Witte Museum to display historic, rarely seen maps of Texas

'A once in a generation chance' to see map drawn by Stephen F. Austin

SAN ANTONIO – The Witte Museum on Friday will open "Mapping Texas: From Frontier to the Lone Star State," an exhibit displaying historic, rarely seen maps of the Lone Star State.

"Spectacular, historic and very important,” said Bruce Shackelford, curator of the South Texas Heritage Center at the Witte Museum.

"Many of them are one of a kind,” added James Harkins, director of public services of the archives at the Texas General Land Office.

Replaced by GPS devices, maps could be considered a lost art. However, many of the maps on display are so important to Texas history that they have long been carefully preserved at the Texas General Land Office and not seen by the public. The Witte Museum and General Land Office teamed up for the exhibit, which they are calling a "once in a generation" chance to see the rare relics.

"They document ownership. Everything goes back to these maps,” Harkins said.

Properties across Texas have been documented on maps since the state’s inception. The exhibit boasts maps from as early as 1500 and maps created during the state’s time as independent country.

"It really shows how Texas became the shape we know it today,” Shackelford said.

The crown jewel of the exhibit is a map created by Stephen F. Austin, which he started in 1833. The 6-by-6-foot map was hand-drawn by Austin, an accomplished cartographer, and others over four years. Because of its fragile state, few people outside of the Texas General Land Office have ever seen the map. In addition, it sits beside two other important maps created by Austin.

"This has probably never happened other than maybe in his office almost 175 years ago, and the fact that they're all here together here for the first time is truly remarkable,” Harkins said.

All of the maps contain bar codes that can be scanned with a smartphone, giving visitors a chance to buy replicas from the Texas General Land Office.

"Mapping Texas: From Frontier to the Lone Star State" will be on display through Sept. 5. Entry into the exhibit is included the price of admission to the Witte Museum.

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