Texas: A Whole Other Country (Literally)

“Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.”  {John Steinbeck}

Happy Independence Day, Texas! No, we haven’t seceded from the union, much to many Texans’ dismay. A few years ago (176 to be exact) on March 2, Texas declared its independence from Mexico in a little place called Washington-on-the-Brazos. In case you didn’t know, the Republic of Texas existed for ten years.

Here’s the low-down on how Tejas, a Caddo Indian word meaning “friend,” became Texas:

Republic of Texas TimelineWant to know more about Washington-on-the-Brazos?

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Washington-on-the-Brazos, known as the birthplace of Texas, is located in Washington County along the Brazos River. It’s just down the road from Brenham, home of the famous Blue Bell Creameries. Tours and free ice cream often overshadow this historical place, but Washington-on-the-Brazos shouldn’t be missed. This 293-acre state historical site offers a museum, tours, and interactive exhibits, not to mention being located in one of the most beautiful parts of Texas.

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Your first stop should be the Park Visitor Center and Washington Emporium Gift Shop. There’s an introduction to the Texas Revolution in the form of a timeline, valuable information regarding the historic attractions found within the park, and awesome restroom facilities. Some of the best Texas memorabilia is found in the gift shop. Texas-shaped items dominate the shelves, as well as books on Texas history. Admission to the park is free, but Park Ranger-led tours of Independence Hall are available for a small fee. Tours are paid for and leave from the Visitor Center.

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So maybe this isn’t the original Independence Hall, it’s still really cool. It’s built on the exact spot with the same dimensions and design as the original. You’re free to mill about the building on your own, but the guidance of a Park Ranger brings the place alive. Pay for the tour, otherwise Independence Hall will just look like an old building with tables and chairs.

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On the tour you’ll hear about how Washington was a bustling town and played host to men like Davy Crockett and Sam Houston, the first president of the Republic of Texas. You’ll be pointed down a path once known as Ferry Street. The street ends where the Navasota and Brazos Rivers intersect. Along the walk to the river are placards outlining important events and recalling what life was like in Washington.

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At Washington’s height of popularity in the 1840s and 1850s, riverboats brought passengers and goods from New Orleans, Galveston, and New York by way of the river. It was also a thoroughfare for taking cotton to market. Ferries were common in Texas during that time, and in 1930, Andrew Robinson ran a prosperous one across the Brazos River. Located near the often-traveled La Bahia Road, this was a logical place for a ferry.

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To the right of the river lies a giant pecan tree. Not just any pecan tree, it’s believed to have germinated from the saddlebag of a trader in the early 1800s. Known as the La Bahia Pecan, DNA testing has shown that it’s related to pecans from Tamaulipas, Mexico. Impressed? You can have a La Bahia Pecan tree of your very own. Nuts were picked from the top of the tree, prepared, propagated, and nurtured. Seedlings can be purchased for $100 each and come with a certificate of authenticity.

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Near the Visitor Center lies the Star of the Republic Museum. You can’t miss it. It’s the star of the Park. Literally. Shaped like the five-point Texas star, this 10,000 square foot museum contains a look back at the people, places, events, and things that made Texas what it is today. Before exploring, watch the introductory video outlining the significance of Washington-on-the-Brazos in Texas’ history. In the Showers-Brown Discovery Center, interactive exhibits offer children and adults an opportunity to discover historical aspects of life in Texas.

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Throughout the first floor of the museum are political and military exhibits that chronologically outline the exploits of settlers and explorers. On the second floor, exhibits focus on the cultural and social aspects of the people who shaped Texas. This museum is more than worth the price of admission.

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Also located in the park is the Barrington Living History Farm, originally founded by Dr. Anson Jones, the last President of the Republic of Texas. Named for Jones’ hometown of Barrington, Massachusetts, the farm has been recreated using his daybook and accounts as a guide. People dress in period clothes and work in the same way using the same tools as they did 150 years ago. The Jones homestead is the original structure from 1844, but was moved in 1936 to the State Park  as part of the Texas Centennial Celebration.

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Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historical Park should be on every Texan’s to-do list, as well as every visitor to Texas. It’s educational and entertaining at the same time, and the grounds are simply gorgeous. It’s easy to see why so many settlers called it home and decided it to be the Republic of Texas’ capitol. Happy Independence Day, Texas. You’ve only gotten better with age!

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20 Comments
  • Jody
    March 2, 2012

    thanks for that history lesson and my favorite part was the pecan tree, I would like to have one of the seedlings and a hundred dollars for a tree is cheap, the best time to plant a tree was 40 yrs ago, the next best time is today.

    • Leah Travels
      March 2, 2012

      I’ll admit that I had to refresh my memory on much of this information. The pecan tree wasn’t mentioned by my guide. I started talking to a man in his 70s who is currently a history major at Texas A&M. He’s the one that told me all about the tree! The man was such a neat guy and full of information. I was impressed by his willingness to go back to school so late in life. It just goes to show, you’re never too old to start something new!

  • Leah Travels
    March 3, 2012

    A descendent of the Caddo tribe? I’m not surprised, and I bet they had an affinity for feather boas. 🙂

  • Frank DiCesare
    March 3, 2012

    Texas is great. It’s a state that has it all — world class cities, beautiful beaches, burgeoning industries, outstanding golf courses, NO STATE INCOME TAX, and, as I’ve been told, the best damn BBQ in America. There seems to be something for everyone in Texas.

    • Leah Travels
      March 3, 2012

      Well, if you agree that Texas is so great, what the hell are you doing in Louisiana? Texas is waiting with open arms, Frank. Come on…you know you want to! 😉

  • Sabrina
    March 5, 2012

    You had me at Blue Bell… 🙂 I’m such an ice cream fanatic that I can’t believe I still haven’t been to their factory. By the way, it cracks me up that Texans celebrate their Independence Day even though they’re not independent. Gotta love that state pride!

    • Leah Travels
      March 5, 2012

      I lived in Brenham when I was a teenager and had a friend who led tours at Blue Bell. I’d go on a tour a couple times a week and always ate the free ice cream at the end. I guess I thought I could eat my weight in mint chocolate chip and it wouldn’t catch up with me. Five pounds later…Haha! As for celebrating independence, part of it is that the land that is now Texas would probably still be part of Mexico if they hadn’t declared it. It’s as much about celebrating independence from Mexico as it is celebrating the establishment of the area that is now known as Texas. Yes, it’s state pride at its best! We Texans have never been accused of being modest.

      • Sabrina
        March 6, 2012

        I’ve never thought about it that way. Thanks for the explanation! I don’t think there is anything wrong with Texans’ pride in their state. In fact, while it’s kind of amusing to me (coming from a culture where pride in your country is not all that celebrated), it’s also very endearing. We had a brewery very close to where I grew up and I went on quite a few tours there 🙂 Not every week, but at least once a year I think 🙂 I just tried a “country vanilla no sugar added” from Blue Bell and it’s my new favorite semi-healthy treat with all sorts of things.

        • Leah Travels
          March 9, 2012

          Some people think it’s weird or really puts them off, but pride in my state is all I know! 😉 I love reading your perspective as an expat living in Texas, especially Lubbock!

  • Frank DiCesare
    March 5, 2012

    Blue Bell is great ice cream, even though you need to chisel it out of the container.

    • Leah Travels
      March 5, 2012

      Ahhh, Frank. There’s a work around for that. Sit it out for ten minutes or so and then scoop. Or if you can’t wait that long, pop it in the microwave for 10 seconds. There’s not much better than a bowl of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla over peach cobbler. That’s Texas in a bowl right there.

  • Frank DiCesare
    March 5, 2012

    I like Blue Bell’s regular chocolate chip, which is tough to find at times. I’m not much of a mint chocolate chip guy. I think it tastes like a mixture of ice cream and toothpaste.

    • Leah Travels
      March 5, 2012

      I’ve outgrown mint chocolate chip, but I was on that kick for several years. I’m not sure if I’ve tried the regular chocolate chip. IF I buy Blue Bell, I like Tres Leches (which they don’t make anymore), Banana Pudding, or Vanilla.

  • Frank DiCesare
    March 9, 2012

    Someday I’m going to “Tebow” at the statue of Buddy Holly in Lubbock.

    • Leah Travels
      March 9, 2012

      Ok. So that really made me laugh. Nice visual.

  • Derek
    March 13, 2012

    Wow thats really cool history! I love history.. never knew anything about Texas. I grew up in Washington and knew I had a few extended family members from Texas and that was it.

    Love the part about the Pecan tree.. I would definitely pay $100 to have my own seed, but don’t think that tree will grow up here in Alaska 😉

    • Leah Travels
      March 13, 2012

      Thanks, Derek. I’m a little partial in thinking that Texas has a cool history too! I’d never heard the story of the pecan tree before my last trip, but I wouldn’t having one myself. You’re right. I don’t think you could get one to grow in Alaska either.

  • John
    March 19, 2012

    I didn’t learn that Texas was once its own nation until I was 15 or 16 and I was blown away to learn that. That certainly explains the one-of-a-kind Texas culture!

    • Leah Travels
      March 20, 2012

      That fact is hammered into Texas school children once they walk through the classroom doors in kindergarten! Ha! It’s certainly one of the reasons why we Texans are so proud and boastful about our state. Love or hate us for it, I guess. 😉

  • Paul Jones
    May 5, 2014

    I worked (or you could say trained) in Texas for a few weeks many years ago, and I found Texas to be a great area to not only be in but to also eat in! I have traveled and eaten in a lot of places, but the steak that I had in Texas was the best I have ever had! I think it was J R’s restaurant in Dallas that impressed me the most (no kidding on the name).

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