Texas has a long and interesting history and is the only state in the United States that was also once a country; additionally, the state was also owned by Mexico, Spain, France, and the Confederate States of America at one point in time in its history. Fortunately, many of Texas' most historic sites and landmarks remain intact and are available for visitors to tour or view throughout the year.
From the Alamo in San Antonio to the famous Moody Mansion in Galveston, these historic sites in Texas helped shape the future of the state as well as the United States as a whole. Take a trip back through history on your trip to Texas by stopping by some of these historic locales.
Remember the Alamo Mission
The site of one of the most notorious battles in Texan and American history, the Alamo, has been remarkably preserved throughout the years and is open daily to visitors from around the world. Not surprisingly, the Alamo is one of the most visited attractions in Texas and is considered a "must-see" for anyone staying in the San Antonio area while visiting the Lone Star State.
Named a World Heritage Site in 2017, the Alamo Mission and Texas history museum is located in downtown San Antoni near the famous San Antonio River Walk. Guests at the Alamo are able to stand in the very spot some of the famous Texas defenders stood during the historic siege where Texans defended their claim to independence from Mexico in 1836.
While there, stop by the iconic Alamo church to see the names of its defenders, visit the Long Barrack Museum that houses historic artifacts from the battle, and take a guided tour of the battlefield itself.
The Alamo isn't the only historic mission in the San Antonio area; Missions San Jose, San Juan, Espada, and Concepcion were built over the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries as outreach centers for Spaniard missionaries to try to convert the native people of Texas well before the first American settlers arrived in the state.
Each mission has its own defining characteristic:
- Mission Concepcion features colorful indoor frescos and geometric designs.
- Mission San Jose is the biggest of all San Antonio missions and features ranger-led tours seven days a week.
- Mission San Juan once served as an agricultural hub for the area.
- Mission Espada has a distinctive three-bell tower design.
Completed in 1888, the Texas Capitol was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986, and today it is open to visitors on a daily basis. Located in the capital of Texas, Austin, the Texas Capitol complex is a must-see for visitors interested in current and historical politics of this southern state.
Touring the Capitol building allows visitors to get an up-close look at where the laws governing Texas are crafted today and have been for more than 100 years. The Capitol is also decorated with a number of pieces of historical artwork, including busts of former governors and important figures in Texas history.
Points of interest inside the Capitol include the House Chamber in the west, where 150 house representatives meet to vote on legislation; the Senate Chamber to the east; the original Governor's Office, the original Supreme Court Courtroom, and the original State Library.
Located in downtown Austin on 11th Street between Lavaca and San Jacinto, the Capitol Complex covers 22 acres and also includes the Texas Capitol Visitors Center, a gift shop, and the Texas General Land Office, which serves as the Land Office for about 60 years.
One of the most revered sites in Texas history is the San Jacinto Battleground—the very place where Texas gained its independence. Today, the San Jacinto Monument and Museum sit atop the plot of ground where General Sam Houston defeated the army of Mexican General Santa Anna.
Located on the Houston Ship Channel in unincorporated Harris County just outside of the city of Houston, the San Jacinto Monument is a 567.31-foot-high column dedicated to the Battle of San Jacinto. Although the historic battle of 1836 only lasted for 18 minutes, it drastically shifted the course of Texas history.
Top attractions at the monument and museum include the San Jacinto Battleground, where you can tour historic markers laid out by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in 1912; the restored marsh and boardwalk nearby; and a recreational park complete with picnic tables and a grassy knoll.
A veteran of both World Wars, the Battleship TEXAS is now moored at the San Jacinto Historical Site, where it is open for tours to the public. Originally commissioned to be built in June of 1910, this historic vessel now calls the Houston Ship Channel its permanent home.
The Battleship TEXAS is open to board and tour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week but is generally closed on major holidays. The Battleship Texas is a popular stop for both individual tourists as well as groups such as the Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, and school field trips. Additionally, corporate groups and private parties may also rent out the ship for conferences and events.
Washington-on-the-Brazos is the location where the Convention of 1836 signed Texas' Declaration of Independence from Mexico, and the site also served as the Texas Capitol off and on through the early years of the Republic of Texas. Nowadays, Washington-on-the-Brazos is home to a huge nature park, a living history farm, and a museum dedicated to early Texas history.
For a look back at the life of the last president of Texas, Anson Jones, you can stop by the Barrington Living History Farm, which the former leader of the Republic of Texas owned and operated in the 1840s. The farm includes the original home of Jones as well as reconstructed outhouses and other structures. While there, interpreters dressed in period-style clothing will guide guests through the day-to-day activities of life on the farm over 150 years ago.
Another site that's not to be missed at Washington-on-the-Brazos is the Star of the Republic Museum, which is dedicated to the history of the short-lived country known as the Republic of Texas.
Washington, Texas, is located about an hour northwest of Houston and an hour and a half east of Austin, just outside the city of Navasota. You can access this historic area via Highway 6, Highway 35, Highway 290, and Farm to Market Roads 912 and 1155.
Located in Port Isabel, one of the oldest towns in Texas, the Port Isabel Lighthouse served mariners along the Lower Texas Coast throughout the Civil War and into the 1900s. Today, the Lighthouse and surrounding grounds are part of the Texas State Park system.
Although there were 16 lighthouses constructed along the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, the Port Isabel Lighthouse is the only one open to the public. The lighthouse is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors are allowed to climb the spiraling stairs to the top of the Lighthouse where they are treated to a spectacular view of South Padre Island, Port Isabel, and the Lower Laguna Madre Bay.
Nearby, you can also stop by the Port Isabel Historical Museum and the Treasures of the Gulf Museum for more information about the maritime history of Port Isabel.
Completed in 1893, the Bishop's Palace survived the 1900 hurricane and is now part of Galveston's Historic Homes Tour. Located on Broadway and 14th streets in the End End Historic District of Galveston, this historic Victorian-style home features over 19,000 square feet of decor and furnishings from the 1800s.
Also known as Gresham's Castle, this beautiful historic home was named one of the "100 Most Important Buildings in America" by the American Institute of Architects. Visitors to the Bishop's Palace are able to get a feel for life in turn-of-the-century Galveston—at least for those who had financial means at the time.
Bishop's Palace is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (except holidays) and offers both self-guided and professionally guided tours throughout the day.
The Texas State Cemetery was established in 1851 and is the final resting ground for such Texas icons as Stephen F. Austin, General Albert Sidney Johnston, Governor Allan Shivers, Governor John Connally, and Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock.
Located just east of downtown Austin on Navasota Street between East 7th and 11th streets, The Texas State Cemetery is open for visitation Mondays through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. while the grounds are open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Completed in 1895, the Moody Mansion is the epitome of Victorian architecture in turn of the century Galveston. The mansion, which was home to the powerful Moody family, survived the 1900 hurricane and now has been restored and is open for tours and lunch services
Self-guided audio tours of the 31-room mansion are available daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the mansion also offers a behind the scenes tour on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 4:15 p.m.
From 1836 to 1846, the Republic of Texas was officially recognized as its own nation, and as countries around the world recognized the young nation's sovereignty, they began establishing legations in Texas so they could coordinate international relations with Texas.
One such legation was established in Austin by the French in 1841 to serve as the home for their chargé d’affaires, a diplomat in charge of an embassy when an ambassador isn't present. While the temporary embassy only stayed in operation for five years, the French Legation is now open to the public as the newest State Historic Site maintained by the Texas Historical Commission.
Back when settlers were first establishing homes in Mexican Texas in the early 1800s, a number of settlements and colonies began to spring up across the region. One such location is San Felipe de Austin, a State Historic Site maintained by the Texas Historical Commission where Stephen F. Austin established a headquarters for his colony in 1823.
Although the colony itself was burned down when residents fled during the Runaway Scrape of 1836, visitors to San Felipe de Austin can now take a tour of the on-site museum, wander the historic grounds, and see replicated cabins like the ones used by the original inhabitants of the colony.
Known as one of the most influential statesmen of the 20th century, Sam Rayburn served in the United States Congress representing Texas for 48 years and holding the position of speaker for 17 years. Now, his 1916 home in Bonham, Texas, the Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site, preserves his legacy and life for all to see.
Guests can take guided tours of the estate, where all of his original furniture, photographs, and personal belongings still remain. Throughout the year, the Sam Rayburn house also hosts a variety of events—especially during the holidays.
Established to protect the Lower El Paso-San Antonio Road from Native American raids in 1855, Fort Lancaster is one of many military outposts built in the establishment of Texas that played an important role in the successful expansion west to California.
Although it was once home to over 30 structures including a hospital, blacksmith shop, sutler's story, and bakery, Fort Lancaster now largely consists of ruins and recreated buildings. Located on 82 acres in the Pecos River Valley near Sheffield, Texas, Fort Lancaster also hosts a variety of events throughout the year including Wester Frontier Days each May (formerly known as Jubilation on the Frontier).
In 1836, the Battle of Coleto Creek between Texan forces and the Mexican army resulted in Texas Colonel James W. Fannin surrendering to Mexican General Santa Ana. Against the wishes of other Mexican commanders, Santa Ana ordered the execution of all Texan soldiers captured in the battle in nearby Goliad. This act of aggression sparked outrage across the fledgling state during the Texas War for Independence, and soldiers adopted the battle cry "Remember Goliad" throughout the rest of the conflict.
Now, the Fannin Battleground State Historic Site—located about 10 miles east of Goliad—memorializes the lives lost during the battle and subsequent executions. Visitors can walk through an interpretive exhibit at a small museum on-site, enjoy a picnic lunch on the 14-acre grounds, and witness the large stone obelisk erected on the spot where Fannin surrendered.
In the 1840s, Levi Jordan and his family moved to Texas with 12 enslaved workers to start a sugar and cotton plantation along the San Bernard River near Brazoria, Texas.
A significant site of the antebellum period—as well as the Reconstruction era—of Texas history, the Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site now invites guests to tour the two-story Greek Revival plantation house, the slave quarters, and the extensive property.
Originally established by early Texas pioneers Martin Varner and eventually owned by Texas Governor James S. Hogg, the Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historic Site in West Columbia, Texas, has been a part of the state's history for generations.
The plantation is now open to the general public and invites guests to tour the historic plantation mansion, visitor's center, museum store, and grounds. Guided tours walk visitors through the history of the plantation, including ownership by Columbus Patton, who was the last to own slaves on the property at the end of the American Civil War before the Hogg family took over the estate.
The Texas War for Independence wasn't the only war fought on Texas soil; the state is also home to several important battle sites from the American Civil War, including Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site in Port Arthur, Texas.
Texas, which was part of the Confederacy during the Civil War, served as a major hub for Confederate forces, and Port Arthur was a major supply port for those troops. On September 8, 1863, Union troops attempted to storm the port at Sabine Pass where Conferedate Lt. Richard Dowling and his 46 men successfully defended their ground by sinking two gunboats and capturing over 350 prisoners. Thanks to this victory, the Union never managed to penetrate the Texas interior during the Civil War.
Now, the site serves as a reminder of the tragedy of the Civil War and memorializes lives lost during the battle. Visitors can explore the interpretive pavilion, which features a timeline of the battle, see a statue of Lt. Richard Dowling, or even witness a reenactment of the historic battle.
After the American Civil War, Native American groups that had been forced into reservations in West Texas began returning to their homeland, but the arrival of colonizers from America began to create tensions between the groups. As a result, Fort Griffin was founded in Albany, Texas, and served as a defensive fort from 1867 to 1881.
Although much of the fort is now in ruins, remnants of the mess hall, barracks, first sergeant's quarters, baker, powder magazine, and hand-dug well still remain. Additionally, Fort Griffin State Historic Site is the home of the Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd (their state animal) and allows visitors to camp, fish, hike, and explore living history throughout the year.
The only museum in America entirely dedicated to retelling the history of American actions in the Pacific and Asiatic Theaters during World War II, the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, was also the childhood home of famed Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.
The museum campus now houses a Memorial Courtyard, the Plaza of Presidents, and the Japanese Garden of Peace as well as countless exhibits on the many battles that took place across the Pacific during World War II. Guests can explore the state-of-the-art, 33,000-square-foot exhibition or take a guided tour complete with information about Admiral Nimitz and his legacy in Texas.