The San Jacinto Monument has reopened its observation deck to the public, offering a beautiful view of the Houston skyline and the battlefield where Texas won its independence
The San Jacinto Monument on the outskirts of La Porte reopened its observation deck to visitors this month after a hiatus of nearly two years. On a clear day, the perch offers a bird's-eye view of the battlefield where Texas won its independence, the flat coastal plains, and the Houston skyline on the horizon.
"Most visitors won't see the changes," says Jerry Hopkins, director of the State Parks Region 4, which oversees the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. "[The changes] are mostly hidden except for some new paint and fixtures. It was mostly infrastructure improvements."
Opened in 1939, the world's tallest monument column at 567 feet tall marks the high ground between where the Texan revolutionists and the Mexican army were camped on April 21, 1836. In 18 minutes, the 900 rebels completely vanquished the 1,200 Mexicans.
Flush with victories at the battles at the Alamo in San Antonio and the Presidio la Bahia in Goliad, Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna had a force of 6,000 to squash the Texan uprising. Chasing Gen. Sam Houston's ragtag army of volunteers toward East Texas, Santa Anna made the mistake of dividing his forces near present-day Houston. The opposing armies met on the battlefield surrounded by marshes and rivers when the Texans attacked at 3:30pm. More than two-thirds of the Mexican army was killed. Santa Anna's capture the next day put an end to the short revolution.
Soon after the smoke of the battle had cleared, the prairie surrounded by thick stands of trees became a tourist attraction. Thirty years after the battle, the first monument to the heroes of the Texas Revolution was placed in the small cemetery where some of the nine Texans killed in the battle were buried.
The first 10 acres of the now 1,200-acre park were purchased by the state in 1883. Fourteen years later, veterans of the battle returned to place markers for sites of important events during the battle. By 1912, Texas' first historical park had grown to 336 acres.
"If Texans had not had the foresight in 1912 to acquire the land," Hopkins says, "it could have been a 10-acre parcel instead of this wonderful and unique park." Even though the site is boxed in by the Houston Ship Channel, the San Jacinto River, and one of the world's largest concentrations of petrochemical refineries, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has added nature trails around the park. A 510-foot boardwalk that crosses much of the restored marshland was added in 2002.
Begun in 1936, the monument is a fine example of art deco architecture. Made of concrete reinforced with steel, the outer layer is Texas limestone pockmarked with ancient seashells. At the top is a 220-ton star that shades the observation deck.
The windowless base of the tower houses the San Jacinto Museum of History that has been operated by a nonprofit association since the monument opened to the public. The collection includes personal items of many of the battle's participants and objects found on the battlefield. Included in the displays are Sam Houston's dictionary, Gen. Sidney Sherman's dress coat, and Santa Anna's china.
Part of the renovation included upgrades to the theatre where the 35-minute movie "Texas Forever" is shown. Hopkins says that the theatre received the most noticeable upgrades with new seats, carpet, and screen.
At the western end of the park, the USS Texas sits permanently moored near where the Texans made their camp. Commissioned in 1914, the battleship is the last surviving example of a dreadnought and the only remaining vessel to serve in World War I and II.
The San Jacinto Battleground State Historical Park is 22 miles east of downtown Houston off of the La Porte-Pasadena Freeway (TX 225). The monument and museum are open daily 9am to 6pm (except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day). Admission to the park is $1 for adults, admission to the museum is free, the new smooth elevator ride to the observation deck is $4 for adults and $3 for children, and the movie costs $4.50 and $3.50. For more information, call 281/479-2421, or go to www.sanjacinto-museum.org.
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