Digging Deeper
by Mac Woodward, Museum Director
Published 8/3/2014 in the Huntsville Item

About six months ago the Sam Houston Memorial Museum began the process of writing and refining a strategic plan.  What first appeared to be an exercise has evolved into a daunting task encompassing all aspects of the Museum and everyone at the Museum.  With well thought out and established mission and vision statements, we as good historians asked ourselves a series of questions with the goal of developing roughly a five year plan for the Museum.  This process has challenged us and in the end, made us much better at what we are and what we do.

As a proud department of Sam Houston State University, the Museum is an educational institution.  We educate visitors and followers on the life of Sam Houston, the Houston Family, Texas History, and life in their time.  It is easy to relate dates, places, and events with the use of artifacts, images, manuscripts, and text.  That, however, only accomplishes a part of our mission.  We must dig deeper and search for the answers to who was Sam Houston, and why do we honor and remember him?  This is a much more challenging goal and more rewarding.  

The Museum’s next important goal is to preserve, protect, and maintain the entire Houston Homestead.  As a National Historic Landmark and Texas Historic and Archeological site, we balance the care of the homes and grounds with the mission to provide a safe and enjoyable place for thousands of visitors.  In our strategic plan we must not only consider the day-to-day needs but project forward months and years.  This is a challenge, physically and financially.  We must plan to meet the needs and make repairs and improvements which may occur at any time.  Long range, we must identify and plan for the future.  These plans are always subject to the budgets and revenues available.  We are very much aware and appreciative of the state, university, and citizen support which inspires us to do the best we can with what we have.

The final and sometimes the most challenging goal is to stay relevant.  We need to be a place where people want to visit, whether to learn the details of the life of Sam Houston, or to bring their grandchildren to feed the chickens and ducks, as well as all the in-betweens.  This raises the question of why do we exist and how do we continue to exist?  The best plan is to involve and listen to our visitors, or stakeholders, as they are sometimes defined.  We identify our audiences and then plan for their expectations and a variety of locations for their needs. This audience is ever changing in the way they learn and how they experience the Museum.  Meeting that challenge takes planning so the Museum remains true to its mission, but in new ways.

At the end of the strategic planning process, the Museum has come to a few conclusions.  We are a diverse entity and serve a diverse and varied audience with many needs.  We will continue to improve on our ability to educate, recognize, and honor Sam Houston as an important person in Texas and American History.  We will not only highlight Houston’s accomplishments, but his character and those traits that we respect in others including honor, leadership, courage, loyalty, and service.  Today, accomplishing that goal is often facilitated with rapidly changing technology and social media.  The traditional museum experience of exhibit cases and narrative panels share space with new apps on devices that people can hold in their hand.  The museum site will continue to be historic, but not static; improving to entice visitors and making everyone welcome.  The always-present elephant in the room, dollars to accomplish all of our goals, will need to be carefully managed so the Museum can maintain and adapt.  The Sam Houston Memorial Museum will achieve its goals because it is important to the University, the community, the people of Texas and the United States, and it belongs to them.  Our history is important.  Nobody knows that better than Texans.



by Peter Mansweat

Grounds Factotum

Featured in the Huntsville Item, Sunday July 27, 2014


Surely the key to landscaping is to get the most one can from the least amount of work and money, and to put together areas that, if not self-sufficient, are in some ways self-enabling. The MacMize River turns five years old this summer, though it is hard to imagine the grounds without it. Its small pools and waterfalls have become a favorite photo-op for graduates, families, and engaged couples.  It is always pleasant to lean on the railing of one of the bridges and listen to the water rolling below, and on the hottest summer days the 700 foot length of the MacMize is ten degrees cooler than any other place in town.

The MacMize delivers a lot of bang for the buck, but it is a construct and every now and then, it needs a little work done on it.

The last waterfall of the river spills below the driveway bridge, and from there, the MacMize flattens out into a sandy delta and reservoir at the north wall of the grounds.  Here, the 150 foot bank of the river features a landscape whose theme might best be described as benign neglect, a jumble of shrubs and perennials, some washed down from who knows what gardens upstream; lantana and cosmos, young trees, willow and sycamore and pecan and mulberry, two handsome young cypress that have a chance to be grand and mighty (though not in my lifetime), a refuge for vines of all kinds; grape, trumpet, clematis, and poison ivy.

Nothing about this particular piece of the park invites exploration – in fact everything about it disinvites, but this area harbors a lot of life and throws off a ton of beauty, and from the quiet and safety of the back porch of the Guerrant Cabin on any given summer afternoon, here is a sample of what one might see and hear:

The thrumming wall of sound of the cicada colony, whose constant song comes in two versions. Loud and louder. Cicada as the Brahms of the insect world.

The wind (on this day, a rare July north breeze) playing through the mulberry and the river birch and especially, the leaves of the giant cottonwood.

A hen with young chicks. This is movement that defies description.  Think of weather radar in which a cluster of storms moves south, but within the cluster, individual storms might be moving in any direction. That’s a hen with chicks.

Gary Gosling, our young goose, gliding on the shallow water of the reservoir. He is the color of soft butter left out on a plate. His origins are uncertain, as is his future.  We hope he makes it to maturity.

Three bluebirds, Mom, Dad, and Junior. Their bright indigo blue flashing from maple, to pecan, to mulberry, to the ground.

A swallowtail butterfly bluer than the bluebirds, flitting around the orange bloom of a trumpet vine, a flower that is the exact color of the colony of dragonflies that zip up and down the river.

A medium sized boxed turtle, scurrying with surprising speed down the bank, towards a tangle of vines at the edge of the river;  he puts me in mind of a husband who has stayed out all night and is sneaking back home, as quietly and quickly as he can.

The startling, sweet-white of August clematis in bloom, and the light blue of a stand of ruellia.

A family finishing a picnic on a table at Bear Bend Cabin. Two young girls race to the petrified wood and jump up and down, up and down, up and down.

The MacMize River and all of the flora and fauna it enables and maintains are open to the public from dawn to dark, seven days a week, free of charge.  We ask that you not pick the flora, nor chase the fauna, but simply come on out and enjoy the river.