By James Waterson
Few places in the Lone Star State are as steeped in history as the town of Gonzales. One of the oldest communities in Texas, some of the pivotal moments of the struggle for independence took place in Gonzales. From the first shot fired of the war for Texas Independence, to the beginning of the Runaway Scrape, leading to the defeat of Santa Ana’s army at San Jacinto, Gonzales is the remarkable site of where it all happened.
Gonzales is home to the Immortal 32 who were the only men to answer the call to reinforce the Alamo. This history is still alive in Gonzales today, thanks to an abundance of homes, monuments, museums and the first ever state-designated Texas History Museum District.
If you’re a history enthusiast or you want to discover a side of Texas you haven’t experienced before, visit Gonzales. Located an hour from Austin, San Antonio, and two hours from Houston, it’s easy to plan a road trip here. Immerse yourself in the glorious past and bright future of Gonzales.
1. See the Famous “Come and Take It” Cannon
Even if you’re not a native Texan, you have probably heard of the “Come and Take It” cannon. On October 2, 1835, this cannon fired the first shot of the Texas Revolution. This notable event started a conflict that reshaped borders and changed the course of history forever. It is a rare opportunity to see real pieces of history in-person, but that’s exactly what you can do at the Gonzales Memorial Museum.
This Gonzales Memorial Museum is one of eight built in 1936 to honor those communities that played pivotal roles in early Texas. Built to commemorate the Immortal 32, the only volunteers to respond to Travis’ letter at the Alamo, along with other Texas heroes and heroines, this museum offers an in-depth look at Gonzales’ prominent place in Texas’ rich history
Explore the museum to see this famed cannon, along with rifles, munitions, and uniforms from the Texas Revolution era, as well as photographs that bring the town’s history to life. Don’t miss the two massive indoor murals painted by Buck Winn in 1938 that portray the culture and history of the Lone Star State and the classically designed amphitheater.
2. Step Back in Time
Explore an entire village of authentic early Texas structures. Experience what life was like for 19th Century Texans by visiting the Gonzales Pioneer Village Living History Center. There is plenty to discover in the Pioneer Village. Step into 19th-century homes, churches, schools, blacksmith shops, and saloons dating as far back as the 1840s to get a glimpse of life in the frontier days of Texas. Come during the first weekend in October to see a reenactment of the Battle of Gonzales, part of the annual Come & Take It Celebration.
Admire the largest private gun collection on public display in the country, including rare and one-of-a-kind handguns. View the largest private collection of original documents from the Texas Revolutionary era at the Robert Lee Brothers Jr., Memorial Library. This expansive document collection features more than 60 documents signed by Texas heroes, including high-profile figures such as, Green DeWitt, Col. William Travis, Davy Crockett, and Sam Houston.
Continuing your historic adventure, stop by the JB Wells House Museum, a 15-room mansion built in 1885, and the Eggleston House, a two-room dogtrot style home which is Gonzales’ oldest structure.
Finally, wrap up your journey through Gonzales’ history at the Gonzales County Jail Museum, a jail that once housed some of Texas’ most notorious outlaws. Tour the cell block and you’ll see the original cells and sheriff’s quarters. Hang out at the rebuilt gallows and check out the early graffiti. Artifacts from inmates and deputies are on display as well, all intermingling to tell the riotous story of the many people who passed through this old jail.
3. Watch the Battle That Started a Revolution
A single shot from a tiny cannon sparked the Battle of Gonzales, the Texas Revolution, and the creation of a new nation. Right before your eyes, the battle unfolds during Gonzales’ annual Come & Take It Celebration held every year on the first full weekend in October. Flinch from the musket fire during the reenactment at the Pioneer Village on Saturday afternoon after dancing in the parade along the history-rich avenues earlier that day.
Be sure to tap your toes to some great live music, marvel at the world-renowned Chicken Flying Contest and indulge in all other festivities throughout original downtown squares. Play a round of golf at Independence Park and try your hand at disc golf along the route of the Runaway Scrape. Make sure to see if there is a rodeo in town at the J B Wells Arena while you’re in town.
4. Admire Gonzales’ Historic Homes & Buildings
One of the most remarkable destinations in Texas, it’s no surprise that Gonzales has an impressive array of beautifully preserved 19th-century structures. Gonzales is a living, breathing showcase of another period. To see all of this for yourself, follow the Historic Driving and Walking Tours. Start at the 1894 Gonzales County Courthouse, built by noted architect J. Gordan Riley. Cruise the neighborhoods to see such extraordinary homes as the Houston House and the T.H. Spooner House, two of over 80 historic homes in town. Each locale tells a story of prestigious bankers, intrepid early settlers, prosperous farmers and ranchers, legends of early cattle drives, and giants of the industry.
To see this time capsule of Texas history in more detail, you can even request a volunteer guide to go along with you!
5. Spend the Night in a Beautiful Historic Home
Relax on the porch of a spectacular mansion, your home away from home during your stay in Gonzales. You can do just that at one of Gonzales’ bed and breakfasts. Stay at the St. James Inn, a stately home built in 1914 for the son of General Sam Houston. Enjoy the vintage furnishings and cozy rooms at the Belle Oaks Inn, which offers a variety of accommodations ideal for romantic getaways and groups of up to 16 people.
Laurel Ridge Inn, built by the sheriff who held off the lynch mob at what is now the Old Jail Museum, offers a unique look at the history of Texas lawmen. Today, it offers a meticulously restored, spacious overnight accommodation.
You can stay within walking distance of just about everything in town. Gonzales boasts a recently renovated boutique-style hotel on one of the seven downtown squares along with a wide variety of nationally recognized hotels in close proximity to one another. No matter where you hang your hat, you’ll have a stay like no other.
As one of Texas’ most captivating places, Gonzales is a must-visit for anyone interested in experiencing the remarkable past of the Lone Star State and exploring the boundless opportunities of its bright future. Discover everything Gonzales has to offer and start planning your trip here.