Calaboose African American History Museum
Letters, books, photos, and antique items cover all aspects of African American life in early Texas, as visitors follow a seldom recounted narrative of heroism in the Calaboose African American History Museum. When Hays County’s first jailhouse was established during the reconstruction phase in 1873, the name “calaboose” was the common term for jail. In 1943, an extension was built to house a USO dancing hall for black servicemen. In 1954, it was renovated into a community center for Dunbar residents. And in 1990, it developed into one of our gems, the Calaboose African American History Museum. Buffalo Soldiers, Tuskegee Airmen, WWII Military, Civil Rights, Ku Klux Klan, and San Marcos local history are among the special exhibits. Eddie Durham’s memorabilia is presently on display at the Calaboose African American History Museum.
The Calaboose Museum is a storehouse for African American history and culture in San Marcos and Hays County. The museum attempts to offer more than just an African American history museum by sponsoring events and teaching visitors.
Mrs. Johnnie Armstead established the Calaboose African American History Museum (CAAHM) in 1997 in Hays County’s historic jail, which was erected in 1873. When the Calaboose was constructed, Robert Redford’s great-grandfather, veteran Confederate soldier Zachariah P. Bugg, was the sheriff of Hays County. When the second Hays County jail was built in 1884, the Calaboose was used to house African convicts. The edifice, which was named a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1990, served as a USO facility for black soldiers during WWII, as well as a community center and café.
Mrs. Johnnie M. Armstead (left) rescued the building from demolition and helped raise funding for its rehabilitation under the direction of architect Jeffrey H. Kester. In May 1997, the San Marcos City Council passed a resolution establishing the property as a history museum.
Mrs. Armstead’s personal items make up the core of the museum’s collection. The museum’s permanent collection has around 500 items, including paintings, letters, books, textiles, sketches, and other artifacts. The CAAHM is a 501-c3 tax-exempt organization governed by a board of directors and administered by the San Marcos Parks & Recreation Department.
Mrs. Johnnie Armstead, a committed wife and mother of three children, was a Girl Scouts leader for many years and the supervisor of her church’s Sunday School department. Mrs. Armstead was a member of the Hays County Historical Commission, the San Marcos Heritage Association, and Preservation Associates. Mrs. Armstead served as the office manager for the local Democratic Party and was active in the NAACP branch, among other things. Mrs. Armstead served as president of the Calaboose Board of Directors and museum director until her death in 2008.
San Marcos is the county seat of Hays County, Texas, in the United States. Caldwell and Guadalupe Counties are also included in the city’s limits. San Marcos is located on Interstate 35, which links Austin with San Antonio. The population was 44,894 according to the 2010 census and 67,553 according to the 2020 census. The settlement is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the Americas, having been constructed on the banks of the San Marcos River. Texas State University and the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment are both located in San Marcos.
In January 1808, a small group of Spanish-Mexican families settled near the Old Bastrop Highway bridge of the river and named the settlement Villa of San Marcos de Neve. Floods and Indian raids caused problems for the settlers, and the settlement was abandoned in 1812.
In November 1846, the first Anglo-American settlers landed in the San Marcos Springs area. Hays County was founded by the Texas Legislature on March 1, 1848, with San Marcos as the county seat. In 1851, a town center was established approximately a mile southwest of the river’s headwaters. The town evolved as a center for ginning and milling local agricultural products. General Edward Burleson, a hero of the Texas Revolution and subsequently vice president of the Republic of Texas, was the town’s most famous founder and early settler. Burleson constructed a dam on the upper reaches of the river in 1849. The dam powered multiple mills, including one in present-day Sewell Park.
Cattle and cotton laid the groundwork for San Marcos’ emergence as a commerce and transportation hub in the decade following the arrival of the International-Great Northern Railroad on September 30, 1880.
Coronal Institute was established in 1866 as an early private high school. Southwest Texas State Normal School (now known as Texas State University) was established in 1899 as a teacher’s college to meet the need for public school teachers in Texas.
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