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As the second largest state in the nation, following only Alaska, exploring all of Texas’ historic sites would take much more time than you probably have during any given vacation, but these spots are the very best to include in any history buff’s itinerary while traveling the Lone Star state.
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The Alamo is one of America’s most famous historic sites, attracting over 2.5 million visitors each year. This is the very place where in 1836, in an epic 13-day siege during the Texas Revolution, Mexican troops defeated a dedicated group of 189 Texas volunteer soldiers fighting for autonomy from Mexico. One can pay homage to those men who fought Mexican General Santa Anna’s 1,800-strong army, including defenders like Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett through exhibits that detail the fort’s role during the war, as well as its past, as a Native American burial ground and the Mission San Antonio de Valero. While many of the complex’s original buildings are gone, visitors can explore the Long Barrack, which hosts the museum which details the history of Texas, and the mission church that showcases displays of battle artifacts, including weapons and paintings.
Most people, even outside Texas, if they know anything about history know all about the Alamo, but there are many other reasons for history enthusiasts to visit San Antonio, like the San Fernando Cathedral, the state’s oldest functioning religious cathedral, built in 1738, which was crucial during the Battle of the Alamo. While James Bowie was defending it, Mexican general Santa Anna took control of the church by raising a flag of “no quarter.” His declaration of taking no prisoners led to the deadly siege and what’s believed to be the most memorable battle in Texas history. Today, the cathedral still serves the city and citizens, now as the cathedral of the Diocese of San Antonio. Visitors can pay their respects to Alamo heroes like Davy Crockett, James Bowie and William Travis at the marble casket located at the left entrance.
The famous Sixth Floor Museum, located in the former Texas School Book Repository, at Dealey Plaza, offers a fascinating look at the fateful day in U.S. history when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. While most museums mainly focus on exhibits with documents, audio clips and footage of the subject-at-hand, this one offers a rather chilling view through the very window where Harvey Lee Oswald fired the fatal shots. The collection includes some 45,000 items and tells an impassioned story about the surreal day and how it changed the course of history afterwards. There is a wealth of powerful images, documents, artifacts, video footage and home movies. After a visit, head down to the grassy knoll and you’ll get a better perspective about what transpired that tragic day.
You’ve missed something truly big if you fail to visit the “Big Tree,” a live oak that’s considered the state’s largest tree, located within Goose Island State Park. The majestic tree is 1,000 years old and has broken numerous records. At 45-feet-high, there are many live oaks that surpass this tree’s height, however, when its girth of over 35 feet is factored in, it makes this one the Champion Live Oak in Texas. The Big Tree has managed to survive dozens of major hurricanes, droughts, wildfires and floods to become one of the world’s largest live oaks. It’s allegedly been a hanging tree, a pirate’s rendezvous, and even a ceremonial site for the cannibalistic Karankawa Indians at various points throughout history. After gazing at the tree, if you’re here between November and March, you can enjoy watching the hordes of cranes that call this marshy island home.
Once considered a safe haven for 19th-century cattle drivers, a stop where they could get rest and supplies, there were over 4 million cattle herded through Fort Worth, which is what gave it the nickname, “Cowtown.” Today, visitors can visit the 98-acre historic district known as the Fort Worth Stockyards, one of the only remaining stockyards in the U.S. The area just north of the central business district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The former livestock market operated under various owners for over a century. Replacing the grim slaughterhouses and packing facilities that once stood here, are a wide range of shops, restaurants, cafés and other forms of entertainment, all capitalizing on the city’s “Cowtown” image. Here you can witness a cattle drive, tour the first indoor rodeo arena in the world, check out the Livestock Exchange Building, view exhibits at the Stockyards Museum, and enjoy a drink at the oldest bar in Fort Worth, the White Elephant Saloon.
One of the most revered sites in Lone Star history is the San Jacinto Battleground, the very place where Texas gained its independence. In 1836, Texan troops surprised the Mexican army that was camped here. Shouting “Remember the Alamo” and “Remember Goliad,” the rebels routed the larger force in just 18 minutes. Today, the San Jacinto Monument and Museum sit atop the plot of ground where General Sam Houston defeated the army of General Santa Anna. Walk in their footsteps, explore the museum, and enjoy a bird’s-eye view from the top of the monument, overlooking the Houston Ship Channel and Battleship Texas. You’ll discover just how the decisive, quick battle for independence empowered the young nation and forever altered the course of world history.
Completed in 1888, the Texas Capitol was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986. It sits atop a hill, offering a picturesque view of downtown Austin and is considered one of the city’s most rewarding attractions. Free self-guided and guided tours are available daily throughout the year with the exception of major holidays, Monday through Saturday. The building is an exceptional example of late 19th- century public architecture and is widely considered to be one of the most distinguished in the nation. Its grounds span 22 acres and feature historical buildings, 17 monuments, and magnificently landscaped lawns, along with the Capitol building itself. Opened in 1888, the pink-granite landmark stands 14 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. And, much of it, including the 218-foot rotunda, the chamber of the Hall of Representatives and the governor’s receiving room, still looks the same as it did when it first opened nearly 130 years ago.
The Point Isabel Lighthouse is located in one of the state’s oldest towns, Port Isabel. Constructed in 1852, this iconic landmark served mariners along the Lower Texas Coast throughout the Civil War and into the early 20th-century. The Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage on the grounds functions as the Visitor Center and Chamber of Commerce and is open to the public, as is the lighthouse itself. Visitors can climb the spiraling stairs to the top where they can enjoy a jaw-dropping view of South Padre Island, Port Isabel and the Lower Laguna Madre Bay. Afterwards, check out the Port Isabel Historical Museum. The building that hosts it is itself considered a piece of local lore, having housed a general store, U.S. Customs office, and a post office since being constructed in 1899. Exhibits showcase artifacts, videos, and one of the nation’s most extensive collections of relics from the U.S.-Mexican War.
There are a number of grand historic buildings that can be visited in Galveston, including Bishop’s Palace and Moody Mansion. Bishop’s Palace, completed in 1893, is also known as Bishop’s Palace, also known as Gresham’s Palace after its original owner, lawyer and railroad magnate Walter Gresham. The Gilded Age Victorian castle was named by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 100 most important buildings in America. It boasts a 40-foot octagonal mahogany stairwell, stained glass, Sienna marble columns, impressive fireplaces from around the world – including one lined with pure silver – and elaborate bronze dragon sculptures, and is open for both guided and self-guided tours as well as special private tours.
The 1895 Moody Mansion is considered the epitome of Victorian architecture in turn-of-the-century Galveston. The former home of the powerful Moody family, it managed to survive the 1900 hurricane and has since been magnificent restored. It’s open to the public for tours as well as lunch.
The USS Lexington, often referred to as “The Blue Ghost,” was the fifth U.S. Navy ship named in honor of the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Lexington. Originally intended to be named Cabot, when word arrived during construction that the USS Lexington (CV-2) had been lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea, she was renamed while under construction to commemorate the earlier ship. She saw extensive service in World War II before operating throughout the Atlantic, Mediterranean and the Pacific, but spending much of her time on the East coast as a training carrier. Today, the ship serves as a museum – climb the ladders and step through the hatch doors where you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped right into a history book. stepping right into a history book. Her history truly comes to life through and real-life stories of people that served our country.