Christmas at the George Ranch 2020

     Ready to peek into Christmas Past, Texas style? Let me take you on a virtual visit to the George Ranch Historical Park in Richmond  where they’ve lassoed a wonderful event to share just that!

     The annual Christmas at the Ranch event was a bit different this year due to additional safety protocols, but the staff couldn’t have created a more welcoming and fascinating day for their guests.

     Founded in 1824, the George Ranch showcases the four homes of four generations of this Texas family, and this time of year they’re dressed up for the season.

     My first stop was at the visitor center, where I was provided with a map of the ranch and demonstration schedule. The park is laid out in a mile long loop (yes, a MILE), and visitors can ride a tractor pulled tram from one stop to the next. But I highly suggest combining riding and walking when weather permits, to enjoy the natural surroundings.

     I rode the tram to my first stop, the 1830s Jones Stock Farm dog trot cabin, and was greeted by the volunteers dressed in period costumes. The cabin and buildings are replicas of Henry and Nancy Jones’ homestead – one of the earliest settlements of Northeast Mexico. Nope, it wasn’t even Texas yet!

     One gentleman shared the background of the family and information about the cabin, and another charmer played beautiful music on his guitar and told a few tall tales that were impossible to resist.

     A young woman had the unenviable, sticky task of demonstrating how to clean a deer hide in a yard populated by adorable hens, but managed to do it with a smile while explaining that when the thin hides were worked until thy were translucent, they could be used to cover the cabin windows during the winter months (since glass wouldn’t have been available).

     In the breezeway of the dogtrot a young man worked at weaving on a loom, taking breaks to serve visitors Mexican hot cocoa that was brewing over one of the hearth fires – and was a treat on the chilly day.

 

   In the nearby hog pen, one of the volunteers scratched the back of one of the docile 300-pound Berkshire pigs that are part of an initiative to preserve heritage breeds. Seems these fragrant residents are descendants of a rare breed that came to Texas from England in the 1830s. I know people who can’t trace their lineage as well!

   After a quick look at the chicken coop (always interesting to me since gathering the eggs was my job when visiting my grandmother’s farm), smokehouse barn and outdoor kitchen, I worked my way back to the road to hop on the tram again.

     Next stop: the 1860s Ryon Prairie home – picture perfect with garlands of evergreens draped across the porch rails.

     Mary Moore “Polly” Ryon was the oldest of the Jones’ daughters. She inherited th majority of her family’s wealth, and amazingly was on of the largest land holders in the region by age 18! She and her husband William built a cattle ranching empire after the Civil War.

    One young woman showed me around the knot garden and chicken coop until it was my turn (social distancing, ya know) to go inside the house.

     Inside two young docents explained the uses of the men’s and women’s parlors, and directed me toward the kitchen where more volunteers were baking cookies for the visitors in a period stove.


     I decided to walk the rest of the property rather than ride the tram since it was a beautiful day and I didn’t see any reason to rush.

 

     Susan Elizabeth Ryan was Polly’s only surviving child and sole heir of Polly’s estate. She married banker civic leader John Harris Pickens Davis. The Victorian era home sits in a complex that includes a sharecropper’s farm, the family cemetery with graves dating between the 1820s to 1916 and the Oldenberg blacksmith shop. It seemed ironic to me that Polly isn’t in the family cemetery (she’s at Morton Cemetery in Richmond). But the existing monuments are beautiful and well cared for. 

     In the blacksmith shop, kids were invited to try their hand at “forging” knives from chunks of clay with rubber mallets.

     In the side yard of the home, a sweet volunteer led visitors in creating Victorian style Christmas ornaments from paper as keepsakes of their visit.



 

 

     The last home to tour was the 1930s George Ranch House (designed by famous Galveston architect Nicholas Clayton) and complex, where a barbershop quartet was entertaining passersby with Christmas carols.

     Mamie George and her husband A.P. were the last descendants of the Henry and Nancy Jones family to oversee the ranching operation. Their influence and support is still seen across the community in libraries, schools, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, a community center and countless other contributions. 

     Their home is still decorated with their furnishings, right down to the ornaments on the Christmas tree! I loved Mamie’s collection of ceramic cowboy boots from her travels lined up on the mantle.

     Once all of the home tours were checked off of my list, I headed to the arena and barn area for the cattle working demonstrations.


 

 

 

 

      The cowboys demonstrated some basic cutting and lassoing techniques while explaining how and why these things are still down on the working ranch. Afterward, one of the cowboys walked the onlookers over to a dipping vat and related how they were used in the past – and why they aren’t any more (thank heaven!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether you’re looking for a day out by yourself like I was, or for something for the entire family to enjoy together, I highly recommend a visit to the George Ranch. It’s beautiful, fascinating…and you might just pick up a little Texas history along the way.





A Santa Claus Museum Visit for the Ho-Ho-Holidays

     If you need a little (or a LOT) of Christmas right now . . . have I got the place for you!

     Because every day is Christmas in one special place in Columbus, Texas. It’s the Santa Claus Museum. C’mon – you know if ANYONE deserves his own museum, it’s the guy in red. And you won’t even have to travel to the North Pole because this one is the only Santa Claus museum in the South.

     This totally charming museum doesn’t have ten or twenty Santa Clauses. It has almost 3,000! All things Claus, including dolls, dishes, ornaments, music boxes, needlework, photos, artwork, magazine covers, cooking molds, promotional advertising pieces, department store displays, even Santa-themed wine –  from all over the world.  And no matter what your age is, you’re sure to find at least one that looks familiar from when you were a kid.

     Don’t expect all Hallmark style plastic St. Nicks though. Here you can find versions made from cast iron, china, basket weave, com shucks, bottle glass, paper, fabric, dough, and wood as well.

     Now I’ll admit that some of the Santas are adorable, some exquisite, but – um – (sorry Santa) some are a bit creepy. But that makes it all the more fun.

     An almost life-sized Santa Claus, formerly displayed in the Priesmeyer Department Store in Garwood during the 1950s is one of the most popular Santas in the collection.

     The festive museum began with the Santa collection of Mary Ellen Hopkins, and opened in 1990 in her honor after her family donated the jolly assortment of treasures to the Columbus Historical Preservation Trust. The building was donated by Laura Ann Rau, and the museum is operated by the CHPT.

     Since the founding of the museum, it has expanded with the 2019 additions of the Luman Collection and the Hubenak Collection. Who knew there were so many Santa aficionados?

     Luckily, the Jolly Old Elf himself is also there to add to his Christmas wishes list, but beware – he’ll already know if you’ve been naughty or nice.

     Add a road trip to Columbus to your holiday schedule to see this little museum. I promise Yule love it.

Santa Claus Museum, 604 Washington St.
Columbus, TX 78934

Fridays & Saturdays from December 1-19, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Of course it’s always best to call ahead to confirm.
January through November it’s open by appointment only. To set one up, contact the Chamber of Commerce to schedule your visit.
You can find more details at their website HERE.






Roaming with Richmond Ghosts

‘Tis the season for ghostly fun…and boy did we find some in Richmond!


 

     As a cemetery historian and author of a couple of books about cemeteries and ghosts, October is understandably a busy time of the year for me – filled with giving tours and presentations. So it was a special treat last night when my husband and I took time for ourselves to TAKE a ghost tour of the historic district of Richmond, Texas. It’s one I’ve been wanting to see for years, and now I can’t wait to go back with friends next year!

   Richmond is filled with history, which usually – in turn – means that through the years tragedies and unfortunate events have affected the lives of those who lived there. We found out that even the clock tower of the Fort Bend County Courthouse (where we got our marriage license many moons ago) has a story of death and a haunting attached to it.

     We were lucky enough to have Jessica Avery, programs coordinator for the Fort Bend Museum, as our tour guide – assisted by a charming group of other museum employees and volunteers.

     One of the things I appreciate about ghost tours organized by historical society groups is that they have a respect for true history as their basis. (Read that as “they don’t just make up a bunch of stories and get their references to history muddled – -I’ve seen that done way too often.) Though the Fort Bend Museum does historical tours of their properties throughout the year so you can learn about the historic aspects of them, their ghost tours focus on the tales and legends associated with the places. So . . . much . . . fun.

   And no, I’m not going to share the stories they worked so hard to gather here. I want you to hear them for yourselves in the spots where they occurred!

     It was an easy-paced walking tour as we followed Jessica through the streets nearby Moore Mansion and into old downtown Rosenberg as she pointed out different sites and shared their stories. Used to documenting with school groups, she has a lovely, clear speaking voice that was easily understandable even over the occasional street noise. The museum staff has visited with local business owners, so they’re able to share their unexplained experiences and sightings as well.

     Several charming small buildings that belong to the group such as the McFarlane House are included, and attendees are encouraged to peek inside the windows! Charming by day, certain places with so much past can contain rooms where even the most serious-minded history experts may become so unsettled they have to gather their things and leave when darkness falls.


     One of the properties even has a gravemarker in the front yard. What’s better is that it belongs to Texas hero Deaf Smith “The Texas Spy!” His name may sound familiar to you if you took Texas history in school. I had no idea such an illustrious person’s commemoration would be found inside the white picket fence of the property. There may even be more unmarked graves beneath the house, which was moved to the property much later. 

 

 

 

 

 

     Our final stop of the evening was at the fascinating 1883 Moore Mansion, home base for the Fort Bend Museum. And they definitely saved the best for last!

     If you haven’t heard it before – but you probably have if you read my blog – funerals “back in the day” were held at home, and the staff had set up an entire Victorian funeral scene in one of the rooms complete with a mounting wreath, coffin, samples of mourning jewelry and announcements, and draped mirrors and pictures. Beautifully done, and very appropriate for the Halloween season.

     The house was lit throughout only with battery operated candles and hand held flashlights, which added to the mood. Our guides gave us a tour upstairs and downstairs while telling us some eerily intriguing tales, then let us wander through the large home by ourselves for a bit.

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the “faces in the windows” may be your tour guides!

 

     Sign up early – they do sell out. You can choose to do a Halloween tour of the Moore Home or a ghost tour of the area. We chose to do a combo tour of both because . . . who wants to choose?

     The Fort Bend Museum has events throughout the year for all ages. You can check the upcoming plans here.

Walking in Their Steps: San Felipe de Austin Historic Site

     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.

Was there really a “Peter Pieper” in the colony? Yep!

     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.

Interpretive trail on original townsite

      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.

This obelisk was erected in 1928 to mark the site of Stephen F. Austin’s original home and land office.

     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.

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Original well

     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.


 

 

Seguin’s Nutcracker Museum: All It’s Cracked Up to Be

     Most people only think of nutcrackers around Christmas but Kenneth Pape, owner of Pape Pecan House in Seguin, spent over 50 years collecting over 8,000 classic, obscure, comical and yes – even naughty – styles of the useful mechanisms.

     Since 1961, three generations of the Pape family have been involved in the pecan business. They sell everything from pecan trees to harvesting equipment, but most customers stop into the store for edible treats including several varieties of the freshest pecans you’ve ever tasted, chocolate-covered and candied pecans, pecan oil, and more.

 

     With a family legacy like that, it’s pretty clear how his interest in nutcrackers came about. Pape began collecting nutcrackers in the 1950s during his travels, with many of the classic styles coming from Germany. Over the years, friends and family would send them to him as gifts, and a fellow collector even willed his own gathering to add to Pape’s growing assortment. Estate sales, garage sales, antique stores, flea markets were his resources until her discovered ebay…and the collecting floodgates really opened.

      One of the largest assortments of nutcrackers in the world, this nutty collection is housed in a 3,375 square foot museum that spills from the front room of the store to an additional space lined with shelves from floor to ceiling.

   Nut picks, nut bowls and vices that would splinter the stubbornest nut; hand held and tables mount styles, of wood, metal, plastic and stone crowd every inch of space in view.

     Browse to your heart’s content and discover whimsical depictions of Santa Claus, sports figures, likenesses of politicians, sultans, bishops, snowmen, leprechauns, “Naughty Nellies” (shaped like ladies’ legs),  characters, movie characters, traditional soldiers, ballerinas, birds, alligators, rabbits, dogs and oh-so-many squirrels!

     Somewhat appropriately for the Texas store, a towering nutcracker cowboy guards a sample table.

Aurelia

     Pieces from the nutcracker collection aren’t for sale, but it’s unlikely you’ll leave without something tasty to take home. But before you drive off, be sure to take a photo with the world’s “Largest Mobile Pecan” just outside. It’s one of two giant pecan displays in town. The other sits on the courthouse lawn in town.

     Admission to the museum is free, so “nut-urally” you’ll want to add Pape’s to your list of roadside stops if you’re in the area.

     Kenneth Pape unfortunately passed away on October 8 2019. His wife Zee is now sole owner of the operation. Pape’s stepson passed away several months previous, and his daughter now lives out of state so it is uncertain who will take over. Hopefully someone with a love for the area’s nutty heritage will find his or her way to the helm.

 

 

     But before we hit the road, I’m curious…do you pronounce it:

pee-can

pi-kahn

pa-con

pee-cawn

     However you say it – they’re delicious!

Pape Pecan House

5440 S. Highway 123 Bypass, Seguin

Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Saturday, 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.





Calling Dr Pepper

     It’s my biggest weakness…Diet Dr. Pepper. Guess that’s part of what makes me a true Texan. The same goes for my sister.

     One of the sites that sends heart emojis through my brain when I’m on the road is spotting a Sonic Drive-in, where I can order a Route 44 (yep, 44 ounces!) Diet Dr. Pepper with vanilla. Oh…my…goodness. Especially since I don’t drink coffee, these caffeine boosters really come in handy!

     So when my sister and I were in Waco recently, of course we HAD to visit the Dr. Pepper Museum.

     We were pleasantly surprised by how interesting and large it is.

 

     The drink itself originated at Morrison’s Old Corner Drugstore, which is represented with a charming reproduced facade at the museum. Go inside and you can hear an automaton of Charles Alderton talk about how he invented the beverage through a series of experiments with fruit syrup mixtures in 1885.

Dr. Pepper himself

     He dubbed his creation  “Dr. Pepper” (the period was dropped in the 50s). In 1891 the bottling operation  was founded that later became the Dr Pepper Company.

     Once the drink was introduced to a larger audience at the 1904 World’s Fair, it’s popularity spread like wildfire.

     During the 1920s and 30s researchers discovered that sugar provided energy and that the average person experiences energy “letdowns” during the day at 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. It was suggested that drinking a Dr. Pepper (no sugar shortage there!) at 10, 2 and 4 would avoid that.  This was incorporated into an advertising campaigns for about 20 years, and helps to date any old advertising (including outdoor murals) that includes “10, 2 and 4.”

     There’s so much more history to see at the museum including a working bottling line and a dizzying peek into the 27 1/2 foot deep, original artesian well that provided water for the product.

     There are also period delivery trucks, promotional toys and even a miniature town diorama that will steal your heart.

     This is one of those rare tourist attractions that would be great to see with multiple generations of your family, as they can all find things that will jog memories and bring a smile.

     And at the end of your visit you can treat yourself to something from the on site ice cream parlor and soda fountain!

 

Operating soda fountain and ice cream parlor

     To find out more about the Dr Pepper Museum including hours and admission, visit Dr Pepper Museum .