Texas is a state rich in history and it ranks as one of the few areas of the United States to have once been its own, independent nation. Winning the battle for independence wasn't easy, and thousands of Texans and Mexicans lost their lives in the fight for liberty. The decisive battle in this war for independence was fought near Houston and its memory is preserved at the San Jacinto Monument and Museum, located about thirty minutes east of downtown Houston. Let's take a look at this piece of Texas history:
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This state historic site consists of three separate areas: The San Jacinto Monument, the Battleship Texas, and the San Jacinto State Park. The largest and most easily visible of the three is the San Jacinto Monument. It rises 570 feet (173 meters) above the surrounding battleground and it stands as the tallest memorial tower in the world. It is tall and narrow- similar to the Washington Monument- and is built on a large base with approximately 20 steps leading up to the main level, with entrances to the inside on several sides. The main level of the monument includes a museum, gift shop, and theater and level two includes a library. The top of the monument encloses a small observation room with views of the surrounding area.
A short walk away, on the Houston Ship Channel, visitors will find the Battleship Texas. This large battleship was commissioned in 1914 and is the only surviving battleship to have served in both World War I and World War II. There are no guided tours. You pay your admission charge and are free to walk around the battleship. There is a small room with seats, inside the battleship, that shows a short video highlighting the ship and its important role in the two world wars.
San Jacinto State Park sits adjacent to the battleship. It is a small park without many facilities, other then picnic areas and open spaces. There is no playground, basketball hoops, or other accompaniments. It is intended as a place to relax and unwind with a picnic lunch. If you forgot to bring food, never fear- there is a snack bar next to the park and another gift shop to buy souvenirs related to the Battleship Texas.
Cost of Admission/Hours of Operation:
The cost to visit the San Jacinto Monument is small, but can add up depending on what you visit and how many are in your party. There is no charge to enter the monument and walk through the small museum, but if you want to take the elevator to the observation deck at the top of the tower, it will cost you about $4 per adult and $3 per child (kids 3 years of age and younger are admitted free). The museum has a second section that costs an additional few dollars to browse and, most expensive of all, the Battleship Texas will cost you $10 per adult (children under 5 years of age are free) and $5 per child between the ages of 5 and 18.
Parking will cost you $1.00 per adult and child age thirteen and older. The parking cost is the same at the Texas Battleship and adjacent San Jacinto State Park. Paying for one will admit you to the other. Just make sure to keep your payment receipt taped to the inside of your window.
The monument and other attractions are open year- round, between the hours of 9am and 6pm (the battleship closes at 5pm). The only closings are on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
April 21, 1836 is an important day in Texas history, for it was on this day that Sam Houston's men met the Mexican army headed by Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Houston's men were outnumbered, but they achieved victory nonetheless and the Texas republic was born. The San Jacinto Monument was constructed in 1936 to commemorate the 100- year anniversary of this decisive battle and the monument still stands as the tallest of its kind in the world.
I have been a resident of Texas for only a few years and I am certainly not the most well- versed on Texas history. However, I was fully aware of the battle at San Jacinto (Texas natives will be proud to know that we talked about this in our high school American history classes, in Ohio) and I knew it was a decisive battle, not just in Texas history, but also in American history. Within the next decade following this battle, Texas would be annexed by the United States and the U.S. would go to war with Mexico, acquiring total land area that now encompasses about one- third of the U.S. mainland.
Besides my awareness of the battle at San Jacinto, I was also aware of the size of the San Jacinto Monument. I remember seeing pictures of this monument and mention of it in the Guinness Book of World Records. I knew it was immense in size and I placed a visit on my list of things to do and places to see. A warm, sunny, early Spring day offered the perfect excuse to visit the monument and take in some Texas history in the process.
The San Jacinto monument is visible from all- around but the large size is most impressive when you get out of your car, walk up to the edge of the monument, and gaze skyward. It is slightly taller than the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., and it is capped off with a large star- the Lone Star of Texas- measuring about 234 feet in width. Walking around the base, one will see a story inscribed, telling of the birth of the Republic of Texas.
Walking inside the monument, there is a place to buy tickets, a gift shop, museum, and theater. The gift shop is small and the items are pricey, so it is best to avoid making purchases here and look for souvenirs elsewhere. The museum is small and consists of two sections. The free section includes some exhibits that talk about the Texas revolution and the individuals responsible for its success. Here, one can soak up the history and learn more about Sam Houston, William Travis, James Fannin, Stephen F. Austin, and others who played an important role in the Texas war for independence. The other half of the museum is about the same size, but charges a fee for admission. I was a little annoyed that the San Jacinto monument would divide things up in this manner, with one section free and the other carrying a charge, but that is what the management has decided to do.
Going to the top of the monument is likely the next thing visitors will want to do. There is only one elevator (there is no space for any more) and only a small number (fewer than 10) can fit inside. The observation deck is also quite small and can hold no more than about thirty people. It is completely enclosed with windows for viewing the surrounding area. A few telescopes exist for individual use (if you're willing to drop a few quarters) and there is a souvenir penny machine that creates an image on a penny. A change machine exists if you are out of quarters.
The view from the observation deck offers some lovely scenes of......the local petrochemical plants (!) along the Houston Ship Channel. Looking in other directions, one can see the skyscrapers in downtown Houston, the Galleria area, and other points of interest. Unfortunately, there isn't much that can be done about the rest of the view- the part containing the petrochemical plants. The Houston Ship Channel is a lined with these industrial plants and small barges make their way up and down the channel throughout the day. With the need to use this space for business, visitors have to put up with the less than stellar views. There is no chance that this will change any time soon.
Moving on, the next place to visit is the Battleship Texas. This ship was used in both World Wars and it will delight fans of military history. The ship measures 573 feet in length and when it was used in battle, it carried a crew of more than 1,600. Visitors can freely walk around the ship and can walk into most (but not all) of the ship's different rooms. The visit is self- guided and it could present a challenge for some visitors, due to the fact that there is no easy means to get from one level to the next. You have to climb the almost vertical, steel ladders that connect each level. This may not be feasible for some visitors, so keep this in mind if you decide to visit.
As far as its role in history, the San Jacinto Monument is certainly an important monument and it does have much to offer those who visit. However, there are a few things that could be improved to make the visit more memorable. Not much can be done about the eyesore of the petrochemical plants and the nasty stench that can fill the air. But the people in charge of the monument could do some things to make a visit more memorable. The area in greatest need of some cleanup is the reflection pond. This pond is very large, measuring 1,750 feet in length and 200 feet in width. The problem is that nothing could possibly reflect in brown- tainted water. This needs to be cleaned out completely, making it a true reflection pool worthy of the name. I also don't like the division of the museum into separate areas (one free, the other not). Updating/changing these aspects, and a few other minor changes, would make a visit to this monument more memorable.
The San Jacinto Monument isn't part of the National Park Service. The monument, battleship, and park are all part of the Texas state park system. The San Jacinto Museum of History Association runs the show and oversees operation, but the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has the final say, since they ultimately control the monument and the other attractions.
Overall, the San Jacinto Monument and Museum is a nice place to visit, both for its large size and for its significance to local and American history. The experience could be better with a few improvements, but this is still an interesting place to visit and it attracts more than one- quarter million visitors each year. It offers a good history refresher and some interesting views from the largest memorial monument in the world.
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