Friday, April 17, 2015

Touring Huntsville

Donna and I met in Huntsville in 1976 when I was an undergraduate at Sam Houston State University (SHSU). When I graduated a year later, we married and stayed on for another 2 years while I served on a teaching fellowship while pursuing my MA. So Huntsville was our first home, and we enjoyed living there at the time.

We didn't have long to stay in Huntsville this trip, so we narrowed our sites on doing just one or two things. I'd love to go back and walk the campus of SHSU sometime, but that will have to wait. For this trip, we decided on 3 stops, all related in some way to Sam Houston, the man.

Our first stop was the Sam Houston Memorial Museum on the edge of the campus of SHSU. As a student, I visited the museum numerous times, and I spent a great deal of time wandering the grounds around the pond there. It was a nice place to get away from my studies for a while and visit a more natural environment.

Main entrance to the Sam Houston Memorial Museum, sometimes called "The Rotunda".
Sam Houston is one of the giants of Texas history, along with Stephen F. Austin, Jim Bowie, and a handful of other memorable figures. His legend spanned at least 2 states and was intertwined with the Cherokee Indians as well as with his own people. He served as governor of both Tennessee and Texas, President of the Republic of Texas, and the U.S. Senator from Texas. I've always been impressed by his vision, both in time of war and in time of peace. For example, when others in the state were rushing to leave the Union and join the Confederacy, Houston urged calm and voted to remain in the Union.

The museum complex sits on a 15 acre tract which once was part of a larger 200 acre homestead that General Sam purchased in 1847. This was his residence for most of the years when he was in the U.S. Senate from 1846-1859. In addition to the museum proper, the complex also contains two of Houston's homes:  the Woodland home (his residence from 1847-1859) and the Steamboat House, where Houston died in 1863. Houston did not own the Steamboat House, but rather rented it after being removed from the Governor's office after refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy.

The museum proper displays many items owned by Houston and his family. It is not a large museum, but the museum is only the first stop. Other buildings on the museum grounds include the Bear Bend Hunting Lodge and the Guerrant family cabin. The Bear Bend Hunting Lodge was originally located in Montgomery County near Atkins Creek. Houston would often stay in the cabin and participate in bear hunts. The Guerrant family cabin was built in 1848 about 11 miles north of Huntsville. It was donated to the museum in 2004 and moved to the grounds and rebuilt.

The museum contains numerous items once belonging to Houston and his family, including the crutch he used following the Battle of San Jacinto.
The Steamboat House. General Sam died in the room on the lower floor behind the stairs. His funeral was held in the room at the top of the stairs.
Houston's Woodland Home. Note steps to the right of the dog run. There are 2 small bedrooms upstairs.

One of the bedrooms at the top of the stairs at the Woodland Home.

Replica of the kitchen, which was in a separate building set away from the house.

This log building was on the land when Houston purchased it in 1847. It served as his law office.
The pond near Houston's home. I spent much time here while in college wandering these grounds.

The Guerrant family cabin on the museum grounds.

The Bear Bend Cabin, also on museum grounds.
After the museum, we drove to Oakwood Cemetery, just a few blocks east of downtown, and viewed Houston's grave. To end our tour of Huntsville, we drove south of town and visited the huge statue of Sam Houston along the interstate. The statue, 67 feet tall on a 10 foot base, was dedicated in 1994, long after Donna and I left Huntsville. But we've seen it for years as we've traveled the area visiting family. It was time we stopped and took a closer look.

Houston's grave in Oakwood Cemetery.

Donna posing with General Sam
There are other things to see in Huntsville. One of the most interesting -- and a place I've never visited -- is the Texas Prison Museum on the north side of Huntsville. The Walls Unit, located just a couple of blocks from downtown, is interesting to drive around. And the prison cemetery is worth a visit as well.

But Huntsville is not the same town Donna and I once lived in. It is much busier, much larger, and the university has changed so very much. I enjoyed our visit, but I was glad to come back home.

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