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Museum tells history of Fort Sam Houston, military in San Antonio

By David DeKunder | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | March 24, 2017


Located in the historic Quadrangle at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, the Fort Sam Houston Museum tells the history of the post from its origins to the present day, including the units, organizations and figures that have made the post one of the most important in the U.S. military.

The museum is housed in former storerooms at the Quadrangle, the oldest structure at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and former quartermaster depot constructed in 1876. The museum contains six rooms of exhibits and displays, beginning with the establishment of a U.S. Army post in San Antonio in 1845, to the construction of the fort and how the post evolved to support the units and servicemembers who served in numerous conflicts at home and abroad.

Being located in the Quadrangle makes the museum more accessible to visitors, said Jacqueline Davis, Fort Sam Houston Museum director.

“It is the most historic site on the post and the oldest building on the post,” Davis said. “It’s been a tourist destination since the walls went up.”

Visitors who browse the museum’s gallery will see many artifacts, images and texts covering the time periods of the Army’s establishment in San Antonio and the development of JBSA-Fort Sam Houston. Artifacts include uniforms, insignia, equipment, firearms, weapons and accouterments, which is the personal clothing of soldiers, and a 1880s supply wagon. The museum gallery also includes a 20-minute film.

Davis said the museum gallery starts with exhibits covering the early Spanish and Mexican presence in Texas; the Republic of Texas, which was in existence from 1836-45; and the reasons the U.S. Army established a post in San Antonio beginning in 1845 after Texas was admitted into the U.S., to include the Mexican War.

Additional exhibits include the fort’s role in being the headquarters for soldiers and units that fought Indians and bandits on the frontier, from the 1870s to the 1880s; its establishment as a permanent installation in 1876; it’s becoming an artillery, infantry and staff post in the early 1900s; in the beginning of military aviation; supporting soldiers and units who served on the Texas-Mexico border during the Mexican Revolution, from 1910-19; in supporting military personnel who served in World War I; being the home of two and the birthplace of four field armies during World War II; and the addition of medical units and schools during and after WWII to the present.

In April, the museum will open a temporary exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of the U.S. military’s entry into WWI. Davis said the exhibit will cover the role units at Fort Sam Houston had in protecting the U.S.-Mexican border from Texas to Arizona during the Mexican Revolution and WWI, including the expedition led by Gen. John Pershing, who was the commanding general at the post, to pursue and try to capture Pancho Villa in Mexico and focusing military personnel to Europe once WWI started.

The exhibit will run until November 2018, marking the end of WWI.

Davis said visitors to the museum will come away with a greater appreciation of the fort’s history.

“One of the comments we get is, ‘I didn’t know Fort Sam Houston had a lot of history,’” she said. “There is always something to be learned. I learn something every time I do research on the fort. For people who served and lived here, it tells them something about their history. It’s an easy way to learn because it’s visual. I hope people get enjoyment out of it.”

Lauren Hannemann said every time she comes to the museum with her two children she learns something new about the history of JBSA-Fort Sam Houston.

“I like seeing all the different artifacts,” Hannemann said. “I like the movie and so do my kids. My son likes seeing all the trucks and weapons.”

Hannemann said her children like coming to the museum because they get to participate in a scavenger hunt game in which they are given a sheet of six items to locate and identify in the exhibits and displays.

Davis said the scavenger hunt game is very popular with both parents and children.

“The parents seem to like it because it makes the children look at every exhibit,” Davis said.

The museum has more than 8,200 artifacts that are on permanent display or housed in two storage rooms and a reference library that contains books, publications and sources relating to the history of JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and other JBSA installations, unofficial records, military manuals, personal papers of servicemembers who were stationed at the installation and publications on identifying and taking care of artifacts. The reference library includes archival holdings that contain a collection of approximately 10,000 photos and a small document collection.

Established in 1967, the Fort Sam Houston Museum has been housed at four locations on the post, including the Stillwell House, which was the commanding officer’s quarters, and building 123 on Stanley Road. In June 2015, the museum moved to its present location in the Quadrangle.

The museum offers orientations and guided tours, which should be reserved one week in advance, and the reference library and archives can be used for research by appointment. In addition, the museum conducts outreach programs for schools and colleges and supports professional development training for military organizations. To reserve a guided tour or orientation, for information on museum programs, or to make an appointment to use library and archives, contact the museum at 221-1886.

The museum is free and open to the public. Visitors can assess the museum by entering through the Sally Port at the Quadrangle, going to the right to the east wing of the Quadrangle, building 16, where the museum entrance is marked by blue awning.

Visitors who want to come to the museum but do not have DOD access to get into JBSA-Fort Sam Houston should refer to the JBSA website, http://www.jbsa.af.mil/library/visitorinformation.asp, for base entry requirements.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday. The museum is closed Sunday, Monday and federal holidays.