Happy New Year!
So many of us start off each new year by looking back, so I thought it was only appropriate to begin 2020 by sharing a place that brings us back to the beginning of Texas: San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site.
Open since April 2018 the San Felipe de Austin Museum is simply one of the most beautifully interpreted historical sites I’ve seen, especially considering there is virtually nothing left of the original settlement. Inside, visitors can interact with touch screen displays to learn details about the settlement, and outside they can walk in the steps of settlers and explore the townsite.
Sitting on the bluff of the Brazos River on the actual site of the former colony it honors the spirit of early Texas pioneers.
San Felipe de Austin was established in 1823 by Stephen F. Austin, known as the “Father of Texas,” as a headquarters for his colony in Mexican Texas. The town had four public squares: Commerce, Constitution, Military and Campo Santo Cemetery.
The first area to visit after paying admission in the gift shop/reception area is a small viewing area for a short film that gives an overview of the history of San Felipe de Austin. Interesting and beautifully produced, it puts the history of the site and people who lived here in context as you continue through the property.
Entering the museum space, the first thing you’ll encounter is a replica of a log cabin. Displays like a spinning wheel and dress-up corner give a bit of information about pioneer life, but make sure you stand for a moment in the space and realize that this small cain would often house an entire family.
A corner across from the cabin holds a field desk that actually belonged to Stephen F. Austin, and display cases contain examples surveying equipment that would have been utilized in laying out the colony and surrounding land grants.
Other displays showcase artifacts recovered during archeological excavations that give visitors a peek into the everyday lives of early Texans.
One of my favorite things about the museum is the number of interactive displays. Adults enjoy them, of course, but as a parent and Girl Scout leader who has traveled with children of all ages, I know how these fascinating exhibits can draw people into history through high tech applications.
Walk up to a lighted, multimedia illustration of the settlement and touch key numbers to learn more about the different buildings (offices, the school, individual homes) and people who once existed there. (And yes, you know that I touched every single one!)
Turn around and walk up to a tabletop display to learn about some of the big decisions the officials of San Felipe de Austin had to make. Once you’ve made a decision about the issue, you can cast your vote, and see the results.
A colonial printing press like one used to print the Texas Gazette, at times renamed the Mexican Citizen, in San Felipe from 1829 to 1832 stands proudly in its own corner, along with a printing plate that . . . yes, really . . . visitors are encouraged to touch.
The display explains the vital role the press played both in the community and in the history of the state:
“The first book published in Texas, written by Stephen F. Austin, was printed by the Gazette press in 1829. In 1835, the Telegraph and Texas Register began operating under the guidance of Gail Borden, Jr. and soon became the unofficial voice of the Texas revolution movement. It also printed many other important Texas documents, including the Declaration of Independence.”
Impressed? I was, too.
I encourage you to take your time and read the descriptions that accompany seemingly small fragments and objects in cases that line the walls. There are priceless treasures and surprises among them.
William B. Travis was a town resident before his death at the Alamo, and he sent his famous “Victory or Death” letter from the Alamo to San Felipe. A ring thought to have belonged to him was excavated from his homesite and is now on display.
After exploring inside the museum, it’s time to expand your discoveries by venturing out the side doors, and into the townsite itself.
A bronze plat map sits on a platform on a covered patio, providing a frame of reference for how the settlement was laid out on the property. From here visitors can follow a mown path through the mown native grasses to visit specific sites within the former town. San Felipe was one of the most culturally diverse communities of its time in Texas. Farmers, explorers, politicians, enslaved and free people of African ancestry, intertribal delegations of local Indians, cattlemen and businessmen populated the thriving settlement.
A tavern, bakery, stores, homestead sites and more await visitors who will quite literally be walking in the footsteps along the same paths these brave citizens did almost two centuries ago.
The Texas Revolution caused the demise of San Felipe de Austin, when the residents burned it to the ground during the evacuation known as the “Runaway Scrape” in 1836. After the fall of the Alamo, Mexican General Santa Anna and his forces briefly occupied the ruins of the town just before their defeat at the Battle of San Jacinto.
Just across the road from the museum are a few more sites you’ll want to explore. A commemorative obelisk marks the exact spot of Stephen F. Austin’s own cabin – the only home he ever owned in Texas. There is also a stoic bronze statue of the Texas hero, a replica dog trot log cabin, active excavation sites, and the original well for the colony.
The large white building is the J. J. Josey General Store, built on the townsite in 1847 and in continuous operation for generations before being moved here for preservation.
Visitor parking is available on site at the museum and limited parking is available across the street.
Allow yourself at least 60 to 90 minutes to enjoy the museum exhibits and the grounds, and be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes as the outside trails are unpaved and the ground is somewhat uneven.
San Felipe is just ten minutes east of Sealy, and the museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. , except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Even, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Admission – Adults, $10; Children (5-14), Seniors, Veterans & Austin and Waller County Residents, $5, Family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) $22. For other options and to find out more about he San Felipe de Austin Historic Site, click HERE.
Not many would imagine that the legacy of unrequited love would result in the oldest continuously operating library and the first city library in Texas…but it actually did. So it’s only appropriate that we stop in for a visit just in time for Valentine’s Day.
The Dr. Eugene Clark Library in Lockhart was built in 1899, and dedicated on July 6, 1900. It’s the oldest library continually operated in the same building in the state of Texas. (There are other libraries in the state who claim the “oldest” title with other criteria, of course.)
The beautiful two-story red brick Classical Revival dome-topped, original building was designed in an ingenious Greek cross plan with a corner entrance. It was built by local contractor T. S. Hodges, who was also known for his work on other projects such as the Tyler County Courthouse, Luling’s Walker Brothers Building, Lockhart’s First Christian Church and the castle-like Caldwell County Jail.
The pressed-tin ceiling, woodwork, lighting fixtures and perimeter shelving you’ll see on your visit here are all original. The eastern arm is accented with a stained-glass window above a stage.
Until 1956 when the seats were removed, the building also served as an auditorium. Local productions and traveling shows performed in the room now filled book shelves and reading tables. President William Howard Taft gave a speech from the stage, which still exists beneath the striking window.
When actress Dorothy Sarnoff performed there, she told the audience, “If you’re bored with my performance tonight, you can just reach over and grab a good book to read.”
To the rear of the main room are two iron, spiral staircases that lead to a narrow upstairs gallery. Though this area is not open to the public, I was given access so that I could share these photos with my readers. Now mind you, it was a bit unnerving since the unstable brass railing barely reached the height of my knees…but those are the lengths I’ll go to in order to experience history!
The room behind this gallery is the home of the second oldest chapter of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs. The organization began as a lyceum club, which was a club for women interested in the arts, professions, science, contemporary issues and lifelong learning. The space still has many of the original furnishings, including Dr. Clark’s collection of medical books and a photograph of him.
It’s this room dedicated specifically for use by women that leads us back to our love story and why Dr. Eugene Clark founded the library that bears his name.
Clark was born in New Orleans, but was orphaned by the age of six – his father dying on a Civil War battlefield, and his mother passing away three years later. He was raised by friends of his parents, eventually attending Tulane Medical School.
Upon his graduation in 1883 he moved to Lockhart to practice medicine with the local physician, Dr. Lancaster. The elder doctor soon left his practice though, leaving the 21-year-old Clark to handle the practice alone which he did for 13 years.
During those years he met a young lady named Mamie Steele, a member of the local lyceum club, and fell in love with her. Unfortunately Mamie’s heart belonged to another man.
The heartbroken doctor went to Vienna, Austria in 1896 to study the specialities of ear, nose and throat, and chose San Antonio as his new home when he returned.
Dr. Clark became seriously ill soon afterward and stopped in Lockhart to visit friends on his way to New York to have surgery. While he was on the east coast it was determined that his condition was terminal, so he returned to his native New Orleans to spend his remaining days. During that time he dictated his will, leaving $10,000 to build a library for Lockhart. He specified that it should always include a meeting room for the local women’s lyceum.
He died in 1898, leaving a last token of his affection in honor of his feelings for Mamie. One wonders what Mamie’s reaction was to the tribute, as she still lived in Lockhart with her husband John Jarratt at the time.
The story of the library is even more interesting since it expanded in 1996 to include the 1850 Masonic Temple next door. The refurbished temple houses a second-floor technology room providing internet access and educational courses.
The only visible clues that it was once a Masonic Temple are a tile inlay on the ground floor, and an unadorned stage on the third.
You can visit the Dr. Eugene Clark library at 217 South Main Street in Lockhart.
Oh my gosh, the holidays can get so hectic. Everyone’s schedules are tight, there are different events to bake for, the challenge of finding time to do something special with good friends…oh wait! You can do some of it at the same time!
This season might be the right time to schedule a Holiday Cookie Exchange!
If you haven’t participated in a cookie exchange, here’s a brief overview of how it works.
Make a list of friends, and send the invitations with instructions. We simplified ours by creating a Facebook event for our group. That way we could all keep up with the number of attendees and invitees could ask questions.
Decide on a location and time to hold your get together. Renting a
beautiful location to hold your exchange takes the pressure off of any individual to get their house “holiday perfect” so early in the season. And since I was in charge of finding a location, you KNOW I wanted to have it at a beautiful, historic property! We had ours in the dining room of the elegant Lasker Inn in Galveston during the middle of the week, when the inn would most likely not be filled with other guests. Look for a similar location in your community and ask if they will charge a lower fee for a weekday morning. Our event was from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Each person is asked to make (or buy – no guilt trips here!) one kind of cookie to share with others attending the exchange. We asked that everyone bring sampling cookies and enough to send at least four cookies home with each guest, that way the baking process wasn’t overwhelming. (Some exchanges I’ve been invited to ask for a dozen of each type of cookie for each guest!)
Everyone can be asked to bring their own containers to fill, or the hostess can provide containers (the dollar store and craft stores have cute options).
With some exchanges, everyone will bring printed copies of the recipe they used to send home with the others. That way, not only does everyone leave with goodies – but also a stack of new recipes to try for themselves.
Yes, THIS is where we got to have our exchange! (Can you believe how lucky are are?!) The 1870 Lasker Inn B&B and Event Venue in Galveston, Texas. It’s a stunning home inside and out, and the owner is a delight.
I decided to share Laura Bush’s Cowboy Cookies because….hello…Texas! They are a delectable combination of so many favorite cookie ingredients. My family finds them irresistible. Anything that starts with three sticks of butter just HAS to be pure goodness. And the large treats definitely make a Texas-sized statement when stacked on a platter!
Here’s a link to Mrs. Bush’s recipe on the Southern Living website.
After we spent some time visiting and enjoying our exquisite surroundings (and of COURSE taking some photos), we gathered samples of each kind of cookie to take home. I filled up my pick-up truck (well, at least my truck shaped platter) with all kinds of goodies.
What a great way to spend a morning together and start off the Christmas season!
We all went home with plenty of cookies in a variety of flavors to share with our families or to take to our next event. Phew!
To find out more about the Lasker Inn, visit their website, here: The Lasker Inn
When most of us think of plantations, our thoughts go immediately to Louisiana or Mississippi. But just an hour south of downtown Houston an enchanting reminder of the past sits tucked backed on acreage covered by magnolia trees and a pecan orchard, beside a lazy, winding creek.
The Varner-Hogg Plantation Historic Site shares the story of three owners and their families.
Martin Varner came to the area in 1824 and was granted 4,428 acres by Stephen F. Austin. Along with the two male slaves they brought to the area, his family raised a small amount of livestock and established a rum distillery.
Ten years later, Columbus R. Patton moved from Kentucky with a large number of slaves. He became active in politics and served in the Texan army. During the years the plantation was known as the Patton Place, between 40 and 60 slaves made bricks by hand, constructed a plantation house, smokehouse, sugar mill and their own living quarters.
The two-story sugar mill, which sat across Varner creek within sight of the front porch (now the back) of the main house, made Patton highly successful.
His long-running, open relationship with a slave named Rachel was unpopular in the community. She had many of the rights a white wife would have, and was known to have ruled over the other slaves in a harsh manner.
Patton’s extended family also disapproved, and his nephew and brother were disinherited by Patton because of their actions against her. The extended family had Patton declared insane in 1854, and had him committed to an asylum in South Carolina where he died in 1856. After his death and a prolonged court battle, Rachel was granted her freedom and an annual stipend.
Between 1869 and 1901, the site changed hands several times. Many of the original buildings, including the slave quarters and sugar mill were destroyed during the 1900 hurricane.Governor Hogg purchased the plantation in 1901, convinced that there were oil reserves beneath the land. His 1906 will recommended that his children retain the mineral rights, and the discovery of oil a short time later made the family extremely wealthy.
His daughter Ima was a renowned collector of antiques and decorative arts, and furnished the main house with exquisite pieces before donating the plantation to the state of Texas in 1958.
A stairway leading from the second floor to the third floor, where the boys of families of former residents would have slept, is off limits to current visitors. Luckily, I was allowed access so that I could share these photos with my readers.
Though the quarter round windows would have originally allowed light into the space, it’s hard to imagine how the heat of summer would have been tolerable.
A much smaller set of stairs, tucked beneath what was possibly an original eave, then leads from the third floor to the glassed-in cupola atop the plantation house.
A feature of the plantation site that kids find especially fun is
“Governor Hogg’s Tub” and Swimming Hole.
Fed by a natural spring creating a small fountain from a pipe, the water is retained in a square, brick lined “tub” before continuing to a small lake. The well-maintained feature is now enjoyed by local wildlife.
One of the things this site does so well is to preserve the beauty of this time period and lifestyles, without romanticizing the sacrifices of others that made them possible. In the outbuidling known as Ima’s cottage, where she stayed on her visits in later years, a fascinating account has been gathered of what the lives of slaves on the plantation were like. Visitors can even listen to recordings of reminiscences of former slaves in their own words.
During your visit make sure you visit the barn, where you can see antique carriages. The yard to the barn is now used for special events.
The visitors center, immediately to the left as you enter the grounds, has a small exhibit room as well as a great selection of local history books and souvenirs.
In my next blog post, I’ll share a special place to stay overnight when you
“Jumped headlong from a window of the Confederate Home…”
The line made me gasp out loud.
To back up a little, I was in search for background information about Christian Henry Thieme before a recent trip to Austin to locate his grave.
The Galvestonian was born in Germany in 1827, immigrated to Texas in 1860 and was a member of th e Catholic church He enlisted in the Confederate Army at age 34, once telling an interviewer that he had been “a private in Company B, in Cook’s heavy artillery. My first captain was Coura, and first major was Cook.”
I knew that he and his wife Elizabeth had a family of three daughters, and they all had survived the 1900 Storm. Yet at some point, Christian ended up in the Confederate Men’s Home (for disabled veterans) in Austin.
During the 1900 Storm, Christian and Elizabeth lived with their daughter Selma Nelson and her family at 710 Church Street. Although they didn’t lose any family members in the tragedy, they were sure to have witnessed grievous sights.
The traumatic events caused him to become mentally unbalanced, forcing his family to send him to the home in Austin the following April.
Suffering from rheumatism and old wounds far from home, he was dealt an additional blow when his wife died in November. She is buried in Galveston’s Oleander Cemetery, but her marker has been lost to time.
I thought I may have found all available information about him, and then came the discovery of a newspaper account of his death on June 23, 1910.
“Christian Thieme, an aged Confederate soldier, killed himself today by jumping headlong from a window of the Confederate Home. Thieme became mentally unbalanced at the time of the Galveston storm. Melancholia caused him to talk constantly of killing himself. Formerly an express man at Galveston, he lost all his property in the tidal wave and was force to come to the Confederate Home. None of his relatives can be located.”
Stunning. And infuriating…because his family still lived in Galveston and couldn’t have been too difficult to locate.
So I went to visit him and find his marker.
It stands in a sea of military markers in Confederate Field at the Texas State Cemetery, with his last name misspelled as “Thiemer.” Gleaming white as if wanting someone to remember his story.
And now he has had at least one visitor from home.
Texas State Cemetery, Confederate Field, Section 1 (F), Row B, No. 18.
I wanted to write a post for Memorial Day that tells the story of someone with Galveston ties who gave their life in battle. The challenge was that there are so very many stories to tell. In the Broadway Cemetery complex alone there are veterans from every war from 1812 forward. Of course, not all of them lost their life in the service, and many of those who did have stories that are well-known.
So I decided to go with a little more obscure story with Galveston ties that many locals may not have heard.
When people visit the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, they usually visit the impressive star-topped monument and possibly the USS Battleship Texas. But are you aware there are actually TWO cemeteries on the grounds?
The most visible of the two is close to the battleship, and known as San Jacinto Battlefield Cemetery. It is where the handful of Texans killed in the battle were buried near the Texan Army camp. Buried there are Dr. William Junius Motley, Sgt. Thomas Patton Fowle, Lt. George A. Lamb, Lt. John C. Hale and privates Lemuel Stockton Blakey, Mathias Cooper, Ashley R. Stevens, Benjamin Rice Brigham and Olwyn Trask.
Taking the time to read the lengthy inscriptions, the word “Galveston” (of course) caught my eye.
“Olwyn J. Trask…died on Galveston Island… of wounds …received at the San Jacinto Battlefield…”
This is how it begins, folks. I see something like this and I’m off, down the rabbit hole of research. Olwyn’s story took me on a complicated journey that involved his family, his unlikely demise, and even the beginnings of Baylor University. But here, I’ll just concentrate on his story.
Olwyn Trask’s sister Frances was a brilliant educator in Texas. By some accounts Olwyn, a recent college graduate, was sent to Texas during the Revolution by their family in Massachusetts to bring her home. Because he arrived in the Spring of 1835, however, it is more likely that he came to join her and their cousins (the Dix family) to seek out business prospects.
Soon after spirited 21-year-old reached Galveston though, he impulsively joined the Texas Army to fight for independence from Mexico.
He became a member of Captain William H. Smith’s Cavalry Company, after General Sam Houston himself witnessed his horsemanship skills in lassoing a young mustang.
On April 20, 1836, the day preceding the famous Battle of San Jacinto, he was one of 80 men under Colonel Sherman who skirmished against the Mexican Army. Only two men in the Texan ranks were wounded, but Olwyn’s were mortal.
Nicholas Descomps Labadie was an assistant surgeon in the Second Regiment Volunteers under Anson Jones, and treated Trask when he arrived back at camp. The conditions were primitive, and resources limited.
Olwyn was transported to Galveston on a boat with Texan President Burnet and others, where he was to receive further treatment.
The following extract of a letter from New Orleans furnishes details of Olwyn’s fate:
“I called on General Houston yesterday, to ascertain particulars relative to Olwyn J. Trask; he says that he lies dangerously wounded at the Fort at Galveston Island. His thigh was broken in a charge made by 80 of our calvary on about 250 Mexicans, on the 20thof April, in which he behaved most gallantly. He fell from his horse when the ball struck him, but was almost instantly seen again supporting himself on one leg by his horse and had the satisfaction to kill the man who shot him. This was confirmed by one of the aids of General Houston, then present, who remarked that he was in a position to see the whole of it. He said that after Olwyn had laid the man dead at his feet, he sprang on his horse again, in the midst of the enemy’s cavalry, his own corps having retired and immediately urging him to his utmost speed, cutting his way through the ranks, and brandishing his sword at everything that opposed him, when, as the Aid remarked, they seemed to open for him to pass, and he entered the camp with his leg swinging like the pendulum of a clock.”
Olwyn’s thigh bone had been shattered. It was generally believed among those present that if he had received expert medical attention from the start he might have lived. The makeshift facilities are blamed for his demise about three weeks after the battle.
Upon his death he was buried with his comrades “with all the honors that could have been paid to the Commander in Chief; all the troops were under arms, and the officers of the Navy joined in the procession and minute guns were fired during its progress to the place of burial.”
Olwyn J. Trask’s name and gallantry were so revered in his home state of Massachusetts that young men went so far as to legally change their name to his.
In the years that followed, a community cemetery grew around these graves, but now part of the 10-acre site is partially covered by a parking lot for the battleship.
The deed records of Harris County shows that on November 2, 1837, Frances J. S. Trask, Olwyn’s sister, was living at Independence, Washington County, Texas and was on that day appointed representative of Israel Trask of Massachusetts, who was heir to the property of his deceased son. She was awarded the 640 acres of land due Trask’s services at San Jacinto, and used some of it to build a school. This school was the root of what would eventually grow into Baylor University.
Memorial Day seems an appropriate time to remember this young man,
and so many others, who have given their lives fighting for their beliefs and country.