Last week I traveled with my family to Houston for a quick little trip before the start of the school year. My wife had a meeting downtown and while she was cooped up inside all day I took the girls on a sightseeing tour of the Houston metropolitan area.
Our first stop was San Jacinto.
It’s the site of the decisive battle where Texas won its independence from Mexico and so it is fitting that a towering, 570-foot-tall memorial be built to memorialize the event. In case you’re keeping score, that’s ten feet taller than the Washington Monument because everything is bigger in Texas. Given that the monument is located seventeen miles east of Houston, the height of the tower really stands out.
The monument was finished in 1939, a good three years after the centennial of the battle. The swampy landscape that surrounded the monument had changed little since 1836, but while the tower was under construction, nearby Buffalo Bayou was dredged to create the Houston Ship Channel. In the eighty years that followed, the area became a center of petrochemical production and so the view from the tower is one of a vast industrial landscape.
Speaking of anachronisms, the Battleship Texas is located nearby. I spent a fair amount of our time there explaining that the battleship had absolutely nothing to do with the battle that occurred at the site three quarters of a century earlier.
Because of its remote and less-than-picturesque location, the San Jacinto monument isn’t the most popular tourist destination in the Houston area. Half of the gallery located at the monument’s base has been given over to a paid exhibit and local energy companies who sponsor the monument have a heavy narrative presence throughout. The original inscriptions on the exterior of the monument also downplay the role of Tejanos in the battle as well as the larger struggle for Texas independence. The narrative that the struggle was primarily one of Americans fighting against Mexican oppressors is an oversimplification with racist overtones.
Still, it’s a great building. As with all the other monuments built as part of the the 1836 centennial, it deserves to be more well known.