The Sam Houston Memorial Museum grounds have been celebrating and preserving the history of Sam Houston and Huntsville for 107 years. There is not only much to see, but much to do.
Overall, the grounds house the duck pond and over 13 buildings which include the steamboat house, the Woodland home, Eliza’s kitchen and demonstration cabins. The museum has a collection of over 10,000 items in their curated collections.
Guided and self-tours are available to the public with special offers to schools, seniors, groups and clubs. There are also four free regularly-occurring demonstrations: blacksmithing, woodworking, kick wheel pottery (interactive) and weaving (interactive). They also have special events like “Life on the Farm” and guest speakers.
Exhibit Curator Casey Roon wants to debunk the misconception that history museums are boring or that they are all the same.
“We try to think of programming to bring people over to a history museum that may never think they would enjoy visiting a history museum,” Roon said. “We spend a lot of time around a table in a creative process trying to think of ways to touch people and get people here because once they’re here, they get it.”
To make the museum even more engaging and resourceful, there will be changes in January to the Woodland home after being static for more than 20 years.
The house’s interior will reflect the season. For example, during different times of the year, there may be different clothes, bedding, more or less rugs, etc. It will also reflect whether Houston was home or traveling for work. If he was gone, there would be Margaret and her children’s items on display.
Last May, the museum collaborated with the Sam Houston State University Mass Communications department, Priority One and SHSU students to write, illustrate and publish the “Sam Houston Chickens” book available in the museum shop. Now, they are partnering with the same illustrator and SHSU Art major Victoria Gillis to create a coloring book which should also become available in the museum store.
The updates don’t stop there according to Museum Director Mac Woodward.
“When Sam Houston was a young boy, his family owned a store in Tennessee,” Woodward said. “We’re going to make [one of our cabins] into a store and it will be another activity for people to participate in and see what a general store from that time would look like.”
The museum not only honors history, but traditions. For example, Houston wore a ring with “honor” inscribed—a word he lived by. Thus, all SHSU class rings are inscribed with “honor,” and the rings spend the night in Houston’s home the night before the ring ceremony in hopes that students will feel that connection.
Being involved with the university is a significant goal because establishing these grounds was done through a joint effort of the college (Sam Houston Normal at the time) and the community.
“Historically, we’ve continued to be a part of the university and the community,” Woodward said. “In many ways, we’re a link. I think traditionally, historically and wisely, we’ve made that connection between university and community.”
According to Curator of Education Derrick Birdsall, history unites us beyond university and community, but as a people. The long-standing unification is why the museum aims to be broad and thoughtful enough to appeal to and include a diverse variety of people. The history goes beyond Sam Houston’s bloodline. There are many people and factors to include when discussing the history of Sam Houston and Huntsville.
“Diversity is the foundation of everything we do, including our buildings and programming,” Roon said. “It also says something about Sam Houston. He had those relationships with diverse groups of people. Economically, culturally [and] racially he was connected to a diverse group and they all have a connection to this site.”
Woodward believes it’s necessary to use the Sam Houston Memorial Museum as a way to honor history, open discussions and serve the community because it is for the people.
“I used to give tours and when we’d take people in the historic homes I’d ask ‘Who owns this house?’” Woodward said. “It belongs to the people of Texas. It exists for them.”