to www.visitsanfelipedeaustin.com. Construction is underway on a modern museum building that will open in 2018.
Big event: March and April comprise Bluebonnet season at San Felipe de Austin! Saturday, April 8th, you can attend “Authors, Archeology and Santa Anna at San Felipe!” Hear from authors of books on early Texas history, participate in archeology activities and demonstrations, and learn about Santa Anna’s brief stop at San Felipe on the way to his military defeat at the San Jacinto battleground. All day event; family-friendly activities with free admission.