San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site Museum Campaign
San Felipe de Austin, a town founded by Stephen F. Austin in 1823, has a fascinating story and played a pivotal role in events leading up to the Texas Revolution, yet this story is not nearly as well known or understood as others in the chronicles of Texas history, including the Alamo and San Jacinto.
To increase public understanding of the town’s history and significance, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) is developing a new museum and visitor amenities at San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site, including a welcome/orientation center, exhibits, map plaza, outdoor interpretation, and educational programs focused on the site’s history and archeology.
The Friends of the Texas Historical Commission (FTHC) has launched a $12.56 million capital campaign to fund these projects. The State of Texas has committed $5.2 million to the project, leaving approximately $7.36 million to be raised from philanthropy.
A Small Settlement with a Big Story
In 1823, Stephen F. Austin—“the Father of Texas”—secured land grant contracts with the Mexican government and brought 300 families (the “Old 300”) to form a new colony near Sealy known as San Felipe de Austin. The town became a major hub for commerce, government, and diplomacy and was the site of the state’s first land office, postal service, and schools.
When the Alamo fell, Sam Houston’s army retreated toward San Felipe. Houston ordered residents to burn their town to the ground on March 29, 1836, and the town’s militia defended the river crossing against Santa Anna’s invading army. Weeks later, Texas independence was won at the Battle of San Jacinto. While San Felipe de Austin’s prominence lasted only 13 years (1823–1836), nearly every significant character and event of this era of Texas history is connected to this frontier outpost.
Today, San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site occupies a 90-acre property located 50 miles west of Houston near Sealy, Texas, along the Brazos River. Open to the public year-round, the historic site currently has limited amenities: a monument to Stephen F. Austin, a replica log cabin, and a small 1847 mercantile (“the J.J. Josey Store”) that serves as a temporary visitors center.
Why San Felipe de Austin, and Why Now?
With its mission to preserve and promote significant cultural resources on behalf of Texans, the THC is committed to realizing the tremendous historical potential of San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site. This will be realized through a state-of-the-art museum and modern facilities at the site. The timing of this project is opportune, because San Felipe de Austin will celebrate the 200th anniversary of its founding in 2023, and Texas will celebrate its own bicentennial in 2036.
As the archeological evidence of the town’s footprint continues to emerge, the existing amenities on the site do not allow the telling of the rich and complex stories of the town, the people who settled and inhabited it, and the spirit of freedom that destroyed it. With the passing of time, these stories will fade from the collective memories of Texans unless we can gather them, record them, and house them in a location that is connected to the characters who inhabited these stories.
The important stories of people and events at San Felipe de Austin are a missing piece of Texas’ past. Understanding what happened here will redefine the Texas Revolution story for generations of Texans and for future visitors to our great state.
The new museum will immerse visitors in the colony’s rich history and key role in the Texas Revolution, which are now more fully understood as a result of archival and archeological research. This project will include:
§ A new 10,000 square foot museum with a main gallery, exhibits gallery, learning hall, interpretive spaces, and visitor amenities including a welcome center, museum store, and restrooms.
§ Acore exhibit exploring Austin’s life and his roles in populating Texas and securing its independence; the story of the colony and its diverse people; and the complete story of the road to the Texas Revolution.
§ A map plaza that lays out the town as it stood in 1836, allowing visitors a glimpse at the physical elements of the town and life as it may have been almost 200 years ago.
§ Outdoor interpretive exhibits focused on stories of residents, archeology, exploration, and research.
§ Educational programs for students and teachers, including curriculum-aligned tours, interactive activities, continuing education, camps, and after-school programs that bring the history of San Felipe alive.
§ Research programs for archeology and historic preservation students, archeologists, and others in academia.
§ Heritage tourism opportunities related to the site’s role as a gateway to the Texas Independence Trail.
Who Will Benefit?
Many different groups will benefit from this project, including heritage travelers, history aficionados, students, researchers, and more. Most visitors will come from the Houston area, but many will come from across Texas, the U.S., and beyond.
In 2014, San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site had about 7,000 visitors—much lower than other Texas Revolution sites. The development of this site has the potential to increase annual visitors to 70,000 or more, including 15,000 students. Web-based programming will expand this reach exponentially.
Leaders and Stakeholders
Stakeholder groups that will play vital roles in the project and capital campaign include the THC, FTHC, Friends of San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site, and the Descendants of the Old Three Hundred.
The Campaign for San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site
The total cost to design, construct, furnish, and equip the new museum, exhibits, and other improvements is $12.56 million. The State of Texas has committed $5.2 million to the project, leaving approximately $7.36 million to be raised from individual, foundation, and corporate donors. A capital campaign committee with representatives from the key stakeholder groups will convene this fall to secure philanthropic support.
Once the improvements are completed, the THC will fund San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site’s annual operations through its biennial legislative appropriation, supplemented by public-private partnerships and efforts of local volunteers.
It is time for ALL Texans to get to know San Felipe de Austin and to offer this gift to Texans of the next 200 years. With your help, a San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site that resonates in visitors’ hearts and minds can soon be a reality.
Please join us in bringing this important chapter of Texas history to life
for future generations by supporting this campaign.