Museum has many historic ties to Gonzales and Texas: Building dedicated during centennial


Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part series of stories focusing on the historic museum in Gonzales. Today's story looks back at how the idea of a museum was conceived and how it came about.

When it comes to history, Gonzales is second to none in Texas.

Part of that history sits along Smith Street in the form of the historic museum which was constructed to denote the state's centennial celebration.

How the museum came about is an interesting story. Information in this story came from both the original accounts for the museum as well as the official application by the city of Gonzales to make it a recorded Texas historical landmark.

In the beginning …

It was May 8, 1935, when the Commission of Control for Texas Centennial Celebrations was created by an act of the 44th Legislature of the state of Texas. The bill was officially titled, "Appropriation for Celebration of Texas Centennial."

That commission allocated $30,000 and the federal government's Public Works Administration allocated $24,545 for the construction of the Gonzales Memorial Museum and Amphitheater.

An allocation of $6,000 was used for equipment and furnishings as well as for construction of the reflecting pool. A $1,500 allocation provided for a monument to the Gonzales men known as "The Immortal Thirty-two." A $500 allocation provided for the marble plaque honoring the Gonzales men known as "The Old Eighteen." Sixteen bronze plaques relating the early history of the region were provided for the interior by part of an additional $1,500 allocation.

Phelps & Dewees, architects, designed the building that was constructed of Texas shell stone and trimmed in Cordova cream limestone.

Page & Southerland, architects, designed the monument to the 32 Gonzales men, a shaft of axed Texas pink granite eight feet, 10 inches in height, tapering from five feet, six inches at the base to three feet, eight inches at the top, and one foot, four inches thick, standing on a three-foot base.

The bronze sculptured panel that is attached to its face was designed by Raoul Josset. The hone-finished silver gray Georgia marble plaque to "The Old Eighteen," set inside the wall of the museum, was designed by Phelps & Dewees.

Getting started

A ground-breaking ceremony was carried out at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 4, 1937, at the site on East Avenue on the block east of the high school grounds and opposite the Holmes Hospital on the north.

Ross Boothe, one of the most active members of the Gonzales Centennial Committee, lifted the spadeful of dirt that officially started the work on the building.

The document reporting the official groundbreaking indicates those present included: Charles H. Bertrand, supervising architect; W.R. Nunnelly; D.H. Cone; Joseph Grant; G.B. Robertson; Glenn Burgess; J.F. Remschel; L.H. Burchard; Anton Trlica, photographer; an Inquirer reporter; and several others from Gonzales.

Another interesting fact pointed out in the original account was the call for people seeking to work on the project.

It said "those desiring to work" at the job will "have to secure work cards from Ray Bright at the Relief Office."

It was also pointed out the work will be "no grass cutting affair" and those given jobs "will hold them only through efficiency and work."

Documents indicate the wage scale for common laborers was $3.20 a day while brick layers, gas fitters, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, sheet metal workers and others were to receive $8 a day. Semi-skilled labor was paid from $3.60 to $6.40 a day. The day scale was based on an eight hour day.

The final cost for construction of the museum was approximately $68,000.

In order to create a memorial effect, windows were omitted from the west of the principle elevation and a long terrace was designed to border the massive buttresses that continue completely across the building.

From the terrace, an opening nine feet wide and 15 feet high is flanked by carved pilasters which form a monumental entrance into the centrally located rotunda which is the key point of the building. Flanking the rotunda are two rooms, each 25 feet wide and 32 feet long and 22 feet high from the floor to the top of the decorated ceilings.

The interior of the two rooms have beautiful six foot high wainscoting made of Texas shell limestone which was ground and polished. Each room is adorned with an historical mural created by J.B. Winn, Jr.

To the east of the rotunda is the amphitheater and stage that affords seating for 500 people. In front of the building is a reflecting pool more than 100 feet long that mirrors the building as well as the bronze and marble shaft which honors the "Immortal Thirty-two."

A formality

Formal dedication ceremonies were held in the amphitheater on Saturday, Oct. 30, 1937.

Gov. James V. Allred made the dedication address, paying high tribute to the heroes of Gonzales.

The dedication ceremony began with the introduction of out of town guests, with Ross Boothe presiding as master of ceremonies. Among those introduced were Mr. and Mrs. J.K. Beretta, Father Fojk, Mrs. Joe DuBose, Mrs. Cornell, Mrs. MaGee and Mrs. O.M. Farnsworth.

Many state officials were also in attendance at the ceremony. Those included L.W. Kemp; Claude Teer, chairman of the state board of control; and Coke Stevenson, former speaker of the house. All had a part in the program.

B.B. Hoskins, Jr., in a brief address, reviewed the history of Gonzales from its founding in 1825 and told of the bravery and courage of the pioneers. He told of the stand of the "Old Eighteen" in defense of the town, of the start of the Texas revolution here, of the reconciliation of Wharton and Austin, of the organization of the first, second and third armies of Texas volunteers.

He recounted briefly the story of the Alamo and dwelt on the bravery of the "thirty-two men from Gonzales who marched to its relief in the face of certain death," and told of the burning of Gonzales and the march to the west that ended in victory at San Jacinto.

Home of the cannon

Following the ceremony, a number of historical relics were placed in the museum room which formed one wing of the memorial. The other wing, at that time, was used at the city's library.

Eventually, the museum outgrew its space and in 1972, the library was moved to a separate building, thus allowing the museum to occupy the entire memorial building.

In 2000, the museum became the permanent home of the famous "Come and Take It" cannon. It was from this cannon that the first shot for Texas independence was fired on Oct. 2, 1835, during the Battle of Gonzales.

That cannon has become a well-known symbol of Gonzales and remains the centerpiece of history for the museum and this area.

The museum is owned by the city of Gonzales and is a project of the Thomas Shelton Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It is governed by a museum board.

The only known floor plans are the architectural drawings currently housed at the Texas State Archives in Austin.