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New Museum Exhibit Dedication is March 2

Santa Anna's saddle is still expected to be one of the most popular stops on the new Sam Houston Memorial Museum journey into Texas history.
On March 2, the Sam Houston State University will celebrate the culmination of a project that took six years and more than $1.2 million to complete.

The grand reopening of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum will be just part of a larger community celebration, coinciding with Sam Houston's birthday, and including many of his descendants, and SHSU faculty, staff and students.

"The rotunda was constructed in 1936 and the wings were added in the 1950's so the exhibits that were in this building were, to a certain extent, the exhibits that had been put in there 50 years ago. The cases and displays were state of the art… for the 1950's," said museum director Patrick Nolan.

He explained that doors on the display cases sometimes stuck, the lighting was bad, and the roof leaked in the center wing, which is now referred to as "The Republic."

A new concept was designed for each of the three wings.

"What I really felt we needed to do was tell the story of Sam Houston in a fairly consecutive way. Start with his ancestry and why they were living on the frontier and go through the whole story so that when you finished touring the museum, you had a good understanding of Sam Houston's life and time. Then when you go out and see the Woodland Home and the Steamboat House, you knew what you were talking about," said Nolan.

Sam Houston's last act of statesmanship was his refusal to swear allegiance to the Confederacy.

The museum worked with Southwest Museum Services, to come up with a plan for each new area, display strategy and script, which the visitors would be reading as they walked through the museum.

"This was a very collaborative process between the designers and the curators. We know the story and we know the history and what we have in the way of images and artifacts; they have a professional ability to display it in such a way that people can understand what they're looking at. It looks good, it looks dramatic, and they were able to make the cases in their shop."

Each of the new wings cover different periods of Texas history, as experienced and influenced by Sam Houston. They are architecturally different, so that visitors can feel each change in the outlook, politics and even the fashions of the times.

The "Frontier Period," like a log cabin, has a rustic and rough feel. The information in that wing is all about Sam Houston's early life.

"From there, you go to the period of Texas as an independent country, where it's not really frontier anymore, but at the same time, it's kind of stripped down a little because there wasn't a lot of money in Texas," said Nolan.

In the "Republic Period," Texas was beginning to emulate the Roman architecture that was fashionable in Washington. The molding around the cases looks classical.

Budgeting, not surprisingly, took up most of the six years it took to complete the project.

"The initial grant was from our former congressman Jim Turner from Crockett. At the time, (before redistricting) Turner was the congressman representing Walker County and in 2001 he was able to earmark $250,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the design and construction of exhibits at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum. That money was the kickoff money, and the university basically matched it. Jack Parker and a couple people were able to find the money in the budget, which brought us up to $500,000," said Nolan.

The most important renovation, the republic wing, came first, because of the leaky roof. Nolan decided to go ahead and finish the roof first, even if the money wasn't there at first to complete all their plans.

"Then we tried to raise more money," Nolan said. "The Summerlee Foundation in Dallas and various other sources donated, and more money was given from the university."

This brought the museum up to the current grand total.

Curator of collections, Mac Woodward, said Sam Houston was one of the most versatile public figures in U.S. history.

"Many people think of Sam Houston as a Texas figure or a regional figure, but he's really a national figure. He was a President, he served in the Senate and the Congress, he was a Governor of 2 states. I can't think of anyone who had that many jobs," said Woodward.

"What he represents is what we are so proud of today: optimism, can-do spirit, even cantankerousness," said Woodward. "One of the reasons this museum is here is as a memorial, and it's a service to the university and the students and we have an obligation to know something about the man whose colors they wear."

The celebration will begin with a reception at 9:30 a.m. at the Gibbs-Powell House Museum, and then a ceremony in the Oakwood Cemetery at Sam Houston's grave site. James Haley, a Texas historian and Sam Houston biographer, will speak. There will be a luncheon at 12:30 at the First Christian Church for $15, and then the grand opening will take place at the museum at 2 p.m. There will be birthday cake and a ribbon cutting.

For more information, call the museum at 936.294.1832 or visit their web site at


Text and photos by Kelly Jakubowski

SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Feb. 21, 2006
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