Our summer road trip takes us to the San Jacinto Museum of History,  a longtime institutional member of the Manuscript Society is located in La Porte, Texas. Our host is Lisa Struthers, director of its Albert and Ethel Herzstein Library. Al Ottens, the Manuscript Society’s president, recently contacted her to find what makes the museum a must-see.

What items—documents, manuscripts, rare books, and so on—does the museum possess that would be of special interest to your fellow members?

The collections of the San Jacinto Museum of History encompass a broad range of items centering on Texas history, beginning with the Spanish conquest of Mexico, through the Battle of San Jacinto, up to World War II. Manuscript collections, books, maps, and photographs make up most of the library’s collec­tions. The museum also holds artifacts including toys, tools, paintings, costumes, household goods, and weapons.

What is the focus of the collections?

In its November 1938 charter, the San Jacinto Museum of History Association outlined a mission to collect, preserve, and promote materials related to the early history and culture of Texas, with special emphasis on the Texas Revolution and the Battle of San Jacinto. The museum has acquired more than 17,000 objects, 26,000 volumes, and 120 linear feet of manuscript materials from Texas and New Spain, the United States, and Mexico. The collections include manuscripts from the 16th through 20th centuries

What current or upcoming exhibitions are planned?

The main gallery offers a timeline of regional history, from pre-Columbian pots through mid-19th-century tools and weapons to a model of a World War II cruiser. In the special exhibit gallery, “A Destined Conflict: The U.S.–Mexican War” runs through early August 2018. This exhibition shows contemporary artifacts such as newspapers, prints, documents, and artifacts that provide insight into how those in charge—in the field and in the press back home—viewed the conflict. The scrapbook and watercolors of soldier-artist Samuel Chamberlain are featured in this exhibit. Also on through the summer is a display of hats, “Flip the Lid,” as well as a look at why history matters.

What noteworthy items are currently on display?

Interesting items from the museum’s Albert and Ethel Herzstein Library now on exhibit include:

  • A land grant written in both the native Aztecan language of Nahuatl and Spanish. Issued by Viceroy Luís de Velasco in 1562 with a hand-colored map, it grants the natives of San Antonio de Ulsqúiluca a tract of land.
  • A December 25, 1845, letter from President James K. Polk to Vice President George M. Dallas, about the resolution to admit Texas into the Union.
  • A letter from Ashbel Smith, physician and diplomat, to Sam Houston, describing the Battle of Shiloh. Smith, who had organized the Bayland Guards, also known as Company C of the Second Texas Infantry, was wounded in the battle.
  • Pressler’s Map of the State of Texas, 1858. It is considered one of the most magnificent and accurate large-scale Texas maps of the 19th century.

What educational programs or school outreach do you sponsor?

The museum’s big annual event is the San Jacinto Day Festival and Battle Reenactment, which takes place on a Saturday close to April 21. The museum developed a free curriculum guide for teaching fourth- and seventh-graders about Texas history. The guide is available online. It contains a collection of images and documents, and includes activities for school groups. Grants from foundations and corporate neighbors help the museum sponsor free admission for school groups from disadvantaged communities. The museum also provides in-service classes for teachers and assists with summer camps run by Texas Parks & Wildlife.

Do you have publications for sale that might interest Manuscript Society members?

The museum store has a wide range of publications related to Texas history. (Note: Items are for sale on site only.)

What nearby venues would be of interest to members?

Within the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site is the battleship Texas, the last surviving dreadnaught that fought in World War I and World War II. Close by are Space Center Houston, the Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park, the Woodson Research Center at Rice University, and the Houston Metropolitan Research Center. The 19 museums of the Houston Museum District are about 20 miles away. For genealogists, the Clayton Genealogical Library is a must.

Whom should members contact if they want to view the collection, a special item, do some research, or just say “howdy?”

Contact Lisa Struthers at lstruthers@sanjacinto-museum.org or phone 281-479-2421. The library is open by appointment. Admission is free for museum members and $5 for nonmembers. To learn more about the San Jacinto Museum of History, visit https://www.sanjacinto-museum.org.

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