THC Honored Preservation Leaders at Real Places 2023

During its annual Real Places conference last week, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) honored historic preservationists, archeologists, volunteers and others for their accomplishments and exemplary leadership in the preservation of Texas’ heritage throughout 2022. 

The Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation was presented to Baylor Institute for Oral History in Waco for its extensive efforts through fellowships and workshops to host the Texas Oral History Association and share its work through multiple avenues. More than 200 of the institute’s projects are widely available to the public, making it one of the most important Texas history collections in the world. 

Dr. Donny Leon Hamilton, originally from West Texas, received the Curtis D. Tunnell Lifetime Achievement Award in Archeology for his essential contributions to the field of archeology and conservation in the state of Texas. Dr. Hamilton contributed to many large strides in conservation practices, including nominating and successfully designating the first State Antiquities Landmark on private lands. 

The Ruth Lester Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded to Dr. Lucile Estell from Milam County for her passion for preservation throughout her career as an educator and her countless contributions as a volunteer. She is dedicated to creating opportunities that excite, educate and include others in preserving the history of their community and Texas as a whole.  

The John L. Nau, III Award for Excellence in Museums was presented to the Irving Archives and Museum for its “The Irving Story” exhibit. Despite only opening in 2021, the museum includes decades worth of dedication by volunteers and city staff who recognized how important it was to preserve the unique history of Irving. 

The Anice B. Read Award of Excellence in Community Heritage Development was presented to Nancy Norton Wood, a longtime Bastrop resident and preservation advocate who was instrumental in the efforts to celebrate and share Bastrop’s history with new audiences and future generations. She is best known for increasing the appeal of historic downtown Bastrop with a variety of approaches, including managing the month-long holiday displays that have led to 300,000 additional visitors and 200 new businesses. 

The Award of Excellence in Preserving History was awarded to the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco for its exhibit “Sit Down to Take a Stand,” a highly interactive exhibit that teaches visitors about the 1960s sit-in protests aimed at ending segregation in Waco and across South Texas. The exhibit, installed in the Museum’s Soda Fountain, is accessible to all, free of charge and features original video footage, photos and oral histories of Black residents who participated in the protests. 

New Travis County Probate Courts was awarded the Award of Excellence in Historic Architecture for its extensive repair and restoration of the old U.S. Courthouse in Austin. Many exterior and interior features were crafted to its historic specifications and special energy-efficient replica windows were custom-made to match the original windows.  

The Award of Excellence in Media Achievement went to 91.3 KVLU for “Bayoulands” Radio Documentary Series highlighting traditionally undertold history, including discussion of the Karankawa culture, known history and whether it can truly be deemed “extinct.” 

Harry Bob Martin of Dickens County received the John Ben Shepperd County Historical Commission Leadership Award for his guidance of the Dickens County Historical Commission. Martin has supported countless tourism projects throughout Northwest Texas and brought eight Distinguished Service Awards to the county for its efforts to preserve, protect and promote historic resources in Dickens County.  

Joe D. Plunkett of Williamson County received the George Christian Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award for his contributions to several historic preservation projects throughout the area. He has managed the Williamson County Cemetery Restoration Volunteers for years and has worked consistently to preserve neglected and abandoned cemeteries.  

The Texas Land Title Association Award for Outstanding Courthouse Stewardship—designed to recognize counties that have established good stewardship practices to maintain courthouses in restored condition—was presented to Karnes County. The 1894 Romanesque-style courthouse was rededicated in 2018 following a restoration as part of the THC’s Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, and the county has since demonstrated exemplary stewardship and maintenance of the building. 

The THC’s Real Places 2023 conference was presented by the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission in partnership with Phoenix 1 Restoration and Construction, LLC, along with many other sponsors and partners. 

For more on the THC Preservation Awards, visit