By George Slaughter
Texas state historical sites remain open and welcoming to visitors. And while the pandemic-inspired safety guidelines—traveling in groups of five or less, wearing masks, practicing social distancing—remain in effect, the sites themselves offer visitors a chance to issue their own “declaration of independence.”
Three sites within easy driving distance of Katy are profiled here in historical order.
San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site
Address: 222 2nd St., San Felipe, TX 77473
San Felipe de Austin, approximately 20 miles west of Katy, is where Stephen F. Austin brought Anglo settlers to Texas, which was then a part of Mexico. The Mexican government granted empresarios such as Austin the right to settle on land in return for recruiting new settlers.
After the Alamo fell in March 1836, the Texian Army retreated eastward from the Mexican Army. In what became known as the Runaway Scrape, the Texians and burned San Felipe, among other settlements, in an effort to keep the Mexicans from looting and destroying those places. San Felipe residents didn’t return after Texas won its independence and the town never recovered.
The state in 2018 established an interpretative history museum across from the town site. Archaeologists today continue to find artifacts from when the town existed. Some of those artifacts, such as plates, are on display in the museum.
Meanwhile, the state is using archival research and archaeology to construct Villa de Austin, a group of buildings intended to give modern-day tourists the chance to see the town as it was in its heyday.
Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site
Address: 23400 Park Road 12, Washington, TX 77880
Washington-on-the-Brazos, approximately 68 miles northwest of Katy, is where Texas on March 2, 1836, formally declared its independence from Mexico. The date, coincidentally, also marked Sam Houston’s 43rd birthday.
Washington-on-the-Brazos today has a replica of the building where the 59 signers of the declaration did their work. The nearby Star of the Republic Museum is an interpretative museum featuring artifacts of the Republic of Texas, which existed from 1836-45.
San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site
Address: 3523 Independence Parkway South, La Porte, TX 77571
The battleground, approximately 60 miles east of Katy, was where Houston led the Texian Army to victory over Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and the Mexican Army. The battle was significant not only in winning independence for Texas, but it also set events in motion that brought what would be seven other states into the United States—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.
Texans built the monument in 1936 as part of the state’s centennial. In true Texas fashion, the San Jacinto Monument, at 567 feet, stands taller than the Washington Monument, at 555 feet. Both monuments have elevators that enable visitors to observe the scenery from the top floor.