San Felipe State Historic Site
See where Texas as we know it began, at the site of Austin's first colony.
By Elsa K. Simcik
Located about a mile from Stephen F. Austin State Park near Sealy, San Felipe State Historic Site is a tribute to the township of San Felipe, the place where Stephen F. Austin brought the first 297 families to colonize Texas. It was here that Texas saw its first Anglo newspaper, The Gazette, the beginnings of its first postal system and the creation of the Texas Rangers.
While this town, known as “The Cradle of Texas Liberty,” may have been the hub of everything social, economic and political in the 19th century, the site now sits on a quiet road just off Interstate 10. The area has two buildings: a log cabin and a museum. The home is a replica of Austin’s double log cabin, which he built in 1828 for $600. Even though the house is not an original, the tour guides’ tales sure are. When Juanita Perry or other volunteer tour guides talk about “Stephen,” you may forget that they didn’t actually know him. They know everything about the man, his peers and his family, right down to each person’s birth and death day.
Right next to the cabin is a monument to possibly one of the most important structures in Texas history — the original town hall. The conventions of 1832 and 1833 and the Consultation of 1835 were held here, all of which eventually led to the Texas Declaration of Independence. So why can’t you see the original building? It was burned down (along with most of the town) to prevent it from falling to the Mexican Army.
Visitors will likely spend most of their time in the site’s museum, which was actually San Felipe’s mercantile. You can spend hours wandering around, looking at things like Austin’s desk, photos, documents and letters. There are even dinosaur artifacts. And true to its mercantile roots, the museum has replicas of the groceries that Texans purchased back then. If you want to know more about how those Texans lived, the knowledgeable tour guides will show you maps and models of the town, pointing out each person’s home.
If you plan to come with a group, call ahead. If you’re passing through on FM 1458 or happen to be camping at Stephen F. Austin State Park for the weekend, just head on in; someone is usually there. They’ll show you around, or you can do a self-guided tour, if you prefer.
So what’s the cost to see all these treasures and learn about Texas’ first community? One dollar. As Perry says, “It’s the same dollar they’ve been paying since 1960.”
For more information about San Felipe State Historic Site, call (979) 885-3613 or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/stephenfaustin>.