Texas Historical Commission brings annual gathering to local historic site

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SAN FELIPE — Almost 100 members of the Texas Archeological Stewardship Network from around Texas gathered recently to enjoy a weekend of networking, meetings and tours of the new museum facility at San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site.

The Texas Historical Commission (THC) holds an annual meeting of these highly trained avocationals who serve as points of contact and provide evaluation on archeological issues that occur in their respective counties. Along with the programs and meetings, the THC hosted an annual awards luncheon acknowledging standouts among the archeology volunteers based on contributed hours and other preservation criteria. Three regional archeological societies – the Houston, Fort Bend and Brazosport Archeological Societies – were well-represented at the meetings, with several local members receiving awards for their work over the past year. According to THC’s Archeology Division Director and State Archeologist, Pat Mercado-Allinger, “We look for unique opportunities and settings to hold the annual TASN workshop. Archeological investigations have and will continue to play an integral part in understanding San Felipe de Austin SHS so we felt that it would be fitting to bring members of the TASN to experience the new museum.”

The weekend’s activities kicked off with an after-hours reception on Friday night and continued through day-long sessions on Saturday. Attendees enjoyed a detailed tour of the new museum facilitated by project staff. In addition, THC staff had the opportunity to update attendees on recent excavations at the San Felipe de Austin site and plans for the near future. This October the site will host active excavations as well as a variety of weekend archeology-themed programs to celebrate Texas Archeology Month.

Many attendees have previously volunteered their time to assist with excavations at the historic site, but for some it was a unique opportunity to catch up with happenings at one of the state’s most significant archeological sites. The historic town of San Felipe de Austin was burned to the ground by its evacuating residents during the Texas Revolution in March of 1836 as part of the Runaway Scrape. Much of the knowledge that informs the exhibits in the new museum comes from extensive archival research and ongoing archeological excavations.

The event served as an introduction for many of the attendees to Dr. Sarah Chesney, the staff archeologist at San Felipe de Austin SHS who joined the project in January. “Sarah is a tremendous addition to our staff and will be helping us think through the very important research questions that we face in trying to learn more about this important Texas history site. A native Texan, her academic studies have allowed her to explore important historical archeological sites around the country that have served as planning guide markers for this project – places like Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestowne and Historic St. Mary’s City (Maryland),” said site manager Bryan McAuley.

“Many of the stewards have been volunteers with the THC program for ten to twenty years. By holding the TASN annual workshop at San Felipe de Austin, it allowed stewards to see the result of their tireless contributions with the completion of the museum and visitors center,” stated TASN Coordinator and Regional Archeologist, Becky Shelton.

Located just two miles north of I-10, San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site is significant for its role in the early settlement of Mexican Texas. Stephen F. Austin founded the town as the capital of his colonies and from there oversaw the transfer of more than 4 million acres of land from public to private ownership. The site was at the center of political discussions leading up the eventual Declaration of Independence from Mexico.

In April, a brand new, state-of-the-art museum opened at the historic site to better tell the fascinating stories of Austin and his settlers. Using displays of objects, unique murals and engaging multimedia and film, the museum offers compelling programming about this important era of Texas history.

In addition, there are interpretive panels related to archeological sites on the grounds and the original historic site (on the west side of FM 1458) includes a Centennial bronze statue of Austin, a memorial obelisk, a colonial-era well and a replica log cabin. The historic JJ Josey mercantile store building (1848) is used for programs and archeology support.

The THC manages 22 historic sites throughout the state of Texas. Each shares rich stories of significant people and events in their respective towns and regions. To learn more, visit www.thc.texas.gov. To plan your visit to San Felipe de Austin SHS, open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., go to www.visitsanfelipedeaustion.com or call 979.885.2181.

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