Presenter: Wilson Dolman

Commission Agenda Item No. 10
Action
San Jacinto Battleground State Historical Park
January 1998

I. Discussion: San Jacinto Battleground State Historical Park is one of the keystones in the Texas State Park System. As the site of the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1997, it is uniquely significant in the history of Texas. As the Texas State Park System enters its seventy-fifth year of existence, it is important to note that the first public land acquisition of property now contained in the system was at San Jacinto in 1883 and that the state first designated it as a park in 1907.

In recognition of the need to improve the public's understanding of the events that took place at San Jacinto, as well as the need to provide better service to visitors, the Department entered into a formalized partnership with the San Jacinto Museum of History Association, a private, nonprofit organization formed to operate the Museum in the San Jacinto Monument in 1938. Under the terms of the partnership agreement reached in 1992, the Museum Association undertook to lead a Joint Planning Committee which would be responsible for directing the preparation of a master plan for the historical park. The Museum Association also agreed to assume the lead responsibility for raising funds to develop the master plan and to implement its recommendations.

San Jacinto Battleground has undergone many changes since the initial acquisition in 1883. Additional properties have been acquired until the park now contains virtually the entire known field of battle. Other changes have obscured the historic appearance of the battlefield (Exhibit A). The area around the park has become one of the major petrochemical centers of the world. The creation and improvements of the Houston Ship Channel have altered the historic perimeter of the park. A large transmission line and easement operated by Houston Lighting and Power separates the long-standing southern park boundary from major new acquisitions made during the Sesquicentennial, which is the intended site of new development. Most of the alterations on the park proper have added major features intended to commemorate the battle, or to add additional historical elements, or to provide visitors services. The major examples include:

Construction of the San Jacinto Monument and Reflection Pool beginning with the Centennial of the battle in 1936;

Placement of smaller markers and monuments including those identified by surviving veterans of the battle as locations where significant events occurred and the sundial erected by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas;

Commemorative landscaping, including an allee of trees along Park Road 1836;

Cemeteries, including the burial place of those who lost theirs lives in the battle;

Dredging of a slip as the home of the Battleship Texas, last surviving dreadnought and veteran of both world wars;

Construction of rest rooms, picnic facilities, roads and parking, and other public amenities.

The master plan is guided by a vision that focuses on the reasons for the National Historic Landmark designation, the Battle of San Jacinto and the resultant creation of the Republic of Texas. Consequently, the emphasis of the plan is given to restoring the physical setting to the extent feasible to enable an enhanced interpretative program and visitor experience.

At the same time, the Department has the responsibility to preserve the significant historical features of the park. The Battleship is a major attraction that creates a synergy for heritage tourism which improves the financial viability of the site. The Battleship also symbolizes the spirit of American freedom in the twentieth century as San Jacinto did in the nineteenth. This preservation responsibility was fulfilled during the major restoration of the ship during the late 1980's and continues to be fulfilled through the capital program. Similarly, the San Jacinto Monument is undergoing restoration at this moment and reflects the Department's commitment to its historic preservation mission.

The recommendations of the master plan are contained on pp. 2-4 of the attached Executive Summary (Exhibit A). The major elements are summarized as follows:

Restoration of historic landscapes, primarily prairies with scattered oak motts and hardwoods along drainages and marshes along the northern and eastern border;

Construction of a new museum and visitor center along Vista Road to serve as an orientation, interpretation, and circulation control facility;

Utilization of the San Jacinto Monument on in-depth interpretation of the battle without extraneous museum functions;

Covering the Reflection Pool and reestablishment of prairie as an interpretive measure;

Relocation of markers and monuments to a new commemorative zone, except those placed by the veterans of San Jacinto;

Redesign of circulation, both roads and trails/boardwalks, through the battlefield to enhance interpretation of the battle and of the marshes;

Relocation of the parking and access to the Battleship to the north side of the slip to create a sense of separation between the nineteenth-century Sam Houston camp and the twentieth-century ship.

These recommendations have significant financial and management implications. In recognition of this reality, the master plan proposes a phased approach, which is summarized on pp. 7 and 8 of the Executive Summary. The Museum Association has taken the lead in developing a strategic plan for fund raising for both the capital improvements and an operational endowment for the proposed new museum/visitor center. Department staff, the Museum Association, and the Battleship Texas Foundation have begun discussions on a new memorandum of agreement to address the changing management needs of the park.

In conclusion, the master plan presented for San Jacinto Battleground envisions a bold step forward with one of the crown jewels of the Texas State Park System. It contains recommendations for major changes in the park. Throughout, however, it is guided by a vision founded on the idea that preservation of cultural and natural history is the first and most important obligation of the Department. The plan also is more vision than blueprint; it will be an organic document which can adapt to changing realities.

II. Recommendation: The staff recommends the Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt the following motion:

"The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approves the San Jacinto Battleground State Historical Park Master Plan summarized in Exhibit A."

Attachments - 2

1. Exhibit A - Master Plan Executive Summary
2. Exhibit B - Fiscal Note

(Exhibits A and B are available upon request.)


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