Stephen F. Austin Birthday Celebration; Heritage Oak Tree

November 10, 2017 - Members and guests of the William Carroll Crawford Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the Gateway to Texas Chapter of the Sons of the Republic of Texas met last weekend around the Austin Heritage Oak tree on the Historic Courthouse Square to honor Stephen F. Austin. Stephen Fuller Austin was one of the most important people in the development of Texas. By most authorities he is considered to be the founder of the Anglo-American Texas. In fact, General Sam Houston called him the “Father of Texas.” He was one of the most successful impresarios given the right to place settlers in the new area called “Texas.” Born in Austinville, Virginia on November 3, 1793, he was placed in charge of the Texas project begun by his father, Moses Austin, after Moses’ death in 1820. Stephen died on December 27, 1836, only a few months after the Battle of San Jacinto, at the age of forty-three. At the time of his death he was living near the town of Columbia at the home of Judge George McKinstry. Austin never married, never held elective office, so he is not as well known as other heroes of the early Texas Republic, but hero he was, because he and his father Moses had the vision to bring settlers in to create homes and communities, to help create Texas.

The live oak tree, growing between the bandstand and the old clerk’s building on the courthouse square, is part of a project begun several years ago by Houston businessman Bill F. Price, who had a lifelong interest in Stephen F. Austin. When he discovered the George McKinstry home had been located and was for sale, Price and his wife Janie purchased the property. The home where Stephen F. Austin had lived was now a junkyard, but with much effort the property was cleared and made into a park where an annual celebration of  Austin’s birthday is held on November 3. At the site of the old McKinstry house is a giant live oak tree that has been standing since before the days of the Texas Republic. Acorns were gathered from that tree and have been propagated into trees that were made available for planting. These trees were certified by the Texas Forestry Association as disease free and that they were from the tree at the McKinstry location. The goal of the project was to plant one of the trees in the county seat of each county in the State of Texas.

On March 2, 2004 (Texas Independence Day) the Gateway to Texas Chapter of the Sons of the Republic of Texas, assisted by the William Carroll Crawford Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, fourth grade students from Shelby County schools and other dignitaries, a program was held at the Historic Courthouse dedicating the oak seedling. The group, led by SRT President Mike Wood, DRT President Fay Eddins, Judge Dock Watson and Texas Forest Service District Forester Chris Sawyer then planted the young tree, a lasting tribute to the Father of Texas.