Texas State Cemetery: From the Old West to 9/11 in AustinDecember 30, 2011 No Comments
Blame it on years of living in New Orleans, where locals still hold picnics in the stunning above-ground cemeteries. Or blame it on a somewhat morbid fascination with all things dark yet beautiful. Regardless, Dad and I are particularly enamored by cemeteries, and make it a goal to see the major burial grounds in each city we visit. The Texas State Cemetery in Austin was a particularly interesting choice.
About the Texas State Cemetery
In 1851, when State Senator Edward Burleson passed away, landowner Andrew Jackson Hamilton donated 21 acres for his burial. The Texas State Cemetery opened on the site in 1854 in Austin, Texas. It is the final resting place for a long list of Texas founders including Stephen F. Austin, who was responsible for Texas’ early colonization.
Today, the cemetery houses a surprisingly expansive Visitor Center and research archives with staff librarians to assist visitors. It also boasts the shortest State Highway in Texas, the half-mile Highway 165 that runs through the grounds. New burials are still conducted at the cemetery, though eligibility is limited to Texas politicians and prominent local residents. As of 2011, the cemetery grounds are open daily from 8 to 5. The Visitor Center and archives are open the same hours Monday through Friday. Free guided tours are available for groups of 10 or more with advance notice. There is no admission fee.
We began our visit, appropriately enough, at the Visitor Center. A boisterous school group was there when we arrived, but they left soon after. If you have the time to spare, sit down and watch the excellently produced and presented videos, which provide a terrific overview of Texas history. A small but well-chosen collection of artifacts further brings history to life.
As the outside temperature was well over 100 degrees, we decided to drive rather than hiking the grounds. The road is well-marked and easy to follow and with virtually no traffic, we had little trouble stopping to take the photos we wanted.
Make sure to grab a brochure at the Visitor Center before heading out. Most of the prominent gravesites are marked on the brochure with a bit of background information on the honored person.
Our most stunning experience was the 9/11 Memorial. Dedicated in 2003, the Memorial features a circular granite wall etched with the timeline of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The centerpiece is a pair of steel columns retrieved from Ground Zero. Unlike many memorials of that tragic day, visitors to the Texas State Cemetery are able to get close to the columns, even touching them as desired, while paying respects to the victims. It was a truly moving moment for both of us.
Tips for Parents
The Texas State Cemetery is beautifully manicured and offers an excellent retreat for families of all ages. The stunning grounds are well-worth a visit, even if you are not particularly interested in locating the gravesites of Texas politicians. The Visitor Center offers a quick and easy-to-follow history of the state, and is small enough not to overwhelm young children. Just a mile from the Texas State Capitol building, the Texas State Cemetery offers families a much-needed break from the bustle of downtown Austin.
The sense of history is palpable throughout the property. So many pre-Civil War burial grounds have long since been abandoned and largely reclaimed by the Earth, yet this one continues to function today. Strike up a conversation with your kids as you contemplate the massive changes that Texas has undergone from those Wild West days through today.
If you plan to spend time hiking through the cemetery, keep some water and salty snacks in your car. The dry air can be quite dehydrating, but food and drinks are not permitted on the grounds. Wear plenty of sunscreen, a hat, and comfortable walking shoes. Use caution around the steel columns at the 9/11 Memorial, as there are numerous sharp edges.