Western Trips

Friday, December 26, 2014

Historic Texas Home Tour / Waco

If you future travels take you to Waco Texas, make sure to view and explore some the city's historic residences. Thanks to the Historic Waco Foundation, there are several historic houses that have been restored and maintained that can be toured by the public. All of these houses of course have a different story behind them. Touring these historic properties will give you a good feel for late 1800's and early 1900's Waco. The houses offer tours, exhibits, lectures, workshops, and other educational and recreational programs.

waco texas baylor university
Waco, Texas is located about halfway between Dallas and Austin along Interstate 35 and along the shores of the Brazos River.The first inhabitants at a settlement at present day Waco were Native Americans. The first Anglo settler in the area was Neil McLennan in 1838. The first block of Waco was designed by surveyor George B. Erath in 1849.

Today, Waco, Texas is home to Baylor University. Waco was also the city where the popular soft drink ,Dr. Pepper, was invented and today is the home of the Dr. Pepper Museum. Also make a stop at the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum which has it's home in Waco.

Waco, Texas is the county seat of McLennan County.

Earle-Napier-Kinnard House

The Earle-Napier-Kinnard House is of Greek Revival architecture and is located at 814 South 4th. The first structure on the property was a one story home built by John Bayliss Earle in 1858. The home was made into a larger house in 1869 by Dr. John Napier Smith Sr. who had the wherewithal to expand the then modest house. It was after Napier's addition and renovation that the house took on it's true Greek Revival styling.

historic homes waco texas
Earle-Napier-Kinnard House
Dr. Napier's daughter, Sarah, married Reverend David C. Kinnard, Jr. The two moved into the home and subsequently inherited it.  Sarah and her husband continued to live in the house with three of their children as long as they lived.  The last two residents in the house were Miss Mary Kinnard and Miss Kate Kinnard.

In addition to the beautiful house there is a Victorian Teeling Playhouse that as built in 1881. Children can enjoy the playhouse today.

Many of the pieces in the house are original. The home looks especially beautiful during the Christmas season with each room having it's own decorations.  This historic Texas home is open year round with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas.You can tour the home during it's regular hours (Sat and Sun 2p-5p) and private tours for groups are available by appointment. For more information call (254) 753-5166.

victorian homes texas
Fort House
Fort House 

Fort House is located at 503 South 4th. Built in 1868 in Greek Revival style by William Aldridge Fort who came to Waco from Alabama. The Fort House has authentic Victorian furniture and artifacts from early Waco. The house was purchased in 1956 by the Junior League of Waco.

Along with many family heirlooms are fine examples of early Texas artists. Guided tours are available and they last perhaps 30 minutes. Most of the rooms in the house are full of items from the Fort family's era, some from the family itself. The rooms are set up like they might have been in the past. When you view the kitchen you'll get a good idea of how different cooking was in the 1800's.

waco historic preservation
Hoffman House

The Hoffman House is located at 810 South 4th. 

This house was built in the late 1890's in the Queen Anne style Victorian and today is the home of the Historic Waco Foundation offices. You'll enjoy the tours and there's a gift shop. This home again features articles from the era of the late 1800's and early 1900's.

Western Trips has published several interesting articles on historic houses of Texas. See these articles from the links below... 

Historic Homes of San Marcos 

A Walking Tour of Gonzales Texas Historic Homes

Homes in the 1800's / McKinney Texas 

mcculloch house waco texas
McCulloch House
The McCulloch House 

The McCulloch House Museum is located at 407 Columbus Avenue. The home is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the late 1800's the McCulloch House was the social place to be in Waco. This Greek Revival style home was built in the 1860-70's by the McCulloch's who made their home the center of socializing.

On display in the house are some of the family heirlooms and art collection.  The original house was a two-room structure. The McCulloch House was enlarged to its present two-story Greek Revival architecture made of local pink brick.

Trained docents offer tours of the McCulloch House and Museum which give visitors a real appreciation of the Victorian era.

As mentioned above there are several excellent Waco Texas attractions and visiting and touring the historic homes of the city is one of them.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Historic Sites / Dallas Texas, November 1963

What occurred in Dallas' Dealey Plaza in November 1963 was beyond a doubt the city's darkest hour. Today, Dealey Plaza attracts visitors from throughout the world who for whatever reason, and there are likely a lot of reasons, just want to see for themselves the place where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. So much has been reported over the years regarding the physical landscape of Dealey Plaza that actually visiting the site yourself can be quite an experience.

dealey plaza dallas
Old School Book Depository Bldg, opposite Dealey Pl.
Dealey Plaza

In Dealy Plaza itself the number one attraction has always been the old Texas School Book Depository Building.

 It was they said, where the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal bullets from the building's sixth floor southeast window.  That window on the photo to the left is on the far right side, the second story from the top.

At the time of the JFK assassination, the building of course was not open to the public. It was in essence a warehouse where Texas school books were stored. Later, in this same infamous building, the city would create the unique Sixth Floor Museum and Dealey Plaza itself would become the Dealey Plaza National Historic District.

Dealey Plaza came into being during the 1930's when land donated by early Dallas philanthropist and businesswoman Sarah Horton Cockrell was earmarked for a city park. The project was completed as a WPA project in 1940. At that time the land was on the western edge of Downtown Dallas. The park takes it's name in honor of George Bannerman Dealey, a civic leader and early publisher of the Dallas Morning News.

The Sixth Floor Museum

The Sixth Floor Museum is located at 411 Elm Street. For information about operating hours, special events / exhibits visit website...www.jfk.org

According to the Sixth Floor Museum website, the museum "chronicles the assassination and legacy of President John F. Kennedy; interprets the Dealey Plaza National Historic Landmark District and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza; and presents contemporary culture within the context of presidential history". Permanent exhibits at the museum include photos, artifacts and films about the life of President John F. Kennedy. There are also temporary exhibits on the building's seventh floor and the museum features monthly programs and special events.

texas theater dallas texas
The Texas Theater
The Texas Theater

The Texas Theater where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested by Dallas Police is today still a working movie theater. The Texas Theater located at 231 West Jefferson Blvd, southeast of the downtown district opened it's doors in 1931. When the theater was constructed the owners spared no expense. The theater was built entirely of concrete and called itself "fireproof". It was also the first theater in that area showing "talking pictures" or "talkies" as they were often referred to.

On November 23rd, 1963 the Texas Theater of course would take on another entirely different image when Lee Harvey Oswald entered the theater without buying a ticket.

Lee Harvey Oswald's Rooming House

Not far at all from the Texas Theater in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas was the rooming house where Oswald resided. The address of the old rooming house is 1026 N. Beckley Avenue.

oswald rooming house dallas
Old Oswald rooming house in Oak Cliff
The house is still there today and has been occupied by Pat Hall who has lived there for over seventy years. Hall’s grandmother, Gladys Johnson, purchased the Oak Cliff property in 1943 and for many years ran a rooming house there. Her tenants included Oswald, who arrived on Oct. 14, 1963, taking a room for $8 a week Hall moved into the house in 2001 to care for her mother.

Today, the old Lee Harvey Oswald rooming house offers tours. If you've never been to the Oswald Rooming House, then you're really missing a unique experience. Take yourself back to 1963 and see what the rooming house looked like then.. For more information about the Oswald rooming house tour see website...http://www.oswaldroominghousetours.com/

JFK Conspiracy Theories

What might attract so many people still today from around the world to these sites connected with the JFK assassination likely are the many conspiracy theories  that started almost immediately after the tragic event. The Warren Report and subsequent congressional hearings never really answered the questions, for some, of who exactly was involved and the whys. The topic is debated today just as it was decades ago. It is these unanswered questions that bring people to these sites out of sheer curiosity. 

Still today, you can walk or drive through Dealey Plaza and see visitors pointing and taking photos. It's as if they are trying to piece together the facts they have heard with the physical landscape. They try to convince themselves of what the Warren Report said occurred. Could there have been assassins behind the wood fence on the grassy knoll? Your view of that area will probably convince you that there could have been. 

Even though the historic sites described above are connected to one of America's and Dallas' darkest days, they still are part of a story that remains, to more than a few, an unsolved crime. Because these sites still exist, the curious historian in many of us have the opportunity as they say to visit the scene of the crime and perhaps come to your own conclusion.

If your travels take you to Dallas Texas I would recommend a stop at the Sixth Floor Museum as well as the other sites highlighted above. 

See additional Western Trips articles from the links below... 

Visit the Old Red Museum in Dallas, TX 

Places to Visit in Downtown Dallas 

The Interurban Railway Museum

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Visit the Sabine Pass Battlefield / Texas

We have a Texas attraction and an historical site that you'll find interesting.

A site in far southeastern Jefferson County Texas was the location of a significant Civil War battle that proved, for the time, to be a resounding victory for the Confederacy against lopsided odds. It's one of the unique historical Texas attractions found throughout the Lone Star State.

sabine pass battleground
Battleground Pavilion
Visit the Sabine Pass Battlefield State Historic Site

If your Texas vacation plans take you to far southeast Texas along the Gulf coast, make a note to visit the Sabine Pass Battlefield State Historic Site. This is at an area where the Sabine River enters the Gulf of Mexico. Today, the site is operated by the Texas Historical Commission and features a statue that honors the service of the Confederate commander of this battle.

The Sabine Pass Battlefield Historic Site is about a ninety minute drive east of Houston, TX and about a twenty minute drive south of the city of Port Arthur, Texas.

While in this area of Texas you may also want to visit nearby Sea Rim State Park. Sea Rim State Park has 5.2 miles of Gulf shoreline and 4,000 acres of marshlands. Plenty of fun things to do at this park that doesn't break the pocketbook plus camping sites are offered. Activities include birding and beach combing, paddling  in a canoe or kayak, swimming and fishing. Also a nature trail along a boardwalk through the marsh land. The park is located 20 miles south of Port Arthur on State Highway 87. The park is 10 miles west of Sabine Pass.

sabine pass mouth
Gulf of Mexico beach near Sabine Pass
Why Sabine Pass Was Important

The battle described below was the Second Battle of Sabine Pass.

Earlier, in 1862, the Union Navy was able to penetrate troops and three vessels about twelve miles up the Sabine River and destroy several Confederate positions including Fort Sabine. When they were eventually faced with a much superior Confederate force they had to back down the river and escape into the gulf.

In 1863 the Union forces still wanted to find a way to invade Texas from within. The Sabine River again presented that opportunity since the river ran north from the Gulf making it the border between Texas and Louisiana. Texas on the west and Louisiana on the east. Land enough Union troops on the west bank of the Sabine River, the Union planned, and they would begin their offensive marching west toward San Antonio and Austin.

The Confederates Face Off Against the Union Navy

The battle of Sabine Pass would take place on September 8, 1863. One of the significant facts about the Battle of Sabine Pass was the difference in troop strength between the two sides. The Union assault on Texas involved Navy vessels.and Army troops. The Army had four infantry brigades, six artillery batteries, one squadron of the Texas Union Cavalry. The U.S.Navy came to the battle with four gunboats and twenty-seven transports.

civil war gunboat
Image of a Civil War era Iron Clad Gunboat
The Confederate side consisted of forty-seven men of Company F, Texas Heavy Artillery, known as the Davis Guards in honor of President Jefferson Davis.

This looked to be a lopsided battle such as that at the Alamo decades earlier, but with a far different outcome. The Battle of Sabine Pass stands out today as being probably the most interesting Civil War battle on Texas soil.

The battle plans for the Union, which were altered several times, was to essentially go up the river and disembark the Army infantry and artillery batteries after securing the area with their gunboats. The Confederate troops, led by Lieutenant Richard William Dowling, a Houston businessman, occupied Fort Griffin along the Texas side of the Sabine River a short way upstream from the Gulf of Mexico. They would fire on Union vessels making their way up river from the pass.

Gunfire was exchanged between the Confederates at Fort Griffin and the Union gunboats. Two Union boats were to attract fire from the fort while another two were to rain cannon fire on the fort position. The Davis Guards did not waste shots but chose to pick their targets. One such target was the gunboat Sachem which was exchanging fire with Fort Griffin.

davis guards texas
Image of Lt. Richard Dowling
The Famous Shot

Stories about the Battle of Sabine Pass tell of a famous shot taken by Confederate Private Michael McKernan. McKernan was credited with putting a round from a 24 pound cannon round through the midships of the Sachem that ruptured the boiler. Many of the crew panicked and abandoned the vessel to escape the boiling steam. They would eventually be captured by Confederate troops.

The vessel Arizona accompanying the Sachem then began to retreat which gave the Davis Guards time to put the Union gunboat Clifton in their sights. Confederate fire from Fort Griffin ripped away the Clifton's wheel rope followed by a cannon shot that blew up it's boiler. This essentially marked the end of the Union assault with remaining vessels retreating back to the Gulf of Mexico. 


The end result of this ill fated Union assault saw about 75 Union casualties and about 300 Union soldiers taken as prisoners. The Union Navy lost two gunboats. As for the Confederates, no troops were lost but several had burns from their guns and gun powder.

Winning this battle for the Confederacy meant that Sabine Pass would remain open and would continue to be used as a port for their blockade running ships.

Medals were later given to Lieutenant Richard William Dowling and his Davis Guards soldiers. A commendation was also given directly from President Jefferson Davis.

You may also enjoy visiting sites on the Western Trips articles on the links below... 

Dripping Springs Texas and a Frontier Settlement

A Walking Tour of Historic Gonzales Texas

The Texas Rangers Museum and Their Historic Firearms

Drive the 13 Mile Route 66 in Kansas

sabine pass texas

Learn About Texas Civil War History

For those interested in Texas Civil War History, a stop at the Sabine Pass Battlefield Historic Site is well worth your time and a unique Texas attraction. The map left shows the area in Texas of Jefferson County.

Your self-guided tours of the Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site includes memorial features such as the statue of Lt. Richard “Dick” Dowling of the Davis Guards and a memorial to the Union casualties of the battle. You'll also see an interpretive pavilion and a scaled model of the Confederate Fort Griffin.

An excellent book and a reference for this article is...Battlefields of Texas by author Bill Groneman. Another excellent book on this subject is...Sabine Pass: The Confederacy's Thermopylae by Edward T. Cotham Jr. For those looking for detailed information about the Union vessel Sachem, see website...http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/s2/sachem-ii.htm

(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos in the public domain)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Visit San Angelo / A West Texas Adventure

Like many towns in the west, the first pioneers built settlements opposite  military forts. Dodge City, Kansas... Kearney, Nebraska and Laramie, Wyoming just to name three. At the time, military rules forbid settlements forming directly within an army fort so the next best thing was to settle adjacent or fairly close to a fort. Some type of protection against Indian raids was preferable.

fort concho events
Fort Concho reenactors
In the case of San Angelo, Texas the fort was Fort Concho which served as the headquarters for the 4th and 10th Cavalry and 16th Infantry, the buffalo soldiers. The settlement was first named San Angela, in honor of Carolina Angela de la Garza DeWitt, the deceased wife of the towns founder, Bart J. DeWitt, a merchant and businessman. Later the name was changed to San Angelo and the town grew.

Today, San Angelo is the largest city in Texas that does not have an Interstate highway running through it.

San Angelo, Texas is located about 112 miles southeast of Midland, about 200 miles northwest of Austin and about 225 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

Historic Fort Concho

Fort Concho is quite historic and was a major west Texas military outpost during the days of Comanche raids. Fort Concho was established to replace Fort Chadbourne which didn't have an adequate supply of water. This new site was chosen in November 1867 at the point where the Main and North Concho rivers meet. The first name chosen for the new fort was Camp Hatch after the commander of the regiment, Major John Porter Hatch. The name was later changed to Camp Kelly for the recently deceased Major Michael J. Kelly. Finally in March 1868 the military outpost was named  Fort Concho. The fort was obviously named after the Middle and North Concho rivers which meet at San Angelo and form the Concho River.

fort concho buildings
Fort Concho old hospital building
Among other activities in and around the fort, the soldiers helped build roads in west Texas, scouted and mapped the region and skirmished with small parties of Indians. Fort Concho also played a significant role during several Indian conflicts including the 1872 campaign led by Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, the 1874 Red River War and the campaign against the Apache leader Victorio during 1879-80.

The City Takes Over the Abandoned Fort 

The army abandoned Fort Concho on June 20, 1889. This was during a period that many of the old frontier army forts were being closed throughout the west. Most of its buildings escaped demolition by being converted into civilian housing and commercial storage space.

Today, Fort Concho is owned and operated by the city of San Angelo and is a must stop during your trip to west Texas. The City took over the old fort in 1935 and started renovating the structures. The fort is kept up very well with nearly all of the original stone buildings still standing. If you like history and particularly old west history, then you'll thoroughly enjoy touring the old fort grounds.

The central parade ground is about 100 feet wide and nearly a quarter of a mile long. Original stone buildings line it's sides and the back. Seventeen of these buildings have been restored and five were reconstructed. Many of these buildings are open to the public and display a good collection of artifacts from the Indian War period. Fort Concho has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.

concho avenue san angelo texas
San Angelo's Concho Avenue
Downtown San Angelo

Downtown events in San Angelo revolve around historic events. The highest structure in the downtown area is the old Cactus Hotel which has the distinction of being the fourth hotel built by Conrad Hilton. The hotel, with its 14 stories, lavish decorations and elegant crystal ballroom, has been revitalized as the city's cultural center. The lobby has shops, art galleries and a cafe. There are no longer overnight accommodations offered in the building.

The first street in old San Angela was named Concho Avenue. Today, Concho Avenue features many shops and an antique mall offering country collectibles and memorabilia. Merchants offer a variety of art, gifts, clothing, furniture and more. The buildings and stores reflect the colorful history of San Angelo. Around every downtown corner, you'll find interesting treasures along with several historical buildings.

old historic hilton hotels
The old Cactus Hotel built by Conrad Hilton
Christmas at Fort Concho

One of the larger annual events in San Angelo is Christmas at Fort Concho. The event spans three days in early December. Included is shopping, living history and outside entertainment and a special area for children.

Included are reenactors in period clothes and military uniforms, shooting of cannons, an excellent telephone museum with an incredibly large collection of antique and experimental telephone gear over 100 years old, exhibits within the old fort hospital building and vendors spread all around the parade grounds. It's an event not to be missed if you're anywhere around San Angelo in early December.

See additional Western Trips articles on the links below...

The Red River Valley Museum

Visit Palo Duro Canyon Texas 

texas murals
Mural in downtown San Angelo, Texas
The Murals in San Angelo

San Angelo's artists have created beautiful and creative historic murals which adorn the downtown area. Historic Murals of San Angelo, Inc. is an exclusively charitable and educational organization.which makes the creation of these murals possible with donations. "The History of Transportation in San Angelo" became the first mural sponsored by Historic Murals of San Angelo, Inc.

The murals tell the story of the history of San Angelo from the old west frontier days including Fort Concho and it's commanders to the twentieth century with murals depicting activities at San Angelo's Goodfellow Air Force Base. When you visit downtown San Angelo, Texas you can't miss seeing these unique murals. 

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)