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Old Sam, Prisons and Pine Trees

Excerpted from
"The East Texas Sunday Drive Book"

by Bob Bowman

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If you're an admirer of General Sam Houston -- the respected and sometimes-cursed maker of Texas history -- this Sunday Drive is just for you. The drive will also take you through a good portion of the Sam Houston National Forest and along the shoreline of Lake Livingston.

Start at Huntsville, and spend some time in the town before you launch your Sunday Drive. An excellent guide is the Huntsville Fun Trail, a publication you can pick up at the local Chamber of Commerce office.

Some of the local stops you'll want to touch include the Sam Houston Memorial Grave and Monument in Oakwood Cemetery. Since 1911, an impressive monument inscribed with the promise that "the world will take care of Houston's fame" has marked the grave of the first President of the Republic of Texas. The cemetery can be reached by traveling down the two blocks of Spur 94, the shortest highway in Texas, which intersects Texas 190.

Some other stops we suggest:
Sam Houston's home in Huntsville
Sam Houston' home in Sam Houston Memorial Park and Museum
Photo courtesy Todd Marshall
  • The Sam Houston Memorial Park and Museum, just off U.S. 75 (Sam Houston Avenue). Here in a 15-acre setting are Sam Houston's home, "Woodland," the steamboat house where he died in 1863, his law office, a pioneer kitchen, a blacksmith shop and other buildings. The museum itself houses one of the most extensive collection of Sam Houston memorialbia in Texas.

  • The Walls, the original main unit of the Texas prison when all of its prisoners were housed here. The massive red brick walls front on U.S. 190.

  • Peckerwood Hill (Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery), the final resting place for more than 900 prisoners whose bodies were unclaimed at the time of their death. The 22-acre graveyard is on Bowers Boulevard just off Sam Houston Avenue. Look for interesting markers.

  • The Thorwaldsen Statute of Christ in Oakwood Cemetery. The copy of the famous Thorwaldsen original in Copenhagen, Denmark, was placed here by Judge and Mrs. Ben Powell as a monument to their son.

  • Emancipation Park, a landmark of freedom for Texas slaves, where Juneteeth is celebrated each year.

  • The Ahysen Mural in downtown Huntville. Depicting Huntsville in the spring, the 938-square foot mural -- called the largest free-standing painting in the United States -- was done in ceramics by art professor Harry Ahysen.

  • The Gibbs Bros. building, a Huntsville landmark dating back to the l840s, when Thomas and Sandford Gibbs opened the store and later entered the banking business. Today, Gibbs heirs constitute the oldest business in Texas unde original ownership at the same location on the Huntsville courthouse square.

  • If you're hungry before you leave town, we recommend a couple of eating places, the Cafe Texan on the courthouse square, which has been serving an excellent pepper steak for some 50 years, and the Junction, an old plantation home (it was built as a wedding gift to a bride in l849) that has been turned into an excellent restaurant.
    Sam Houston statue in Huntsville
    The statue of Sam Houston in Huntsville
    Photo courtesy Todd Marshall
    From Huntsville, start east on U.S. 190. You'll pass through the town of Oakhurst, which was once a thriving sawmill town in San Jacinto County. A sawmill at Palmetto was moved to Oakhurst in 1911 and operated for a number of years. The town was named for Oakhurst, Oklahoma, home of several lumbermen who had moved to Texas.

    Continuing on U.S. 190, some three miles north of Oakhurst, about two miles off FM 946, is Sam Houston's country home, Raven Hill, a name taken from the Cherokee Indians' name for Houston, "The Raven." A Texas historical marker is all that remains of the site.

    Just east of Oakhurst is the entrance to Waterwood National Country Club, one of the best golf courses in Texas. The course offers 18 rugged holes built in the old Scottish tradition.

    A little farther up U.S. 190 you'll discover the village of Point Blank, which sounds like something out of an Old West novel. Actually, Point Blank was was originally named Blanc Point by a Frenchwoman who moved here from Alabama. The town was also known as Point White and White Point. Ask for directions to a small cemetery on the banks of Lake Livingston, where Texas' second governor, George T. Wood, is buried.

    Lake Livingston, covering some 82,600 acres, sprawls over several East Texas counties and is popular with fishermen, boaters and campers.

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    Old San Jacinto County Jail
    The Old San Jacinto County Jail
    Photo courtesy Todd Marshall
    From Point Blank, take Texas 156 southward along the banks of the lake. Near Holiday Shores, turn on FM 224, which will carry you into Coldspring, the county seat of San Jacinto County since l870. Spend some in the quaint shops around the courthouse square and be sure to visit the courthouse, as well as the old county jail, now an excellent small-town museum.
    San Jacinto County Jail marker
    The San Jacinto County Jail Historical Marker
    Photo courtesy Todd Marshall

    Coldspring has had several other names during its lifetime, including Cookskin, Fireman's Hill and Cold Spring.

    From Coldspring, head south on Texas 150 toward Shepherd, but a few miles out of Coldspring, take a right turn onto a unpaved road leading to the Big Creek Scenic Area, a tangled forest area that offers a good insight to what the Big Thicket looks like. The actual Thicket is 30 to 40 miles east of the area.

    Continue on the unpaved road until it intersections with FM 2666 and follow this highway until you come to its intersection with FM 2055. Turn north and head back toward Coldspring, but a few miles out of town, look for the signs to the Double Lake Recreational Area, one of the most popular parks in the Sam Houston National Forest. The areas offers facilities for camping, hiking, picnicking and fishing.

    When you leave Double Lake, turn north until you come to Texas 150. Turn west toward New Waverly and you'll pass through the small settlement of Evergreen. Along the way, look for the entrance to the Lone Star Hiking Trail, the longest (140 miles) of its kind in the state. The trail traverses the entire Sam Houston National Forest and crosses two developed camping areas, Double Lake and Stubblefield Lake.

    At the intersection of 150 and FM 2693 in the Pleasant Grove settlement, turn north on the farm road and follow it until it turns into FM 2778, which will lead back to an intersection with Texas 150, which will carry you to New Waverly.

    At New Waverly, turn west on FM 1375, which will take you on a wide loop carrying you through some of the tallest timberland in the Huntsville area. Stay on the road, passing through Bethel and Union Hill, and you'll wind up in Huntsville.

    However, before leaving Huntsville, take the time to drive south on Interstate 45, and look for the turnoff to two other places you'll want to visit before completing this drive: ... next page

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    Huntsville Tourist Information

  • Huntsville Chamber of Commerce -
    1328 11th Street, Box 538, Huntsville, TX 77340
    Telephone 936-295-8113.

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  • Huntsville Texas Forum

  • Subject: Destination Huntsville
    If you are visiting Huntsville, especially if you will be stopping at the Sam Houston Museum complex, do yourself a favor; walk across Sam Houston Avenue and visit the campus of Sam Houston State University. Not only gets my vote as one of the prettiest college campuses in the state of Texas, if not in the entire country, but also the site of several interesting things to see. (As a graduate of SHSU I will readily admit that I am somewhat biased!) Nevertheless, in very close proximity to the museum, and to each other, on the north end of the SHSU quadrangle are; Austin Hall (1851) If I remember correctly, it is the oldest educational building in continuous use west of the Mississippi River, Old Main Memorial preserved footprint and basement area of this 1890 beauty, which was lost to fire in 1982, the Peabody Memorial Library Built in 1902 to recognize the philanthropic contributions of the Peabody Foundation to Sam Houston (Normal Institute) and to public education in the state of Texas, and the bronze statue of General Sam Houston. This statue, 110% of life size, was dedicated in 1979 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of SHSU. It was said to be the most accurate representation of Sam Houston in existence at that time. I hope you enjoy your visit to Huntsville and Sam Houston State University. - Stephen Rogers, Bellville, Texas, November 11, 2004

  • Subject: Raven Hill
    The location of the site of Raven Hill is south of Oakhurst about 2.5 miles off the main road. Take Raven Hill Rd. S.W. until it ends. Take a left (dirt road) go another 100 yds. or so. The marker is in a cow pasture on the right. - Robert Surguy, June 08, 2004

    Excerpt by permission of author Mr.
    Bob Bowman .
    August 2000

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