Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of history, San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site and Museum is making preparations to build a replica block of the original town as it might have appeared in the early 1830s.
A meeting was held Saturday at the new state-of-the-art museum where nearly 50 stakeholders and volunteers came together and discuss the project and talk about how it will all come together in the next two years. Called Villa de Austin, the village is part of a plan to bring living history activities to the site.
“We will take this one block and reconstruct it on another location so we can keep doing the archeology,” said Michael Moore, the project director.
The village will consist of 10 buildings on a one-acre tract on the east side of the museum. The buildings will include a print shop, school, courthouse, hotel, bake oven, one-room homes, and outbuildings such as a smokehouse, blacksmith shop, and a stable.
“This one block has some really great stories to tell,” Moore said.
The project will cost more than $1 million and the funds have already been privately raised. Moore estimated that it will be complete in 2021, noting that it could take longer. Although not a stated goal, he would like it to be ready for the town’s bicentennial in 2023.
San Felipe was founded as the capital of Stephen F. Austin’s Mexican colony of American settlers. It was the center of early Texas government and culture east of San Antonio. During the Texas Revolution in 1836, the town was burned to the ground by fleeing Texians to keep it out of the hands of the Mexican army during the Runaway Scrape.
Moore, who is arguably the leading authority on the town’s history, has been instrumental in the development of the site and the building of the museum which opened just over a year ago.
“We’ve tried for 20-plus years to get something going here. Nobody knew what the town looked like or even where the town was,” Moore said.
The original townsite has since been located and some of it is the subject of periodic archeological digs. Of particular interest is the Farmer’s Hotel, which was the only known structure to have a basement. The building will be one of the showcases of Villa de Austin.
“It wasn’t much of a hotel,” Moore said. “It had a few borders that lived upstairs and ate their meals downstairs,” he said.
The building served several other purposes, including a tavern and a tailor shop before it was razed.
After lunch, the volunteers broke into two groups to discuss period clothing and the challenges of outfitting volunteers and staff in period-correct outfits. Moore led a discussion about men’s clothing and Peggy Vallas discussed women’s clothing.
The volunteers were also asked to sign up for areas of interest to help form committees to flesh out plans for each part of the village.
During the concluding session, Moore emphasized that education is an ongoing process in San Felipe as more information is discovered through research and archeology.
“There are things that we learned yesterday that are going to be changed by what we learn tomorrow,” he said.