Thursday, January 31, 2013

San Felipe de Austin

I’m a history buff, especially regarding Texas history. I really enjoy the colonial era of Texas history leading up to the Revolution in 1836. So I was excited during our stay in Stephen F. Austin State Park to visit nearby San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site.

History peeks out from almost every corner of this area. The original town site is evident by the various roads laid out in a grid in this rural area. If you take the time to drive the various side-streets, you will discover a jewel here and there. For example, we came across the old Town Hall dating to 1842, a teacherage dating back to the late 1800s, and a church dating to 1837. Several structures in the area display Texas historic medallions.

Old San Felipe de Austin town hall, dating to 1842. The original town hall was built in 1830 and stood in Commerce Square near the site of the replica of Austin's cabin.
As old as these places are, they arrived after the real significance of this area. Stephen F. Austin founded San Felipe de Austin in 1823.This was the site where the original "Old Three Hundred" settled. In the period from 1823 to 1836, it was the social, economic, and political hub of colonial Texas, and many great historic figures of Texas history walked these streets. For a much more thorough description of the historic significance of the area, please refer to An Interpretation of the Cultural and Natural History of Stephen F. Austin State Park and San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site

For the tourist, the place to visit is the area that was plotted as Commerce Square. This is the spot where the Atascosito Road Ferry crossed the Brazos River; as such, it was the first place newcomers to the little colony saw once they stepped off the ferry. Today, Commerce Square offers a handful of sites to see. First and foremost, there is the statue of the Father of Texas.

Stephen Fuller Austin, the Father of Texas.

Down the walkway and off to the left is the old J. J. Josey general store, which now serves as a Visitor Center. There are a few displays in the center, and they are well worth viewing to get a feel of the important events that occurred in this community. During our visit, the curator spent a little time giving us some background. It seems that new facilities will be built across the highway from the current visitor center, and these facilities will give them more room for exhibits and educational programs. The groundbreaking should take place in the next few months, and completion should be in about 3 years or so.

J. J. Josey General Store, built in 1847. It was the last store built in the community after the original buildings were burned during the Runaway Scrape in 1836.  It now serves as the visitor center.

This is good news, for right now this place seems to be forgotten. It lags well behind its counterpart farther upstream, Washington-on-the-Brazos, which has the Star of Texas Museum, a living farm, and a visitor center, among other developments.

A replica of Stephen F. Austin’s log cabin sits near the Visitor Center. It is built in the traditional two-room dog run style. Although only a replica, the bricks in the fireplace are from the original structure.

Replica of Stephen F. Austin's cabin, where he conducted much of the official business of colonial Texas.
The town was burned when the Texans retreated from Santa Anna's advancing Mexican army, so no original structures of the town remain. Following the victory at San Jacinto, a few residents did return to the town site, but the little community never regained its place of importance and more or less faded away after nearby Bellville was named the county seat in 1846 and the removal of all county records was completed in 1848.

This brick-lined well was dug in Commerce Square in 1824. Today, it is the last architectural remain of the once thriving community. It was encased in 1928 for protection.

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