At no time in recent memory have Texans sought out safe, engaging, and educational activities – to experience on their own or enjoy with family members and friends – as extensively as they have throughout the last year. As indoor establishments temporarily closed or made dramatic changes to programming, a shift took place: suddenly the great outdoors looked bigger and better than ever before.
The Lone Star State is home to a number of outdoor, open air museums whose figurative doors remain wide open. These unique venues offer something to interest almost everyone, served alongside an extra helping of safety.
Barrington Living History Farm, Washington
Located on the grounds of historic Washington-on-the-Brazos, Barrington Living History Farm encompasses the plantation and cotton farm once belonging to Dr. Anson Jones, the last president of the Republic of Texas. Barrington brings to life the people and events of Washington in the early-to-mid nineteenth century, as those who now care for the land and property do so dressed in period-specific attire and using the methods and tools commonly employed in the 1850s.
Visitors can tour the property at their leisure; some meander the walking trails, admiring the expansive fields of stunning wildflowers, while others get their hands dirty, pitching in to help with actual chores. Barrington also holds monthly special programs and focus weekends; this spring they plan to offer a wide range of interesting and engaging events, including “Sounds of 1850” in April, “Plows & Petticoats: True Texas Women” in May, and a Juneteenth celebration to commemorate the end of slavery in June.
American Windmill Museum, Lubbock
Established in 1993 and located in Lubbock, the internationally recognized American Windmill Museum is the largest windmill museum in the world. The museum has a reputation not just as a windmill graveyard, however, but as an educational organization focused on sharing the history of wind machines, including the important historical relationship between the windmill and the railroad, shining a light on those whose dedication brought wind machines to life, and exploring how humans have learned to harness wind power to improve quality of life.
With two massive buildings encompassing 63,000 square feet and an outdoor park spanning 28 acres, the museum offers plenty of space for social distancing. Visitors can stroll through both areas at their own pace, but guided tours are also available. The public is both welcome and encouraged to attend the museum’s two primary spring events: the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce’s “Lubbock Uncorked” and Habitat for Humanity’s annual fundraiser.
New Braunfels Conservation Plaza, New Braunfels
More than 100 years after the founding of New Braunfels, the New Braunfels Conservation Society was in 1964 established to preserve one of the city’s historic homes. As the Society expanded, so too did its mission to “preserve and promote the history and heritage” of the area, and in 1972, a generous donation of three-and-a-half acres of land allowed the Society to create Conservation Plaza, a permanent home for additional relocated and restored historic buildings.
Today, Conservation Plaza offers visitors an opportunity to travel back in time and immerse themselves in the history of central Texas. The Plaza resembles a pioneer village and is home to eighteen historic buildings, including a bed and breakfast, saloon, music studio, schoolhouse, and two-seater outhouse, as well as a lovely gazebo and a rose garden bursting with brightly colored blooms. Tours are available and visitors are welcome anytime, especially for the upcoming annual Antique Barn Sale and Market in May and Harvest Moon Gala in October.
Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, Austin
Located in Austin near Zilker Metropolitan Park, the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum is named in honor of artist Charles Umlauf, who, along with his wife, in 1985 gifted his home, property, studio, and 168 sculptures to the City of Austin. These picturesque spaces came to life in 1991, and building on its commitment to providing arts education, understanding the harmonious connection between art and nature, and offering fully accessible programming, the UMLAUF has since flourished, becoming one of Austin’s premiere cultural arts destinations.
Nearly 60 Umlauf sculptures are on display, nestled among towering trees, lush grass, flowering bushes, quietly flowing streams, and winding paths. UMLAUF also hosts visiting exhibits, and plans to welcome Blood, Sweat, and Tears by Curator Bale Creek Allen this spring and Superflora by artist Courtney Egan come fall. Last but certainly not least, UMLAUF provides wonderful opportunities to introduce budding young artists to sculpture; Family Days are offered every second Sunday and all of the bronze sculptures are waxed to allow for light touching and a true interactive experience.
Now go forth into the great outdoors and explore these unusual museums!