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Wednesday, March 2, 2016
~ Texas Independence Day ~
March 2 marks the 180th anniversary of Texas independence. On this date in 1836, 59 delegates crowded into the tiny river town of Washington and passed, without debate, a declaration written primarily by George Childress that proclaimed Texas a republic independent from Mexico. On March 5 and 6, the occasion will be celebrated at the original spot, Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, about 80 miles northwest of Houston.
Within a few years, the capital of Texas boomed. At its peak, the population swelled to 4,000. Travelers could get on a road in Louisiana that passed through Washington and continued to Monterrey, Mexico. “One-hundred and seventy years ago, you’d be dodging horse carts and oxcarts and hearing a steamboat whistle,” says Jonathan Failor, lead interpreter at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site. “It was a place where worlds collided.”
Washington was a popular ferry crossing because it marks the confluence of the clear Navasota and muddy Brazos Rivers. The Brazos is the longest river to be contained within Texas and “bisects the state at a diagonal,” Failor says. Visitors to the site can stand under a pecan tree that was in leaf when Davy Crockett walked through town. The tree’s closest genetic relatives can be found in Mexico.
Then came the railroads. In 1858, the town turned down an offer from the Central Texas and Houston Railroad to pass through Washington. Their reasoning is lost to history, Failor says. The railroad went to Navasota and the spur to Brenham; within decades the town of Washington was all but gone. “Had they said yes, it’s likely we’d be standing in the county capital at a traffic light,” he says.
Park supporters regard Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site as the third point in a Texas independence triangle that includes the Alamo and the San Jacinto battlefield. “There are two places where a nation was born: Philadelphia and Washington, Texas,” Failor says.
Elsewhere in the 293-acre park, visitors will find the Star of the Republic Museum, which focuses on the era of the republic and the lives of everyday people, with many hands-on features and artifacts from the period, says Houston McGaugh, the museum director.
Also on the site is Barrington Living History Farm, home of Anson Jones, who was a doctor and the fourth (and last) president of the republic. Fields still are plowed by Piney Woods oxen, from a breed older than the longhorn. The slave quarters and slave garden also are restored. Although it is not the original site, it has been re-created to represent an 1850's cotton farm.
On March 5 and 6, celebrations will include performances by the Texas A&M marching band, an old-time medicine show, living-history craft demonstrations, musket and artillery firing, and more. Find a full schedule of events is at wheretexasbecametexas.org. If visitors care to come on a less crowded day, park officials recommend packing a picnic lunch and planning to spend several hours.