Traveling through time in Texas and beyond

Apr 28, 2020Andrea Vasquez

Due to the COVID-19 global outbreak, San Jacinto College is not recommending domestic or foreign travel at this time. This article discusses future travel destinations that may be available once the outbreak has subsided.

One of the most common things on the to-do list of retirees is traveling. Many have big plans for world tours, while others just want to go for short day or weekend-long road trips. If you want to add a bit of historical significance or want to carve out some time to wander the halls of various museums, Dr. Abbie Grubb, San Jacinto College history professor and honors program coordinator, has some suggestions that will appeal to travelers and history buffs alike.

Q: Each year, the College's honors program students go on trips that coincide with what they are studying in particular honors courses. Given the trips you all have been on and what you have coming up, what travel suggestions do you have for those who want to get out and see more of Texas and add in some historical value as well?

A: For those looking for something not too far from home, the brand-new San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site is a perfect afternoon trip from the Houston area. While there is a nearby state park of the same name, the facility uses many state-of-the-art museum technologies to bring to life the original settlement of San Felipe from the days of Mexican Texas up to and during the Texas Revolution. While the museum is not too large, it hosts regular events and features temporary exhibits, and future plans for the site are quite extensive and impressive.

Q: A lot of Houstonians love driving out to the Texas Hill Country for weekend trips. Can you recommend some historical places to visit in those areas?

A: Not too far from Brenham, Texas, the Washington on the Brazos, Star of the Republic Museum, and the Barrington Living History Farm are located on all the same property. This site is an excellent full day of interesting exhibits and hands-on Texas history opportunities. The Washington on the Brazos portion highlights the role of the site in the declaration of Texas independence and attempts to show what used to be a fairly active and prominent settlement, prior to it being bypassed by the railroads. The Star of the Republic Museum features exhibits about life during the Texas Republic and has traditional museum displays as well as a very hands-on activity room for children to teach about life on the 19th century frontier. The Barrington Living History Farm includes the home of Texan President Anson Jones along with many outbuildings and, of course, animals! The kitchen cooking demonstrations are great for all ages.

The National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, is a great place to see. It's the only museum in the continental U.S. solely dedicated to telling the story of World War II in the Pacific. The museum is huge, so it will take a while to see its entirety. Tickets are good for 48 hours, allowing visitors to explore not only the primary gallery but also a separate section with larger vehicles, combat demonstrations, a peaceful Japanese Garden, and the Nimitz Gallery dedicated to the famous officer himself, Admiral Chester Nimitz, in whose name the museum was originally founded. The museum hosts events regularly, and its location right off Main Street in historic Fredericksburg makes for a fantastic weekend visit.

Q: What would be a great road trip destination for Texas history buffs that takes them even more off the beaten path?

A: The farthest destination on my list — but well worth the trip — is the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore, Texas. A visit begins with a film about the region's oil history. Then visitors can peruse an interesting gallery full of aspects depicting life in the region in the early 20th century. Perhaps the highlight of the visit is "Boomtown, USA," a full-scale recreated town from the 1930s with different buildings like a general store, barber shop, local theater, etc. It is a truly unique gallery for museum lovers.

Q: The honors program has also taken students on educational trips to European destinations, including France, Germany, England, Austria, and the Czech Republic. What suggestions do you have for travelers who want to add some historical sites to their European itineraries?

A: For history and culture, Vienna is a must-see. Our students had the opportunity to visit Mozart's home and two Hapsburg palaces, see a performance by the Vienna Boys Choir, and watch the renowned Lipizzaner Stallions practice. The city is very easy to navigate with public transportation, and a Vienna City Pass allows visitors to hit all the major spots for one price.

If Germany is on your list, Berlin, Nuremberg, and Munich have a lot to offer. In Berlin, you'll find the Brandenburg Gate along with other 20th century historical sites, such as the emotionally moving Holocaust Memorial and the Checkpoint Charlie museum commemorating the Berlin Wall. Nuremburg is always a favorite, perhaps because it is quintessentially German, with a beautiful old walled city featuring gorgeous churches and buildings all under the watchful gaze of the Nuremberg Castle. Outside the old town are sites related to Nazi-occupied Germany, including Zeppelin Field and the Documentation Center, which is a very thorough museum about World War II in Germany. Munich features everything from ancient Roman history to today's modern era, and of course, any visit to Munich should also include a stop at the world famous Hofbrauhaus Beer Garden.

Q: Many visitors travel abroad to take World War I and World War II battlefield tours to see, touch, and learn about the wartime eras that changed entire generations around the world. What advice do you have from your experience to these sites?

A: Our honors students did a World War I battlefields trip that took us to Albert, France, the Somme Salient, and the St. Mihiel battlefield nearer to Verdun. However, in relation to the World War I historical period, along with memorials and battlefield tours, I definitely recommend Ypres, Belgium. The Cloth Hall dominates the center of the old town and dates back to the Middle Ages when the region was a center of textile trade. While it was brought to ruin during World War I, it has been rebuilt to its original design and houses the Flanders Fields Museum, one of the best museums of the World War I era.

Every night at 8 p.m., the town comes to a stop for the "Last Post" at the Menin Gate — a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of British soldiers who died in that region during the Great War. This ceremony is a must-see for any visit to the region. I would also recommend a break for a complimentary cup of tea at the Talbot House, a building used as a clubhouse and chapel during the war that has remained unchanged since 1918. Outside the town itself are several fascinating sites, including the Lijssenthoek and Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof Cemeteries, the Passchendaele Museum, and Sanctuary Wood Museum — all of which are different but give a well-rounded perspective on the fighting that took place between 1914-1918 in that region.

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