Texas’ Big Anniversary

175 years of independence

As the only U.S. state to ever hold the title of sovereign country, Texas celebrates its rich history in festivals and special events year-round. These celebrations reach a peak during the months of March and April with the anniversaries of some of the most important events in Texas history. This year marks the 175th anniversary of Texas independence, a event celebrated at historic sites in several Texas destinations.

Located 80 miles from Houston, the community of Washington is the focal point for Texas Independence Day, March 2. Here in 1836, 59 men gathered to declare Texas an independent nation.

From 1842 to 1845, Washington served as the capital of the republic, gradually becoming a commerce center on the busy Brazos. Thus, when the seat of government was moved to Austin, the town hung on, kept alive by its position on the river. Eventually, though, in the 1850s, Washington was bypassed by the railroads, and the community dwindled to a tiny dot on the map. Today the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historical Park encompasses that historic community and makes a great year-round destination to learn more about period life as well as the events that led to Texas independence.

In early March, the park fills with thousands of visitors for the annual Texas Independence Day Festival, held the weekend closest to March 2. Historic re-enactments and crafts demonstrations spotlight the weekend fun.

Many of the festivities are centered around Independence Hall, the building where the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence took place. Although the original structure did not survive
the 19th century, today a reconstruction of the simple frame building is sparsely furnished with long, mismatched tables and unadorned chairs.

You can learn more about these historic events with a visit to the park’s Star of the Republic Museum. Built in the shape of the Lone Star State, this museum covers the Republic period, with exhibits featuring all aspects of commerce during the 19th century, including displays on the general store, blacksmithing, steamboats and carpentry.

Another highlight of the park is Barrington Living History Farm, open daily. This was once the home of Anson Jones, the fourth and last president of the Republic of Texas; today the farm’s reproduction log buildings and surrounding farmland demonstrate the working of farms during the times. Farm chores are carried out by park interpreters in period costume.

While the independence signers were busy at Washington-on-the-Brazos on that 1836 day, a fierce battle was under way in San Antonio. A large Mexican army under the command of Gen. Santa Anna attacked the Alamo in late February. On March 6, 1836, the Alamo fell; all its defenders, including Davy Crockett, James Bowie and commander William B. Travis, were killed. The victory was costly for Gen. Santa Anna, with
one-third of his army sustaining casualties.

Every year, San Antonio honors the memory of the Battle of the Alamo with numerous free events hosted by the San Antonio Living History Association. On Feb. 26, the beginning of the Alamo siege is recalled at an event that re-creates the arrival of Gen. Santa Anna’s forces in Bejar, an attempted truce and the opening shots in the famous battle.

The entire weekend of March 5 and 6 comprises the Remembering the Alamo Weekend. This event in Alamo Plaza dramatizes, with costumed re-enactors and black powder special effects, the events of the last two days of the 13-day Battle of the Alamo.

On Sunday, March 6, Dawn at the Alamo, a ceremony recalling the fateful morning when no quarter was expected by the defenders and none was extended, is presented. Santa Anna had ordered the attack under the red flag, indicating that no surrenders would be accepted. The hours that followed became one of the most chronicled battles in history. Every year, between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., this daybreak event is recalled in Alamo Plaza in a
commemoration of the fallen on both sides of the Alamo conflict and the structure that is called the Cradle of Texas Liberty.

Any time you visit the Alamo, however, you’ll find the historic site filled with activity. This mission that began as San Antonio de Valero was originally a large compound. Today all that remains of the mission is the original church and the Long Barrack. When you enter the Alamo, you’ll be struck by the quietness of the structure and its
chapel-like atmosphere.

 Most first-time visitors budget about two hours for a look at the chapel and its displays, the barrack and a film about the story of the historic battle. Gardens behind the chapel are also well worth a visit.

With the fall of the Alamo and the death of its defenders, a legend was born. “Remember the Alamo!” was the battle cry a few weeks later when Gen. Sam Houston’s inspired Texian army defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.

Today that fateful battle is recalled at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Park, located 22 miles east of downtown Houston. The annual San Jacinto Day Festival and Battle Reenactment includes a
full day of events – music, entertainment, food, games and children’s activities, all set amidst living history.

Costumed re-enactors interpret the historic events of the day, ending with the surrender of the Mexican army’s Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna to Gen. Houston. This year’s festival is scheduled for Saturday, April 16, 2011, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The festival is as educational as it is fun. Families can wander freely among the Mexican and Texian camps and learn how to perform the close order drills of the day. The historically correct encampments and the battle re-enactment are presented by hundreds of members of the San Jacinto Volunteers and other living-history organizations from across the state.

If you don’t have the opportunity to visit the park on this special day, you’ll find year-round exhibits. The park is home to the San Jacinto Monument, a 570-foot-tall obelisk that holds the title of the tallest war memorial in the world and stands 15 feet taller than the Washington Monument. The monument includes an observation deck accessible by a nearly 500-foot-long elevator ride. Once at the observation area, you’ll be able to see the nearby Battleship Texas, once the world’s most powerful war ship, the skyline of Houston and the Houston Ship Channel.
At the base of the monument stands the San Jacinto Museum of Texas History, offering exhibits on the Texas Revolution and the Republic of Texas. The museum also shows Texas Forever!!, a multimedia program about the struggle for independence and the ensuing battle.

So come help Texas celebrate its 175th birthday. No need to bring presents!

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