Museums Provide Unique Vacation Opportunities

Written by Sarah Naron

June 23, 2020

Story by Catherine Parker

With summer upon us, many families are making plans for exciting vacations. While beaches, amusement parks, and campgrounds tend to be the obvious choices, those looking for unique vacation opportunities – as well as the chance to keep young minds learning even though school is not in session – may be interested in considering the wide variety of museums sprinkled throughout the Lone Star State.

Sam Houston Memorial Museum – Huntsville

As many Texas residents and history buffs are aware, former Republic of Texas President Sam Houston once resided in the city of Huntsville, and today, the city keeps his memory alive in a number of ways. A university is named for him, and a large statue of him towers over a portion of I-45. A city street is also named after him – dubbed Sam Houston Ave. – and on this street is the Sam Houston Memorial Museum, which occupies what was once the homestead Houston shared with his wife, Margaret.

“Today, we’re about 15 acres,” said Megan Buro, the museum’s marketing coordinator. “We have a memorial museum, which houses our permanent exhibits, and then, we have historical homes on the grounds that visitors can visit and that we use for demonstration purposes.”

Among these structures is the Woodland Home, which Sam and Margaret had built after they purchased the property. 

“Then, we have the Steamboat House, and that is the home Sam died in,” Buro added. “It was located on the other side of Huntsville and moved here to the property in 1936 as part of the Texas Centennial.”

The museum building, Buro said, is home to a collection of Sam and Margaret’s possessions, as well as items recovered from Gross’s Plantation in Hempstead and the site of the Battle of San Jacinto.

“We even have Santa Anna’s saddle,” Buro said. “One of the displays in the museum talks about the Texas Revolution and the events leading up to the Battle of San Jacinto and the Runaway Scrapes.”

Also located on the grounds is the education center, which hosts various temporary exhibits throughout the year. From April 1-June 28, Buro said, the exhibit in the education center will be The Faces of Sam Houston.

The Sam Houston Memorial Musuem is open Tuesday-Saturday from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12-4:30 p.m. Admission is five dollars per adult, four dollars per senior citizen, and three dollars for children ages six to 18. Children five years old and younger will be admitted free of charge. 

For more information, call (936)-294-1832 or visit www.samhoustonmemorialmuseum.com.

The Sam Houston Memorial Museum is located at 1836 Sam Houston Ave. in Hunstville.

East Texas Oil Museum – Kilgore

For decades, the oil industry has played a prominent role in supporting the economy of the state of Texas. Located in Kilgore, the East Texas Oil Museum – which opened its doors on Oct. 3, 1980, the 50th anniversary of the first production well being established in the East Texas oilfield – provides visitors with the opportunity to take a step back in time to the 1930s and see what life was like during the Oil Boom.

According to Museum Manager Olivia Moore, the facility’s moniker is slightly misleading.

“People hear ‘oil museum,’ and they instantly think about oil production,” she pointed out. “As much as we talk about oil production, it’s mainly production from the 1930s. We are more of a history museum, but we also talk about science and geology and social studies.”

Upon entering the museum, visitors are encouraged to view an introductory video before proceeding into the exhibit hall.

“We have antique cars from 1929 and 1930. We have a 1930s home set up, and we have some other collectibles that are in cases,” Moore said. “It’s very much what you would expect of a history museum.”

At the end of the hall, Moore said, is “a wooden door that’s got leaded crystal glass in it.

“I always tease the school kids that it’s a time warp, so they should be careful when they cross the threshold,” she laughed. “You open up that door, and it transports you back in time to 1930.”

This transition is made possible by the life-sized recreation of a 1930s boom town.

“All the stores are named after communities in the East Texas area that were affected by the oil boom,” Moore explained. “Our guests are able to go into each storefront and kind of see what that type of store was like in the 1930s.”

Another attraction at the museum is the Elevator Ride to the Center of the Earth.

“That talks about the science part of it in an extremely fun way, with two marionettes,” Moore said.

The museum is also home to the Boomtown Theater, in which “a 42-minute, interactive movie that takes folks through the history of East Texas, from dinosaurs all the way up to now,” is played hourly.

“It has actual footage mixed in that was shot in the 1930s in East Texas,” Moore said. “It ends with a surprise. We actually have a gusher that comes in that’s the last scene of the movie, and the gusher coming in actually shakes the seats in the theater.”

The East Texas Oil Museum is open Wednesday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. No visitors will be permitted to enter the museum later than 4 p.m. The cost of admission is eight dollars per adult and five dollars for children aged three to 11. Children younger than three will be admitted free of charge. All Kilgore College students and employees may purchase tickets for five dollars each.

For more information, call (903)-983-8295 or visit www.easttexasoilmuseum.kilgore.edu.

The East Texas Oil Museum is located on the campus of Kilgore College at 1301 S. Henderson Blvd. 

Texas Czech Heritage & Cultural Center – La Grange

The Texas Czech Heritage & Cultural Center (TCHCC) incorporated on March 24, 1997 and received 501(c) 3 status in July of the same year. The location for this non-profit corporation was finalized when a lease was signed with the City of La Grange in November 1997. Statewide efforts by Czech-founded organizations to raise money to develop a Center that would preserve and promote the history, heritage, and culture of the people of Czech ethnicity began in 1995. 

In December 1995, Texans of Czech Ancestry (TOCA), an umbrella organization that serves to improve and facilitate communication among Czech-founded organizations, called a meeting to hear a proposal offered by the Czech Heritage Society of Texas to build a library for the preservation of books and documents significant to Texas Czechs. Following presentations and discussion, TOCA voted to support building a statewide Czech cultural center with a library, museum, and archives.

Fayette County was selected as the site for the center because of its significance in the history of Texas Czechs. It has the largest Czech population per capita and the most Czech communities of any county in the state. More immigrants from the Czech lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire settled there in the second half of the 19th century than any other county in Texas. Many Czech-related historical sites and events, as well as prominent Texas Czechs, can be linked to Fayette County. The development of TCHCC was made possible through many generous monetary contributions, countless volunteer hours, and numerous in-kind donations from people living in all parts of Texas, some from other states, as well as grants from the Czech Foreign Ministry. All contributors can take pride in building a Czech Center for future generations to enjoy.

SLAVNOST JUST AROUND THE CORNER…

The Texas Czech Heritage & Cultural Center (TCHCC) in La Grange invites you to pay homage to spring with a family Sunday filled with music, food, laughter, and remembrance during the 19th Annual Slavnost ‘May Fest’ on May 17. Festivities begin with a ceremony at 10:30 a.m. paying tribute to all Czech-Texas immigrants. If you would like to recognize Czech immigrants in your family, contact TCHCC for a recognition form. Your family will be named during the ceremony. Forms are due by May 11. 

A delicious fried chicken dinner will be served beginning at 11:30 a.m. Plenty of Czech-style desserts will also be available, along with refreshing beverages of all kinds. The Czech Harvesters Band will provide the music from 11:30 to 4 p.m. The day’s activities also include a traditional May Pole Dance at 1:30 p.m. and demonstrations at the Zapalac Saw Mill and Czech Newspaper Museum at 2 p.m. You’ll also have a chance to shop in the Country Store and the Kopecky Gift Shop, where you’ll find unique gifts for dads, grads, newlyweds, and Christmas ornaments in stock year-round.

HAVE YOU SEEN THE CZECH VILLAGE?

During Slavnost, tour the TCHCC Czech Village, which includes structures from the late 1800s and early 1900s depicting what life was like for Czech Texans back then. See the latest additions – the Czech Newspaper Museum and SPJST Lodge 19 Velehrad. The village also features houses from the Kalich, Hoelscher, Migl, and Hluchanek-Salas families. The Hoelscher Haus is home to to Polka Lovers Club of Texas Museum, and the Kalich house serves as the Czech Music Museum of Texas. The village also includes the Hospoda (Tavern) & General Store, Zapalac Saw Mill, Janak Barn & Texas Czech Agriculture Museum, and a double log crib.

Visit TCHCC and enjoy a family day full of culture and exciting history! For more, call TCHCC at 888-785-4500 or email info@czechtexas.org. The website is www.czechtexas.org. TCHCC, PO Box 6, 250 West Fairgrounds Road, La Grange, TX 78945.

Article and ad compliments of Theresa Parker, PolkaBeat.com/The Texas Polka News and TCHCC.

Charles Bright Visitor Center – Nacogdoches

When it comes to history, Nacogdoches – the Lone Star State’s oldest town – has no shortage of exciting landmarks for visitors to explore. In addition to providing information on these various sites, the Charles Bright Visitor Center houses a museum aimed at helping those unfamiliar with the city get an in-depth look at its lengthy history.

“We’re in a 100-year old building that was originally built on the square as a post office in 1917,” said Mike Bay, Visitor Center Coordinator. “It became the public library when the post office moved out, and then, it became the visitor center in the 1990s; it was completely remodeled.”

Among the exhibits in the museum are some which explain the nine flags that have been flown over Nacogdoches throughout its history. Others provide information on the Caddo Indians, the tribe which gave the city its name.

“Then, we go into the French and the Spanish that were here in Nacogdoches,” Bay said. “We were founded in 1779 by Spaniard Gil Ybarbo, and he built the Stone Fort, as we call it. It was originally downtown on Main St. and Fredonia St. and was taken down from that location in 1902. There’s a replica on the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University.”

The entirety of the town’s history is depicted in a mural, “starting with the founder and with the Texas revolutionary soldiers who fought Mexico for our land,” Bay said.

“It has a beautiful section on the railroad, which was a big boost to the timber industry,” he continued. “Poultry is still big in Nacogdoches, and of course, education, because of the university here. The mural kind of tells the whole story of Nacogdoches.”

Other exhibits highlight notable Texans who played an active role in the city’s history, such as Daniel Boone and Sam Houston.

“We have a hallway that goes down to a downstairs area that has wonderful photographs of Nacogdoches in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” Bay said. “In the basement, we have more exhibits. There’s an exhibit about the first oil well in Texas, which was in east Nacogdoches County.”

The basement also houses the museum’s art collection. Roughly every 10 minutes, a video made by Dr. Archie McDonald plays to further inform visitors of the city’s history.

The Charles Bright Visitor Center is located at 200 E. Main St. in Nacogdoches. Hours of operation are Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sunday from 1-4 p.m.

For more information, call (936)-564-7351 or visit www.visitnacogdoches.org.

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