The new 10,000-square-foot, $12.5 million museum opens Friday at San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site.
Built near the edge of the community that served as the capital of Stephen F. Austin’s original colony in Mexico in the 1820s and ‘30s, the museum pays tribute to the early Texas pioneers and to the plight and flight of the colonists from the advancing Mexican forces during the Texas Revolution. The event known as the Runaway Scrape was highlighted by the burning of the town by fleeing colonists to keep it and its spoils out of the hands of Antonio López de Santa Anna and his army as they pursued Gen. Sam Houston and his ragtag Texas Army toward the Louisiana border and the safety of the United States.
They never made it, as Houston and his men turned on them and won a decisive victory at San Jacinto. Although San Felipe was a hub of colonial life more than 182 years ago, it became largely forgotten to history as major battlegrounds such as the Alamo, Presidio La Bahia, Gonzales, and San Jacinto garnered more prestige and attention.
All of that changes Friday during grand opening ceremonies as the new museum with its touch screen interactive displays, rare historical relics, and volumes of Texas history becomes one of the largest and most modern museums in the state at a Texas Revolution site. The grand opening will feature comments from State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, Site Manager Bryan McAuley, and Texas Historical Commission Chairman John L. Nau III, among others. The ceremony will take place at 1:30 p.m. at San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site, 220 2nd St., in San Felipe.
“We truly believe the museum experience at San Felipe de Austin will reshape the way Texans think about the Mexican Texas era and the eventual march to Independence,” McAuley said.
Although ultra-modern in its design and interactive functionality, the museum has a real 1830s feel to it with wood-cut style artwork throughout, backlit displays, and major artifacts such as one of Austin’s desks, the Peter Peiper log cabin that was built in Columbus in the 1830s, a bronze sculpture depicting the Runaway Scrape, a printing press, and many artifacts dug up at the site during archaeological digs.
“All of these objects were found here in the last 10-15 years,” McAuley said.
Ongoing archaeology will be a centerpiece of activity at the museum, as the Texas Historical Commission frequently brings in teams to dig for building remnants and other artifacts. The buildings, well, and statue that most people associate with the historic site are still there and serve as key elements in the San Felipe experience. There is also space to serve as a community/education room, as well as space for temporary exhibits.
The museum sits next to the spot where it is believed William Travis once had a law office. McAuley said he hopes the museum and future excavation of the site will help tell a much broader and deeper story of the Texas Revolution and all aspects of all the people involved from combatants, colonists, slaves, natives, and others.
“I hope that we are good advocates for the people who came here,” he said.
In anticipation of large crowds and to help spread interest in the museum, all admission fees will be waived through Sunday, May 6.