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 .