Past Matters Summer 2022; posted on 08/01/2022
The Friends of the Texas Historical Commission Brings Essential Help and Vision to San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site
By Bryan McAuley, Site Manager, San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site
The ongoing improvements at San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site serve as a testament to the types of innovation, creativity and planning that can be essential to a successful outcome in the unique world of historic site development.
Two recent projects at our site show the impact and variety of approaches the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission (FTHC) can bring to the table. The first is our substantial outdoor exhibit experience – the Villa de Austin, and the second is the acquisition of the historic Eidman House just across the street from the historic site.
One of the biggest challenges to telling the San Felipe story was the erased landscape created by the intentional destruction of the town during the Runaway Scrape. For our opening in 2018, we created the 18’ x 6’ interactive digital mural of the downtown district for visitors as part of our new visitor center. And we were already planning for the outdoor exhibit that would help bring representative buildings into our interpretive landscape to assist visitors as they visualize the story. The building created for the Villa were entirely funded through donations collected as part of our capital campaign. The FTHC oversaw that campaign and managed cash flow issues to make the project possible. On top of that, the FTHC served as the overall project client, hiring our exhibit project contractor Michael Moore and assisting with all aspects of funds management. They also came through in the unfortunate aftermath of our construction-related fire and were able to navigate a successful insurance claim to assist with the rebuilding of the exhibit’s courthouse. In this one challenging project alone, the FTHC kept a multitude of plates spinning until we could get to the finish line – including some that were not even in their China hutch when the project began! At the completion of the exhibit installation, the FTHC donated the buildings and their contents to the Texas Historical Commission for the enjoyment of Texans and visitors to our great state.
More recently, the FTHC assisted in the acquisition of the historic S.O. Eidman House that sits just south of the historic site. This historic home (likely built between 1845 and 1850) includes an additional 20th century detached apartment. It can be difficult for the THC to navigate real estate transactions, particularly in a volatile and fast-moving market. In this instance, the FTHC was able to use a line of credit to acquire the house, providing time for the THC to coordinate the necessary resources to purchase the house from the FTHC. Both buildings will be useful in supporting site operations – the original house will host a small research library and provide programmatic and meeting space while we assess its long-term potential. And the apartment is currently being used as a site residence for one of our educators, providing additional security and responsiveness to the overall operation.
The Friends of the Texas Historical Commission are great partners to have and our visitors at San Felipe de Austin reap the benefits of this partnership every time they come to the site.
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