Historic Texas flags fly proudly again

The historic flags of Texas are visible remnants of Texas history – a tangible connection to the historic events that make Texas so unique. Texas flags have endured many struggles, the most recent being restoration to their former glory.

The road to restoring Texas historic flags is a long and often arduous one. Early attempts to display historic Texas flags began in 1925, when the state legislature passed a law permitting the State Library and Archives to lend their flags to a nearby museum. Located in the old General Land Office Building, the museum was run by both the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The practice continued until the building was renovated in the early 1980s. It was then the legislature appropriated $30,000 to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon to build a conservation center where such artifacts could be restored. Because of declining revenues, however, it was a one-time-only appropriation, funding conservation of only half the historic flags in the state’s possession, all of which were then returned to Austin and placed in storage.

In 1997, Texas Historical Commission (THC) Chair John L. Nau, III viewed the flags and saw their deteriorating condition. Stored in adjacent boxes was the flag captured by Sam Houston at the battle of San Jacinto and the flag of the First Texas Infantry.

“I felt an internal call to action,” said Nau. “I was looking at what represented a symbol of the bloodiest day in American history and felt something had to be done.”

A fund-raising effort to conserve the flags began in earnest through Friends of the Texas Historical Commission, Inc. – a nonprofit organization dedicated to the mission of protecting, preserving and promoting Texas’ rich and unique heritage. Friends raised more than $360,500 for the project.

Nau contacted Fonda Thomsen, director of a Maryland textile preservation company, and considered the nation’s foremost expert in the field. Nau worked with Thomsen on a previous project and knew of her expertise in the preservation and reconstruction of historic flags and fabrics.

Former Houston congressman Mike Andrews became interested in the project, seeking to have the flags displayed, and the groundwork was laid for a first-of-its-kind exhibition.

In January 1998, the THC, along with the State Library and Archives, hired historian Bob Maberry, who had done extensive research on Texas flags, when the project became the Historic Flags of Texas Project.

“To my knowledge, the ‘Texas Flags’ exhibition is the first of its kind, anywhere,” said Nau. “For this alone, it can stand on its own merit; however, its greater significance is demonstrated as it traces the path of Texas history. It also can he an inspirational model for other states.” Fourteen historic flags owned by the State of Texas have been conserved as a result of this effort.

These flags are part of the Texas Flags: 1836-1945 exhibition on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston from January 13-April 28, 2002.

The Texas Historical Commission is the state agency for historic preservation. The agency administers a variety o programs to preserve the archeological, historical and cultural resources of Texas.