Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sam Houston and Huntsville

"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine.

Sam Houston Memorial Museum
Sam Houston is a Texas icon, an incomparable military and political leader of the 19th century. The restless Houston traveled throughout the Texas of his day, but the most tangible reminders of his remarkable past are clustered in Huntsville. As a boy in the early 1950s I remember my excitement when my parents brought me to the Sam Houston Memorial Museum, located across the street from the college campus named after the Texas hero (in the 1950s the school still was known as Sam Houston State Teachers College). We toured Houston's "Woodland Home," as well as the "Steamboat House" where he died. In later years I brought my daughters for a visit, and I toured numerous classes of my Traveling Texas History Course from Panola College.

Woodland Home

Before coming to Texas in 1832 Houston was a United States congressman, major general of Tennessee militia, and governor of Tennessee. In Texas Houston became a leader of the independence movement, famously signing the Declaration of Independence from Mexico on his 43rd birthday. Appointed general of Texan forces, Houston's "Runaway Scrape" campaign climaxed at San Jacinto in a spectacular victory over Santa Anna's army. "Old Sam Jacinto" was overwhelmingly elected president of the fledgling Republic of Texas, and later he would serve a second presidential term. When Texas achieved statehood Houston served as U.S. senator from 1846-1859, then as governor from 1859-1861 (he is the only politician ever to serve as governor of two states).

In 1840 the twice divorced Houston, now 47, married 21-year-old Margaret Lea. Despite his late start, the couple would have eight children together, four boys and four girls. In 1847 Senator Houston acquired a 233-acre farm just south of Huntsville for his growing family. "It is a bang-up place!" wrote Houston proudly. There was a one-room log cabin on the property, but Houston added a second room, with a dogtrot separating the rooms. One room was a parlor, while Sam and Margaret used the other room as their bedchamber. A dogtrot stairway led to two sleeping rooms under the roof: the boys slept in one loft and the girls in the other. Two small rooms connected by a porch were added to the rear. One was for guests and the other for Margaret's mother. Surrounded by trees, the house was dubbed "Woodland Home," and Houston sometimes called it his "Wigwam."
Back gallery
Reconstructed kitchen

In the yard a one-room log building served Houston as a law office. There also was a kitchen, smokehouse, barn, stable, carriage house, chicken coop, outhouse, and slave quarters. The furnished house and law office remain intact, and much of the rest of the complex has been reproduced. In 1859 Governor Houston moved to the three-year-old Governor's Mansion in Austin. There Margaret gave birth to her eighth child in 1860, and Temple Lea Houston became the first baby born in the Mansion. But when Texas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America, Governor Houston refused to swear an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy. The office of governor was declared vacant, and the Houstons moved back to Huntsville.
Law office

Houston had sold the Woodland Home, but he found a rental property on a hill east of his old home. In 1858 Dr. Rufus Bailey, president of Austin College in Huntsville, built the "Steamboat House" as a wedding gift for his son. The house was built to resemble a Mississippi River steamboat. But the newlyweds hated this eccentric house and refused to live in it. Therefore it was available when Houston returned to Huntsville. By the time he was 70, Houston was ill, and he died in the Steamboat House on July 26, 1863, muttering, "Texas...Texas...Margaret." Houston was dressed in a black suit and his Masonic apron, and his coffin was built by Union prisoners of war. Funeral services were held in the upstairs parlor of the Steamboat House, followed by burial with Masonic rites in Oakwood Cemetery. 
Governor Houston's bedroom was upstairs, front left
Houston died downstairs in the Steamboat House.

In 1879 Sam Houston Normal for Teachers opened in the old buildings of Austin College, which had moved to Sherman. The historic log and clapboard Woodland Home became a boarding house for young ladies who attended the nearby teachers college. In 1910 students raised the modest sum necessary to purchase the aging house. The Texas Legislature appropriated $15,000 in 1927 "for further restoration and Maintenance of the old home." In 1936 owner J.E. Josey donated the Steamboat House to the State of Texas, and it was moved to the 15-acre site where Woodland Home and Houston's old law office stood. The buildings were opened to the public, and the Sam Houston Memorial Museum was erected.
Bill at Houston's grave

Today the park has been supplemented with a modern visitor center. There is an impressive monument at Houston's grave at the center of Avenue I and Ninth Street. And a towering image of Houston, south of Huntsville on I-45, is visible for more than six miles. Made of 60,000 pounds of concrete and mounted atop a 10-foot granite base, the 66-foot statue is an appropriate representation of the larger-than-life Houston. A visit to Huntsville offers a rich tribute to one of the most important and colorful figures of Texas history.

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1 comment:

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