Short Drive to Memory Lane: Washington-on-the-Brazos

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Take a step back in time and into the world of 19th-century Texans at the very place Texas was born.

By Jamie O’Toole

Take a step back in time and into the world of 19th-century Texans at the very place Texas was born. At Washington-on-the-Brazos, visitors can spend a day enjoying the beautiful East Texas scenery while experiencing the history of the Republic of Texas. Halfway between Navasota and Brenham, the state park is a quick 35-minute drive from College Station and well worth the trip.

The state park houses Independence Hall, the Star of the Republic Museum, and Barrington Living History Farm, as well as an extensive Visitor’s Center and gift shop. The park is home to nearly three miles of walking and biking trails, which are free and open to the public, and include a picnic area and playground. Admission into the park is free and the grounds are open every day from 8 a.m. until sundown.

Also considered a part of the state park, though not onsite, are Fanthorp Inn State Historic Site and the Six Flags Over Texas Monument. Fanthorp Inn is located just 17 miles northwest of the park, on the opposite side of Navasota, and the Monument can be visited in the August Horst Municipal Park in Navasota.

Independence Hall: Independence Hall rests on the exact location, and is a replica of the building, where the Declaration of Independence of Texas from Mexico was signed in 1836. Guests can visit the building for free or pay to receive a 45-minute guided tour of the site with a story of the document signing and a brief history of the city of Washington. The Hall sits on the corner of Ferry Street, once a prominent roadway through the booming town of Washington. It housed everything from the local blacksmith’s and carpenter’s shops to the resident law firm and doctor’s office and ended at its namesake, Andrew Robinson’s Ferry on the Brazos River. The buildings are no longer there today, but guests can still walk the same path that Davy Crockett is said to have traversed and enjoy a scenic view of the river at the road’s end.

Barrington Living History Farm: Ever wonder what life was like out on the farm? At the Barrington Living History Farm, visitors have the opportunity to see and experience daily life working and living off of the land in the 19th century.

The main farmhouse at Barrington is the original home of Anson Jones, the last president of the Republic of Texas. Built in 1844, the house was relocated to the park grounds in 1936 and the surrounding outbuildings were constructed using the diaries of Jones to represent the farm he, his family, and his slaves inhabited. But these buildings are not just for show. Guests are encouraged to join in with the daily chores, whether it be working the garden, planting crops, making lunch, or hanging laundry out to dry. The farm is also home to a local heritage breed of cattle and several chickens and hogs, which are bred and used for sustenance as they would have been 150 years ago. Active 364 days of the year, the farm can be visited daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and, just like days on the farm, every visit is a unique experience.

Star of the Republic Museum: Administered by Blinn College, the Star of the Republic Museum is the perfect place for visitors to learn about the history and culture that shaped the Republic of Texas and its people. The first floor of the two-story museum walks guests through a timeline of Texas starting with the Native Americans that first inhabited the land and leads to the formation of Texas as a nation. A hands-on room provides the opportunity for children (and adults) to continue learning through fun activities encouraging creativity and putting knowledge to the test.

The museum doesn’t stop at the first floor. Because a timeline of events cannot fully capture the vast history of Texas’ origins, the people are the focus of the second floor, which displays unique artifacts from domestic life that work to unravel the 19th-century culture of Texas. The exhibit covers every facet of daily life and offers visitors a chance to understand the lifestyles of their ancestors, from hobbies such as quilting and weaving to the health practices and medicine of the age.

Fanthorp Inn State Historic Site: Originally home to English immigrant Henry Fanthorp and his wife in 1834, Fanthorp Inn evolved into an 18-room, well-known country inn and accommodated notable guests such as Zachary Taylor and Sam Houston. The Inn, which served as both a lodging place and tavern, offers a unique chance for guests to see another side of the 19th-century culture in Texas.

After archaeological research and historical investigation, the Inn has been restored to its 1850s glory days and is open for guided tours every weekend, as well as school and group tours and programs during the week, and special events.

Whether it is to walk the trails, visit the one or more of the historical sites, or join in as history comes to life, a trip to Washington-On-The-Brazos is the perfect day away. From young or old, nature-lover to history buff, the park has something to offer everyone, and there is no better place to experience Texas than where it first began.

Washington-on-the-Brazos Upcoming Events

H-E-B Presents the 12th Annual Fireworks on the Brazos
What better way to celebrate Independence Day than where Texas gained its independence? Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic site offers a full day of family fun from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on July 4, with free sodas, Blue Bell Ice Cream, and a live concert in the park’s amphitheater. Food and craft vendors will be onsite with a variety of unique items for sale throughout the day. No celebration would be complete without a patriotic fireworks extravaganza, beginning at 9:30 p.m.

Stagecoach Days
On the second Saturday of each month from February through July, and September, guests can experience Fanthorp Inn in action. Cowboys, poets, and musicians entertain while visitors tour the Inn, but the main attraction is the bright red stagecoach. Stagecoach rides are offered on the 1850s replica from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., and are a genuine taste of what it was like to travel in the 19th century.

Using Your Common Senses
June 14 and 15, Barrington Living History Farm is dedicating a weekend to the arts. Visitors will be encouraged to use all five senses and their creativity, expressing their impressions of the farm through 19th-century media such as drawing, painting, poetry, and music. Participation in the event is free with general admission to the farm.

Weather Wisdom Exhibit
The Star of the Republic Museum’s newest exhibit, Weather Wisdom: Forecasting in the 19th Century, is a comprehensive exhibit that details the important transition in the 1800s from weather folk lore to the more systematic collection of weather data. The Weather Wisdom exhibit includes a wide variety of weather instruments used in the 19th century and will run until February 15, 2015. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic site is located off State Hwy. 105 on FM 1155, halfway between Brenham and Navasota. For more information, visit www.birthplaceoftexas.com, or call (936) 878-2214 ext. 221.