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Washington-on-the-Brazos

Go back to where Texas Began.

By Elsa K. Simcik

If it weren’t for the events that took place in Washington, Texas in 1836, you might be writing “Mexico” on your return address labels. It was here — 18 miles east of what we now know as Brenham — on a cold March day that delegates signed the Constitution for the Republic of Texas and organized a government. And while the republic only lasted 10 years, our state’s colorful past lives on.

But if your seventh-grade Texas history knowledge is getting a little stale, a visit to Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site will certainly revive it. What makes this place so unique (besides being “the birthplace of Texas”) is that it features both a living history exhibit and a museum.

For the living history portion, you can visit Barrington Farm, a replica of the one belonging to Anson Jones (the last president of the Republic of Texas), featuring some of the relocated original farm buildings. It provides a real window into what life was like for Texans 160 years ago. You can take a self-guided tour and check out the original main house (which was pretty posh by mid-19th-century standards), the barn, the fields and the slave quarters.

But if your imagination isn’t your strong suit, the site actually has costumed staff members available to help bring history to life. Thanks to Jones’ diary entries, the interpreters have a strong understanding of what went on at Barrington Farm. While they’re not always “in character,” the staff works hard to give visitors vivid demonstrations of farm labor by actually doing the work. You’ll see them plowing the fields with oxen and cooking in the outdoor kitchen. And if you ask nicely, they may even let you join in: visitors sometimes help plant crops, make soap or if they’re really lucky, drive the oxen.

After you’ve seen how the Jones family lived, you can head over to the Star of the Republic Museum which showcases memorabilia from the Texas Republic period (1836-1846). The first floor gives visitors a chronology of the lives of some of the first Texans plus insight into its military and political history. A must-see? The painting of all the delegates signing the Constitution.

Upstairs you’ll get a glimpse into the social and cultural history of Texas. The museum has set up three houses — each to reflect the major cultural influences in the Texas Republic (Hispanic, African-American and Anglo).

No need to worry about the kids dragging behind; just pick up an activity sheet at the front and have them answer the questions along the way. Museum staffers say it works like a charm. Another kid-friendly outlet is the Discovery Room. Here kids can play with the same types of toys used by the children of the Republic era, dress up in period clothes or even make a log cabin.

Walk down the path to Independence Hall, the historical focal point of the park. Daily guided interpretive tours and unique living history programs are available.

It’s impossible to leave Washington-on-the-Brazos without gaining more knowledge about our state’s past and a newfound respect for those first Texans who experienced it. Plus, where else can you learn about Texas history and how to plow fields with oxen? For more information, call (936) 878-2214 or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/washingtononthebrazos>.

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