Land of Big Sam
Sam Houston casts a long shadow in the historic hub of Huntsville
By Karen Hastings
Historic Capitol Hill, one of the highest points in Huntsville, is a good place to start if you want to really understand this cultured and prosperous Piney Woods town that has long set its sights on greatness. Energized by the spirit of Lone Star general and statesman Sam Houston, the hometown hero of Texas Independence, town fathers once imagined a capitol dome atop this prominent rise. Today, Capitol Hill is serenaded by the clock tower chimes of Sam Houston State University, one of the state’s oldest institutions of higher education.
True to its earliest ambitions, the surrounding Huntsville community thrives both as a center of Texas tradition and history, and as headquarters for the nation’s second-largest prison system.
I’d been to Huntsville many times as a newspaper reporter covering the prison system before I actually got to know the place. Like many true Texans, I didn’t realize that Huntsville owes much of its prominence, as well as its place on any Texan’s travel itinerary, to the influence and legacy of Sam Houston. The mythic soldier, politician, and adventurer made his home here and forever linked the town to pivotal events in Texas independence and statehood. Houston’s larger-than-life, ripe-for-a-Hollywood-movie persona casts long shadows—from the prison system and university he helped establish to the 67-foot “Big Sam” statue that now overlooks the Interstate 45 freeway into town. Even before Huntsville became synonymous with the prison farms that dot the surrounding countryside, this community was a vibrant, ambitious center for education and government.
It shows in gracefully restored homes and buildings, the bustling college campus, and Huntsville’s many other cultural and historic attractions—all of which I discovered when I had the opportunity to slow down and really explore Huntsville for the first time.
Huntsville, the Walker County seat, lies about 70 miles north of Houston (and 170 miles south of Dallas) on I-45. The Huntsville/Walker County Chamber of Commerce Visitor’s Center (1327
From the August 2009 issue.