Growing up in the Midwest, I remember learning about the Alamo. It never occurred to me to wonder how Texas gained independence from Mexico even though the rebels lost at the Alamo. But I did always wonder why Texans are the way they are, so patriotic and faithful to their home state.
One trip to Washington County, the birthplace of Texas, solved that mystery. Now I know: it’s all about the rich history of the Republic of Texas, an independent country for 10 years.
This area between Houston and Austin is the place to go if you’re traveling with kids who want to learn Texas history beyond the Alamo. The history starts in Washington County, the place where Texan leaders met to declare independence from Mexico.
Learning Texas History
The dramatic events in Texas history are immortalized in the Star of the Republic Museum, a part of the expansive Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site that also includes Independence Hall and the Barrington Living History Farm.
The Star of the Republic Museum is the place where I truly came to understand Texans’ reverence for their home state. Texas won its independence from Mexico and planned to become a state, but with the United States already on the brink of Civil War, it wasn’t too keen on adding another southern, slave-holding state. It would take 10 years for the slave question to be settled and Texas to be invited into the United States. The Republic even opened foreign embassies during its time as an independent country. I was enthralled. But if your kids are like mine and tend not to be enthusiastic history museum-goers, at least get them to watch the move, “Once a Nation.” They’ll get the gist of it in a just a few minutes.
Then take a walk across the lawn to Independence Hall, the building where Texans declared their independence, brought to life through the stories told by park rangers.
Save the best and kid-friendliest for last: The Barrington Living History Farm. It’s staffed with interpreters who not only dress in the fashions of the day and explain what life was like in the mid-19th century, but who also run the farm using 1850s techniques. I watched as a group of school children passed around a cotton ball fresh off the bush and learned how oxen are trained to work as farm animals.
The farm operates year-round, so there’s always something going on. Visit in January and you might even see them butcher a hog. The lack of refrigeration meant that the coldest days in winter were the only time it was possible to process the meat before it went bad. The house was once the home of Dr. Anson Jones, the last president of the Republic of Texas, his family and their slaves.
What to Do
Reward your history-overloaded kids with a tour and tasting at the Blue Bell Creameries ice cream factory in Brenham, where they “eat all they can and sell the rest.” The yummy stuff is only sold in 17 states. Sadly for me, Illinois isn’t one of them.
Or stop to pet the miniature horses at the Monastery of St. Clare Miniature Horse Farm. The monastery has been raising and selling these horses since 1981 as a way to support the good sisters who live there. Self-guided tours at $4 for adults, $2 for children 3-12 and $3 for seniors. But there isn’t really much to tour. The draw here are the 60 or so horses, most of which are not much bigger than as very large dog. You can pet them, but not feed them or ride them. Visit in the spring to see the cute little newborn foals.
Spring also is the time to visit if you want to see the vast fields of bluebonnet flowers. The fields are lush with blue–and dotted with children as moms and dads pose the kids for a family photo among the flowers.
Where to Stay
There are some hotel chains in the area, but it’s also home to a plethora of bed and breakfasts, several of which rent to families. I stayed as a guest of the charming Brenham House, which accepts children 13 and over. If you have younger kids, opt for Lillian Farms, one of the historic houses at Texas Ranch Life or a cabin at Mariposa Ranch.