Sam Houston Memorial Museum

By: Patrick B. Nolan

Type: General Entry

Published: January 1, 1996

Updated: February 5, 2019

The Sam Houston Memorial Museum historic site is within the city limits of Huntsville, Texas. It occupies eighteen acres of the original farm of over 200 acres owned by Gen. Sam Houston and his family from 1847 until 1858. The movement to preserve Houston's Huntsville homestead began in 1905 at the instigation of history students from Sam Houston Normal Institute. The students, having acquired several acres of the original Houston tract, moved Houston's Woodland Home and Law Office back to their original site in 1911. Subsequent years of neglect and improper maintenance prompted the school to seek financial assistance from the state of Texas for preservation of the structures. In 1927 the legislature appropriated $15,000 for development of the home and site, and a restoration and reconstruction project was undertaken. The formal dedication of the museum was on May 3, 1929. In 1936, $35,000 was appropriated by the Texas Centennial Commission for construction of the rotunda section of the present museum building, a modern facility designed to preserve and exhibit artifacts of the Houston era. The museum is owned and managed by Sam Houston State University as an integral part of the academic structure of the university; there is no separate board of trustees or directors. The complex was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Woodland Home was declared a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior in May 1974. The current complex of eighteen acres contains ten buildings and is divided between areas of natural woodland and landscaped spaces adjacent to the historic buildings. Lake Oolooteka is an artificial pond named in honor of Sam Houston's adoptive Cherokee Indian father. The most important structure on the grounds is Woodland Home, built in 1847 when Houston was serving as one of the first United States Senators from Texas and was spending more than half of each year in Washington, D.C. His wife Margaret Houston wished to live near town, where she could have better access to medical care and the spiritual comfort of the First Baptist Church. The traditional-style, double-pen dog-run log cabin was home to the Houstons, and four of their eight children were born here. Houston rented the home in 1853 and ultimately sold the property in 1858. The house is accurately furnished with several original Houston pieces of furniture and other items representative of the period. Also dating to the 1847–58 period is the law office, a single-room log cabin that served Houston as a study and gathering place for political discussions. It also functioned as a cradle of Freemasonry in the early days of the Texas frontier. The Steamboat House, a building of unusual architectural design, was rented by the family when Houston returned to Huntsville in 1861 following his dismissal as Texas governor for failing to pledge his loyalty to the Confederacy. On July 26, 1863, he died in the house and was buried from the front parlor. The house was moved onto the grounds of the historic site in 1936.

The Memorial Museum consists of a rotunda and three wings housing the principal permanent collections and exhibits of the museum. The structure was built in stages from 1936 to the 1960s. The Katy and E. Don Walker, Sr. Education Center, completed in 1995, contains the museum store and gift shop, an exhibit gallery for temporary exhibitions, an auditorium, and teaching and activity rooms. A blacksmith shop, pottery shop, and log cabin kitchen offer spaces for a variety of living history on-site demonstrations. The "Touch of Texas" is the museum's hands-on, experiential learning center for children. The museum has a permanent professional staff of thirteen and averages 80,000 visitors per year. It offers guided tours of the historic homes, numerous demonstrations with costumed interpreters, and traveling trunks and lecturers to visit schools. The annual General Sam Houston Folk Festival features the folk crafts and lifestyles of pioneer East Texas. The collections of 5,000 objects and artifacts and extensive archival and manuscript holdings include the letters of Sam and Margaret Houston.

Preservation and Development Plan for the Sam Houston Memorial Museum (Austin: Bell, Klein and Hoffman, 1975). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Patrick B. Nolan, “Sam Houston Memorial Museum,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022,

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January 1, 1996
February 5, 2019