The historic objects, artifacts, and collections stewarded by the Texas Historical Commission (THC) are directly related to the 20 historic sites managed by the THC and represent the material culture and histories of sites during their period of significance in Texas history. The permanent collections include archeological, historic furnishings, costume, and fine art collections. The archeological collections are almost entirely composed of historical artifact assemblages and result from investigations at 19th- and 20th-century military forts, Native American sites, plantation sites, and house museums.
Several items have recently been donated to the permanent collections at the Texas Historical Commission. These include letters from soldiers stationed at Fort McKavett and Fort Griffin, a victrola that was owned by Sam Bell Maxey, and a postcard that George Fulton sent from the Chicago World’s Fair to his daughter in 1893.
Fort McKavett Letter
The Friends of Fort McKavett recently donated a letter written by Lieutenant Clayton S. Burk when he was stationed at Fort McKavett serving in the 10th Infantry. The letter is dated April 22, 1878, and in it Lieut. Burk makes arrangements for his family to stay at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio. Lieutenant Burbank was married to the daughter of Sam Wallick who owned the post sutler store at Fort McKavett.
Fort Griffin Letter
On May 16, 1869, Private W. H. Graham described in a letter to a friend in Iowa the challenges he and others faced while en route to Fort Griffin. The trip was a long, rainy 500 miles and upon arrival at their destination, Graham is confronted with not only the dangers of being at a frontier post, but also the often mundane realities of fort life. He writes that the scouts at the fort reported that several hundred hostile Indians were in the vicinity of the fort. The reported Indians did not keep him from venturing away from the fort however. The day before he sent the letter he writes that he declined to attend church services “on the plea that I would much rather go a fishing.”
Sam Bell Maxey’s Victrola
A victrola dating from 1910-1920 along with several early Victor disc records were donated to the Texas Historical Commission by Ginna Farris Stone, a descendant of Lala Williams Long, who was Sam Bell and Marilda Maxey’s daughter-in-law. Victrolas were the precursor to the early record players, and in the early decades of the twentieth-century they were considered an exotic specialty item. Likely part of the parlor furnishings at the Sam Bell Maxey House, this record player with its speaker mechanism disguised in a wooden cabinet with Gothic trim, would have blended well with the rest of the Maxey family’s Eastlake parlor furniture, which is still on display in the house. The Long’s disc collection suggests they were fans of popular music of the day including ragtime, vaudeville and musical theater. Several musical recordings were retrieved from the Victor discs that were donated. Click Here to listen to a sample.
Fulton Mansion Postcard
This postcard from George Fulton, Jr. to his daughter Ella was donated to the Texas Historical Commission by Benjamin Foss, a Fulton descendant. George Fulton visited the World's Fair Exposition in Chicago in September 1893. The fair was themed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World in 1492. The souvenir postcard pictures the Fair’s Administration Building and the large pool that represented Columbus’s voyage to the New World. The fair buildings were designed in the Beaux Arts style and had a lasting effect on civic architecture and public works. George Fulton was among the more than 27 million people who attended the exposition.
The written text on the postcard from George Fulton at the Chicago World’s Fair to his daughter is as follows:
Chicago 9/9 '93
My Darling Little Daughter:
We are going to start home this morning but I can’t say just which day we will reach home.
We will telegraph to you so you will know when to look for us.
We have seen so many beautiful things that we do not like to leave.
We are so glad to know we will find all of you at the ranch and hope Grandma is much better.
Lots of love to all, Papa
Fort Griffin, Fort Lancaster, and Fort McKavett were established in the 1850s and 1860s in West Texas to protect settlers from Native American raids and to guard military supplies and commercial shipments. A stepping-off point for many expeditions heading westwards, these forts are comprised of barracks, residences, hospitals, bakeries, and stables. Fort collections include unique and representative material culture from late-19th-century American military and domestic life.
Levi Jordan and Varner-Hogg Plantation collections hail from THC sites in Brazoria County. Both plantations were active in the first half of the 19th century up through the Civil War when plantation economies shifted to sharecropper agriculture. Both plantation sites have distinctive collections that directly relate to the enslaved peoples who lived there. In the 1980s, University of Houston archeologists conducted extensive excavations at Levi Jordan Plantation. The collections from those excavations include slave-made personal items, as well as domestic and industry-specific material culture.
House Museum Collections
Sam Bell Maxey House, Starr Family Home, and Fulton Mansion State Historic Sites are three grand historic house museums operated by the THC. Owned by prominent Texas businessmen from the1880s to the 1960s, the collections from these sites include personal effects, fine and decorative arts, photography, and archives collections belonging to multiple generations of wealthy and socially influential Anglo-American members of late-19th-century Texas society. Most of these collections are stored on site and available to the public as exhibits. Sam Bell Maxey House and Starr Family Home are the most comprehensive family-associated collections and carry important signature objects such as diplomas, portraits, and jewelry within their collections.