For three centuries, Spanish and French explorers marked a trail that runs through the piney woods and rolling hills of the Louisiana Territory to the arid lands of northern Mexico, in what would later become Texas. Beginning in the 1820’s, the first settlers from the United States followed El Camino Real de Tejas beyond the ambiguous boundaries established by the Louisiana Purchase. For these new Texans, the Red River and its tributaries became an ever important route in the new territory, but war, economic and social dislocations and a cataclysmic change in the direction of the Red River in 1837 wiped out study sites from mainstream modern development. Today their well-built, often elegant and sometimes unrestored buildings offer us a unique opportunity to learn firsthand about the history of an often forgotten region of Texas.
We will begin our exploration of East Texas by traveling to Natchitoches, Louisiana, the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. Established in 1714, this French riverside settlement promoted trade and defined and maintained a boundary with Spanish Mexico. In the century prior to the American settlement of Louisiana and Texas, this region developed a rich plantation culture whose Creole architectural styles we will study in-depth. From Natchitoches we will travel to San Augustine, Texas with its Greek revival architecture and memories of entertaining luminaries in its parlors during the days of the Republic of Texas. We will conclude our study tour in the city of Jefferson, Texas, once a thriving river port in the 1800’s with more than 200 historical buildings. Stephen Fox, architectural historian, will accompany us on this historical tour of East Texas.
Stephen Fox is an architectural historian and a fellow of the Anchorage Foundation of Texas. He lectures on architectural history at Rice University and he University of Houston. His most recent book is The Country Houses of John F. Staub.
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