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Museum Renovation Phase I
What else would one expect of a complex that tells the story of a man whose life followed that pattern on his path to becoming Texas' greatest hero?
On Saturday at 2 p.m. the Museum will dedicate a $250,000 renovation of its West Wing, an exhibit entitled "The Tallest Texan." It tells the Houston story from his arrival in Texas through the Revolution, San Jacinto, and his two terms as president of the Republic, ending with Texas' annexation to the United States. It also covers his marriage to Margaret Lea and their early family life.
Almost as soon as the punch and cookies are gone from that event, work is scheduled to begin on Phase II, the North Gallery. It will be called "Champion of the Union" and covers Houston's terms as a U.S. Senator, Governor of Texas, the fight to preserve the Union, the coming of Secession and Civil War, Houston's removal as governor, and his death. That work is expected to be completed by summer.
The Memorial Museum building was built in 1936, on the 100th anniversary of Texas independence from Mexico, on property that was once owned by Sam Houston. On the grounds are also his Woodland Home and his law office, on their original sites, as well as the house in which he died (Steamboat House), and the Walker Education Center.
On the "down" side of the Museum's life history are many years of making do, scraping by, and relying on history-minded citizens of Texas and Huntsville for moral and monetary support. In 1988 the Museum's meager appropriation was cut from the state budget.
The result of that action was organization of the East Texas Folk Festival, re-named in its third year as the General Sam Houston Folk Festival, and this year planning its 15th celebration of that event on April 19-21.
While the festival had not raised huge amounts of money for the museum, significant improvements have been made as a result of its donations. More importantly, however, it has served as a rallying point for those who sought to preserve the Museum and its ties to Texas and United States history.
Another boost came from the two-year celebration of Sam Houston's 200th birthday, on March 2, 1993. An outgrowth of that event was the March 2, 1995 dedication of the Katy and E. Don Walker Education Center, which has become the "front door" for the Museum complex.
Then in July, 2001, the Museum was notified that it was the recipient of a $250,000 Economic Development Initiative (EDI) grant contained within the appropriation bill funding the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The money was was guided through the legislative process by Congressman Jim Turner (Texas House District 2) who represents Huntsville and Walker County as part of his congressional district, and who is expected to be on hand at Saturday's event.
"Congressman Turner has always been very strong in his support both for the Museum and the larger story of Texas History and the central role played by Sam Houston," said Patrick Nolan, Museum director. "Without his work the current renovation would not have been possible."
While efforts are under way seeking funds for future work, nothing is certain. The completion of Phases III and IV are contingent on continued fund-raising.
"We have enough money in hand to complete Phases I & II but not the rest," said Nolan. The next two phases will be the South Gallery and the Rotunda, although the order has not been determined.
The South Gallery is called "Man of the American Frontier." It starts the Houston family story in Scotland, brings the Houstons to the New World, tells Sam's early life in Virginia,the migration to Tennessee, his early life with the Native American Cherokees and as a school teacher, and his aborted term as Governor of Tennessee, his unhappy marriage to Eliza Allen, and his departure from Tennessee to live again among the Cherokee.
The Rotunda serves as the grand entrance to the whole set of exhibits.
Saturday's program begins 2 p.m. with a reception in the Rotunda, hosted by the Friends of the Museum. After guests have a chance to gather and visit, Nolan will introduce James F. Gaertner, SHSU president, and Bill Griggs, president of Southwest Museum Services, which is planning and designing the exhibits in consultation with Museum staff.
After their remarks the official ribbon at the entrance to the West Wing will be cut with the sword Sam Houston carried at the Battle of San Jacinto.
The program will conclude with remarks by James L. Haley, author of a just-published Sam Houston biography. Haley will also be available for a book signing in the Rotunda following the ceremony.
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