If you have ever driven to Huntsville from Houston or its surrounding areas, then you’ve most certainly seen the enormous white statue of Sam Houston just south of Huntsville on I-45.
Most SHSU students know general facts about the statue, but they may not know the time, effort and money put into creating Sam Houston’s memorial – which was dedicated 13 years ago next Monday.
For instance, most students probably do not know about the artist’s unorthodox approach to building the statue; most surely don’t know about the woman who awoke to a most unsettling vision of Sam. They also don’t know what’s at the heart of the statue. Well, read on.
In 1991 Huntsville Mayor Bill Hodges, the Chamber of Commerce and citizens of Huntsville wanted to commemorate the then upcoming 200th anniversary of Sam Houston’s birthday.
There was already talk of building a statue, but City Manager Gene Pipes did not want to spend any tax money or have it take away from other projects in the city. Martin Anisman, then SHSU president, supported the building of the statue, but “did not want it to divert any scholarship money or plans happening for the bicentennial celebration,” Pipes recalled.
After the Chamber of Commerce got word out to the city and university, people from all economic sectors began to donate. The Chamber raised $67,000 in three months, but Pipes said not to stop there. Over $300,000 was donated to the project by the time it was finished.
The statue was built primarily by artist David Adickes, a life-long Huntsville native who has created several statues in the greater Houston area.
“It was really a work of engineering without any blueprints,” Adickes said.
Adickes worked from a 6″6′ statue of Sam Houston he’d made; it was the only thing he used to base the 67-foot statue constructed of concrete and steel, with a 10-foot granite base.
He used the same Sears one-yard concrete mixer for the whole project, cleaning it daily. When the statue was almost finished and all that remained was the head, a crane dropped – what else? – the concrete mixer inside the statue right where Sam Houston’s heart would be.
The goal was to have it completed by March 2, 1993 , the 200th anniversary of Sam Houston’s birthday. But it was not completed until over a year and a half later, on Oct. 22, 1994, when many notables attended the dedication ceremony. It was a fitting occasion for Houston, who led Texas to victory at the Battle of San Jacinto, was the only person to govern two states, and called Huntsville home.
Many local people believe the statue has made quite an impact on Huntsville .
Pipes said the statue was “the image needed to change Huntsville from prison town to the historic home of Sam Houston.” He calls the statue “a testament to the continuing popularity of an iconand a practical lure to spend some time and a little money in Huntsville.”
Pipes, now the curator of education for the Sam Houston Memorial Museum in Huntsville, tells a story about the statue’s effect on one woman:
When Pipes attended a wedding in Colorado, a conversation with a stranger quickly turned to her unusual experience with the statue. She told him that once, on a trip from Dallas to Houston, she had fallen asleep while riding with her husband. When she awoke, she said, she remembered seeing a huge white head of Sam Houston. It startled her, and Pipes quoted her as saying, “I never told anyone about the big white head of Sam Houston because I was afraid people would think I’m crazy!”
A visitor center and gift shop was added to the site of the statue shortly after its completion. To date, more than a half-million people from 108 nations have signed the guestbook.
Those visitors not only learned about a genuine Texas hero, Pipes said, but have left an important and lasting impact by their visit.
“The image of [Sam Houston State University] has been greatly enhanced by the statue,” he said. “People coming along I-45 have learned about one of the best-kept secrets – that the university is one of the great bargains of higher education.”