Three Day Trips Into Texas’ Past

Texas—there are so many historic sites to choose from, but not all are equal. It is not that some sites are less interesting, but when a home school family plans out a day trip, there are some basic details to take into consideration—driving time, cost, learning value, and interaction level being the main ones. Below are three places in Texas where a home school family can spend a whole day having fun and not even notice that it is a school day.

Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site 
Washington-on-the-Brazos is the site at which fifty-nine delegates gathered on March 2, 1836, to declare Texas’s independence from Mexico. It is the birthplace of Texas, and the historic site includes the Star of the Republic Museum, Independence Hall and Barrington Living History Farm. (birthplaceoftexas.com)

The Star of the Republic Museum covers social, cultural, military, and political events in Texas history through the media of exhibits, audio-visual presentations, and educational programs. A twenty-minute video presentation and scavenger hunts are included in the admission fee. The fee also includes the Showers-Brown Discovery Center, which has self-guided, “hands-on, multi-sensory displays and activities” for all ages. You and your children can do household chores, play with old-fashioned toys, card cotton, build a log cabin, dress up in clothes from the era, or snuggle into the reading area. The museum also houses a research library that contains a vast quantity of information on Texas history of the 19th and 20th centuries.

A replica of Independence Hall marks the place where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed and the government of the Republic of Texas was created,” states the state historic site’s website. Walk down Ferry Street, where Davy Crocket walked, to the overlook at the Brazos and Navasota Rivers.

The Barrington Living History Farm is a farmstead reconstruction of the final home of the last president of the Republic of Texas, Anson Jones. Using Jones’s daybook as their guide, interpreters encourage visitors to “participate in the work of the farm. . . . Learn how to drive oxen, help plant and harvest crops, and try your hand at spinning or making soap,” says the website. Self-guided tours last approximately one hour. (Educator’s packet available at tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/barrington_farm/barrinedu.phtml)

We just visited Washington-on-the-Brazos. That is where Texans signed their declaration of independence from Mexico. It was so cool to see the room where it happened. We also saw the Brazos River and learned about the ferries they used to cross it. ~ Colette

Other Places to See and Things to Do Near Washington

Fanthorp Inn 
If there is a seasonal event scheduled, it is well worth the advance planning and the extra 30-minute drive to visit Fanthorp Inn in Anderson, a “wonderfully preserved example of a 19th century stagecoach inn.”

Seasonal highlights
Stagecoach Days are held in the spring and summer, Texian Daysin the fall, Twilight Fire after Thanksgiving, and an Easter Sunrise Service is held in the spring. (birthplaceoftexas.com/fanthorp)

San Antonio

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park 
This park tour consists of a nine-mile round trip that contains “the nation’s most concentrated and diverse collection of Spanish colonial missions and cultural resources,” according to the website, nps.gov/saan/planyourvisit.

Begin at Mission San Jose, which has been reconstructed to show the entire mission layout. Located next to this mission is a 12,000-square-foot visitor center containing exhibits and a showing of an award-winning film that gives a good introduction to what your family will see at all the missions. Each mission has its own exhibits.

Tours: The park offers ranger- and docent-guided activities at each of the four missions and special education programs and activities throughout the year.

We visited the historic Spanish missions in San Antonio (the five lesser known than the Alamo). The preservation of the structures and still-active parishes were inspiring and really brought early Texas history to life for our family. ~ Melanie

The mission itself was really interesting, with dioramas of the history and lifestyle of the missionaries and natives. Along with the mission there were walking trails to the San Antonio River—perfect for a beautiful Spring Break day! Wildflowers were blooming, birds were singing—a nice walk in a historic area. There is camping in the park. ~ Sandra

The Alamo began as Mission San Antonio de Valero, the oldest of San Antonio’s five Spanish missions. In March 1836 the Alamo was the site of a legendary battle in Texas’s struggle for independence from Mexico. Three buildings–the Shrine, Long Barrack Museum and Gift Museum–house exhibits on the Texas Revolution and Texas history. (thealamo.org)

We enjoyed seeing how many different countries fought as brothers and figuring out the ages of the men who died. ~ Sally

Built in the late 1800s as a settlement for Spanish soldiers, La Villita (lavillita.com) was San Antonio’s first neighborhood. In 1836 it was the site of General Santa Anna’s cannon line in the Battle of the Alamo. Today, it is a collection of about 30 shops, galleries, restaurants, and a chapel.

HemisFair Park 
Kids and adults alike will find San Antonio’s HemisFair Park overflowing with fun activities and exciting adventures. A Magik Theater for kids, a playground built like fortress, educational museums, and the center piece and one of San Antonio’s most famous attractions theTower of the Americas.

Also located in HemisFair Park, the Institute of Texan Cultures, now an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, has many interactive displays celebrating Texas’s cultural heritage. (texancultures.com)

The Back 40 is the museum’s outdoor living history area where instructors in authentic costumes demonstrate and describe the lives of 19th century Texans. It consists of a one-room schoolhouse, a log house, a barn, an army fort barracks, and an adobe house.

Located at 115 Main Plaza in San Antonio and founded in 1731 by a group of families from the Canary Islands, San Fernando Cathedral (sfcathedral.org) is the oldest standing church building and the oldest continuously functioning religious community in the state of Texas. It houses a large marble sarcophagus containing the remains of the defenders of the Alamo and a large amount of religious artwork.

Spanish Explorers used the Paseo Del Rio waterway, or River Walk(thesanantonioriverwalk.com), to supply water to their missions. The area was turned into a miniature Venice, Italy, after a major flood in 1921. It is now one of San Antonio’s main tourist attractions and shopping areas.

Other Places to See and Things to Do in San Antonio

Alamo: The Price of Freedom 
Movie at the IMAX Rivercenter. (imax-sa.com)

Edward Steve’s Homestead 
A Victorian-era house museum with servants’ quarters and a carriage house also on the property (saconservation.org)

Market Square (free)
The largest authentic Mexican market outside of Mexico (sanantonio.gov/dtops/marketsquare)

The Spanish Governor’s Palace 
The official residence/office of the captain of the Spanish presidio (spanishgovernorspalace.org)

Natural Bridge Caverns 
One of the world’s largest and most beautiful natural caverns (naturalbridgecaverns.com)

Fort Worth Stockyards Historic District

The Fort Worth Stockyards is an Old West stockyard that between 1866 and 1890 was a crucial center of buying, selling, butchering, and shipping livestock. Today it is a preserved tourist attraction that includes an old-time railroad station with authentic storefronts on the main street. (fortworthstockyards.org)

At the Stockyards Station (stockyardsstation.com), longhorn cattle are herded through the streets twice a day. Cowhands demonstrate “the tools, equipment, and techniques used during the cattle drive era of the late 1800s.”

The Stockyards Championship Rodeo (cowtowncoliseum.com) is an unforgettable experience! See riding, bareback riding, tie-down roping, team roping, barrel racing, and more at the rodeo!

The Cowtown Cattlepen Maze (cowtowncattlepenmaze.com) is a huge maze of trails is made of cattle pen structural materials. For even more fun, runners can time themselves and/or find certain checkpoints on the way (for a prize). Parents who do not act like children anymore can watch from the observation deck and videotape the fun.

This spot also gives one a view of the entire Stockyards area, including the Tarantula Train(see below).

Stockyards Museum (stockyardsmuseum.org), located in the 1903 Livestock Exchange Building at 131 East Exchange Avenue, Suite 113, this museum exhibits historical archives of what was known as “The Wall Street of the West.” It also houses original cattle carts.

Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame (texascowboyhalloffame.org) honors Texans who have excelled in the sports of rodeo and cutting. It also has a good collection of vintage wagons.

Texas Trail of Fame is a trail of stars embedded into the sidewalks of East Exchange Avenue to honor those who have contributed to the Western way of life.

For an additional boost to your trip to the Stockyards, ride the Grapevine 1986 Tarantula Train (www.grapevinetexasusa.com), a steam locomotive, to the Stockyards.

What a wonderful experience to share with your family—Texas with its many beauties and rich history! Enjoy!

Other Places to See and Things to Do Near Fort Worth

Fort Worth Museum of Science and History 
This wonderful museum complex (www.fwmuseum.org) now houses the Fort Worth MuseumCattle Raisers MuseumChildren’s Museum, and National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. It also presents a satellite exhibit of 150 years of Fort Worth, including an interactive bunkhouse model, a scale model of the original Fort Worth, a display on the prehistoric Clovis people, and a bucking bronco. Also in the building are the Omni Theaterand Noble Planetarium. If you would like to combine your museum visit with an IMAX movie and a visit to the planetarium, combo pricing is available. (fwmuseum.org/prices-times-and-hours)

The science museum stands out for the younger kids because the exhibits are more interactive, and we have a membership and go there all the time, so they just remember it best. It goes along more with what they’ve learned in American history. ~ Nicole

Seasonal highlight
The Noble Planetarium sponsors Star Parties one night a month at which staff set up their telescopes in a parking lot near the museum, March through October. It’s free! (www.fwmuseum.org/star-parties)

The Dealey Plaza National Historical Landmark District in Dallas includes the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza, the Texas School Book Depository, the site of the Sniper’s Nest in the assassination of JFK, and the Sixth Floor Museum, which chronicles Kennedy’s assassination and legacy. (www.jfk.org)

The book depository made an impression on my teen, because of all the pictures and info that is there, and the fact that he could stand on the grassy knoll and see what the depository used to look like. He is old enough to understand the events and history of it, but it was pretty boring for my younger kids. ~ Nicole

Sally Hanan – has written 3 posts on this site.
Sally Hanan is a native Irishwoman who left her homeland to settle in Texas thirteen years ago. Her two children have always been homeschooled, and she homeschools a neighbor’s two children also. Sally writes for various magazines and books, is a lay counselor/singer/youth event coordinator at her church, and owns a small business that manufactures educational phonic helps: www.eagermind.com.

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