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Exploring the Past in Texas

Archaeology and History Sites in Texas

The Alamo

Probably the most famous place in Texas, the Alamo is best known as the site of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, a seminal event in the Texas Revolution. The Alamo itself was founded in the 18th century by Spanish missionaries seeking to promote Roman Catholicism among the Native communities of the region. Much of its original architecture remains intact. The Alamo is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument

The Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument covers an archaeologically rich environment in Potter County. The quarries themselves were made by prehistoric peoples mining Alibates Flint, which found its way across the Great Plains. Various petroglyphs exist in the park, probably created by the Antelope Creek between the 12th and 16th centuries. Those wanting to learn more can visit the on-site visitor’s centre or join a guided tour with a trained ranger.

Bishop’s Palace

Also known as Gresham House, the Bishop’s Palace in Galveston is an elaborate mansion house completed in 1893. The architect Nicholas J. Clayton designed the Neo-Gothic structure for the wealthy lawyer and politician Walter Gresham, who lived there with his family into the early 20th century. In 1923 it was purchased by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston. The Galveston Historical Foundation now run the house as a heritage destination.

Caddo Mounds State Historic Site

The Caddo Mounds in Weeping Mary mark a prehistoric settlement inhabited between the 9th and 14th centuries. Archaeologists refer to the people who lived here as being members of the Caddoan Mississippian culture. Among the visible features are a platform mound on which buildings once stood and a burial mound. The site retains importance for contemporary indigenous communities. An on-site museum provides descriptions of the site and replicas of artefacts recovered there.

Fulton Mansion State Historic Site

Located in Fulton, this mansion house is one of the earliest Texan buildings to be designed in the Second Empire architectural style. Construction finished in 1877, at which it became the home of George and Harriet Smith. The house had many modern conveniences that were then very novel, such as gas lighting and plumbing in all the bathrooms. The house passed through several owners till being obtained by the state in the 1970s.

Lubbock Lake Landmark

Covering over 300 acres of ground, this natural history preserve has a lot of archaeology. The presence of a (now dried up) water source brought people here over many millennia; archaeologists have revealed that the Paleoindian activity included several buffalo kill sites. Overseen by the Museum of Texas Tech University, excavation continues on an annual basis, with their discoveries explained in the on-site museum. Entry to the park is free.

Presidio La Bahia

Presidio La Bahia in Goliad is a fort that soldiers of the Spanish Empire built during the 18th century. It later played a role in the Texan Revolution, in which Texas sought independence from the Spanish-governed Mexico. Restoration of the site took place in the 1960s, allowing the fort to become a prominent local visitor’s attraction. Our Lady of Loreto Chapel, located within the fort, remains an active place of Catholic worship.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

The park contains four distinct historic structures, each built in the late 17th or 18th century by Spanish missionaries seeking to promote Catholicism among the indigenous peoples. Now ruined, they are a reminder of Texas’ Spanish imperial heritage and of the early religious interaction between Native and European communities. The historical importance of this site has been recognised through its classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

USS Lexington Museum on the Bay

Docked at Corpus Christi since 1992, the USS Lexington is an Essex-class aircraft carrier formerly used by the U.S. Navy. Launched in 1942, shortly after the U.S. had entered the Second World War, the vessel was used in the Pacific War against the Japanese. After the war, the vessel continued to be used until the Navy decommissioned her in 1991. Since then she has served as a visitor’s attraction.

Waco Mammoth National Monument

Humanity has pushed many mega-fauna to extinction, among them the mammoth that once roamed North America. Evidence of these ancient cousins of the elephant can be seen at Waco Mammoth National Monument in Waco, where the skeletons of a range of deceased mammoths are on display. All killed by a series of natural disasters, their remains were discovered in the 1970s. Recovered by excavation, they have been displayed at this museum since 2015.

Museums in Texas

El Paso Museum of Archaeology

The El Paso Museum of Archaeology draws attention not only to the heritage of the El Paso region but to this area of North America more broadly, encompassing both the southwestern states and northern Mexico. Using a range of dioramas supplemented with archaeological artefacts, the museum outlines how humans first arrived in the region and how their societies grew, changed, and clashed. The permanent collections are supplemented with temporary displays.

Frontier Texas!

Located in Abilene, Frontier Texas! helps visitors to discover more about the Texas Forts Trail and its surrounding region. Opened in 2004, this museum focuses on interactive exhibits and dioramas and thus is ideal for younger visitors or families. Displays deal with the life and history of the Comanche who dominated the region in the 18th and 19th centuries, the trade in buffalo hide, and the arrival of the military and the cowboys.

George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

A Texan native, George H. W. Bush was the Vice President under Ronald Reagan before serving one term as President himself from 1989 to 1993. At the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, visitors can learn more about the man and his role in such momentous events as the end of the Cold War and the Gulf War. The museum’s archive is of use for historians researching the Bush presidency.

George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center

Named for the prominent agricultural scientist George Washington Carver, this museum in Austin has long served the city’s African American community. Starting life in the 1920s as a library, the present stone Colonial Revival style structure dates from 1933. Central to the museum is the Juneteenth Memorial Monument, dedicated to the day celebrating the abolition of slavery in Texas. Various temporary exhibits and events take place throughout the year.

Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio

One of several museums in Texas that are devoted to the Holocaust, this example in San Antonio focuses on educating school groups and other visitors about the dangers of prejudice and what it can lead to. Having close links with the local Jewish community and with Holocaust survivors living in Texas, the museum opened to the public in 2000. Alongside photographs and historical artefacts, the museum displays memorials to the victims. Entry is free.

National Museum of the Pacific War

Although the United States fought on multiple fronts during the Second World War, it is perhaps best known for taking a major role on the Asiatic-Pacific Front, where its forces clashed with those of Japan. The National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg tells the story of that conflict and of the individuals who fought it. It includes the Admiral Nimitz Museum, devoted to the life of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

National Ranching Heritage Center

Texas is famous for its cattle ranches, an industry which has given us the cowboy of the popular imagination, and visitors interested in this facet of American life can learn more at the National Ranching Heritage Center. Located on the campus of the Texas Tech University in Lubbock, the museum showcases a range of historic buildings from around Texas that were used by ranchers from the late 18th through to the mid-20th century.

Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum

Located on the West Texas A&M University campus in Canyon, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum focuses its attentions on the heritage of the American West. Permanent exhibits focus on the geology and palaeontology of the region, on the indigenous peoples who lived here in prehistory and modern times, as well as on the European American settlement of the state. Established by the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, the museum opened in its art-deco building in 1933.

Pioneer Museum Complex

At the Pioneer Museum Complex in Fredericksburg, visitors can learn more about the history of the town and the broader Gillespie County area, a part of Texas which saw heavy German immigration in the 19th century. Within the complex can be found the Vereins Kirche or People’s Church, first built in 1847 and then rebuilt in 1936. Among the other historic structures preserved here are the Arhelger Bathhouse and the old fire department.

Star of the Republic Museum

The Star of the Republic Museum in Washington is devoted to teaching visitors all about the Republic of Texas, the state that existed between 1836 and 1847, after it seceded from Mexico but before it joined the United States. The museum opened in 1970, launched with the support of the state legislature. It remains the only museum totally dedicated to this period of Texan history and displays a broad and eclectic array of artefacts dating from it.

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