Saturday, December 10, 2011

Passport to Texas History, San Felipe de Austin

San Felipe de Austin is a small collection of buildings dedicated to the memory of Stephen F. Austin. Austin was an Impresario or land agent. The original contract for land in Texas was given to his father, Moses Austin. Moses traveled to Spanish owned Texas and received authority to bring legal settlers into Texas. As he traveled back to his home in Missouri, he was attacked and eventually died as a result of pneumonia that set in while he recovered from the attack.

 Stephen F. Austin obtained permission to take over his father’s contract, but between the time he set out and the time he arrived in Texas with 300 families (‘The Old 300”) Mexico had declared independence from Spain. This rendered his contract null and void, both because it was a Spanish contract and because it was in his father’s name. Austin headed to San Antonio and managed to get a new contract issued to him from the Mexican government. Thus began the legal settlement of Texas by American citizens.  

At the time, all of Texas and portions of what is today New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma were owned by Mexico. The southern portion (what is currently still Mexico) was well settled, but most Mexicans did not want to move north to settle in the Texas portion of Mexico. There were many reasons for this, but a huge drawback to settling in Texas was the threat of Indian attacks.

Posing in front of the statue. It was windy!
The missions in Texas, begun by Spanish priests, had converted and ‘civilized’ many of the local Indian tribes. But, these tribes were willing to be under the protection of the priests because they were being attacked by more violent tribes moving in to their hunting areas. The problem now was finding someone willing to brave the Indian attacks long enough to establish ownership of the land for Mexico. Mexico decided to open up settlement to non-Mexican citizens.
Josey General Store - now the Visitor's Center

We had never been to San Felipe de Austin and were pleasantly surprised. There isn’t a lot to do or see, but you could spend a pleasant hour on the grounds. The visitor’s center is an old general store – its history much more recent and completely unrelated to Stephen F. Austin. The attendant was friendly and knowledgeable and we enjoyed visiting with her while we waited for a rain shower to subside. She told a story about Austin and the building of a town using a Jacob’s ladder – it was really cute!
Replica of Stephen F. Austin's cabin

In addition to the General Store/Visitor’s Center, the park includes a statue of Mr. Austin, a replica of his cabin, and a well. The cabin was a traditional dogtrot cabin and one room had wooden toys to play with. FRitW and MT are getting pretty familiar with dogtrot cabins at this point – we saw a total of 4 on this trip.

Thunderstorms were headed our way and we had another stop to make today, so we said good-bye to San Felipe de Austin and headed toward Houston.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Gingerbread Train 2011

Several years ago I saw the cutest Gingerbread train in a Family Fun Magazine. In fact it was 5 years ago. I was sitting in the pediatrician’s newborn waiting room, a newborn little boy was dozing in my arms. We made that gingerbread train that year. It was fun and cute, but it seemed very time consuming and difficult. Looking back I realize that we made the train when MT was only 2 weeks old  - I was tired. Maybe that is why I didn’t try again until this year.

And this year – it only took a couple of hours (plus chill time) I couldn’t believe it was so quick and easy! Click here for the directions – you still have time to make this! FRitW and MT (obviously) don’t remember the first train, but they were able to help a lot this time. They had the job of frosting the graham cracker supports into stacks, attaching the skittle and red hot decorations and adding the wheels. Unfortunately, I had no camera during the process, but here is the finished result!


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Passport toTexas History - Washington On The Brazos

Sunday evening, November 14th, our family is seated around the table enjoying supper. It is about 6:45 pm.. Talk turns to the trip we need to take to complete our Passports to Texas History. The Passports must be completed by December 31st to be eligible to receive the commemorative gift. Referring to the calendar hanging on the wall nearby, we discard one week, then another. How in the world will we find time to complete our passports???  “Why don’t we leave tonight?”

Kirk’s casual question, half in jest, began a flurry of preparation! At 7:20 pm we waved good-bye to Dad and headed out with a general plan in mind. (Believe it or not, we didn’t forget a thing!)

Monday morning we arrived early at the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park. This park encompasses three sites: Washington-on-the-Brazos, The Barrington Living History Farm, and The Star of the Republic Museum. I will report now, that my photos are limited, as I dropped my camera while feeding the chickens at the Barrington Farm.
Chickens – 1, Camera – 0

I’ll share about the farm and Museum in later posts, since the Passport to Texas History part of the park is Independence Hall in Washington-on-the-Brazos. I completely forgot to take photos of our tour. But you really don’t miss much by not seeing photos, because there isn’t much left at WashingtonOTB. At one time it was a bustling boom town because it is situated where the Brazos and Navasota Rivers converge. A man by the name of Andrew Robinson built a ferry here. Eventually a hotel was built, then a town grew at this site. When the railroad proposed to come through WashingtonOTB, they flatly refused to allow it. Who needed some newfangled, fly-by-night form of transportation when they had the never to be replaced Ferry – a trusted and reliable, never to go out of style form of crossing the river? Well as you can imagine, WashingtonOTB didn’t last much longer.
Gorgeous weather, a playground, and peanut butter and jelly - what's not to smile about?

By 1911, it had almost disappeared from history. School children in the area were learning about Texas Independence and learned that they lived near the exact spot where the Declaration of Texas Independence had been signed. They began to raise money and purchased a monument to mark the spot where it was believed Independence Hall had stood. Later a structure to replicate Independence Hall was built, based on sketches and written descriptions from the men who signed the Declaration.
We're Texans - I suppose this is a bit of Texas History now too. ~grin~

Independence Hall wasn’t actually a government building at the time, it was a gun shop. I don’t believe it had opened for business yet, but the owner offered it as a place for the men to meet. A ‘blue norther’ hit the area and temperatures plummeted, but the men remained at work until every matter had been handled. They lived in tents and shanties and met in a drafty open building to create a government for the new country – The Republic of Texas.
Lady or Little Girl? - Thank goodness you don't have to decide at 13.

The park has little to see in terms of historical buildings so most of the tour requires your imagination, but it is a beautiful walk. Our tour consisted of us and the tour guide. There were only about 4 other guests in the whole park. He walked us through the former town site, helping us visualize the town as it had been (right now it is merely a gravel path, trees, grass and a sign or two. Other than the replica Independence Hall, there is one structure and it is original - It is a well.

We were disappointed when we arrived at the river. Normally the river is clearly divided, with one side being muddy (the Brazos) and opaque and the other clear (Navasota)  as can be. Today, though it was windy and the channels were mixed together making it just one muddy river.

Unfortunately, I never thought to take a picture until the tour was over and we were at the playground eating lunch - so you’ll have to use your imagination just like we did!