Dallas Historical Society celebrates century of preservation, education
Is it possible to pick a favorite with 3 million items in the archives and artifact collections of the Dallas Historical Society (DHS)?
How about Sam Houston’s handwritten account of the Battle of San Jacinto, the only known original Juneteenth document, James Fannin’s watch, or Santa Anna’s spurs?
Society executive director Karl Chiao, who grew up in San Antonio, has his favorite – one of the newest exhibits at the Hall of State at Fair Park.
The 24-by-14-foot Texas Liberty Forever: The Battle of the Alamo diorama, depicting events of the morning of March 6, 1836, went on display in March, kicking off DHS’s 100th Anniversary celebration.
“It took three years to get the diorama delivered and set up permanently in the South Texas room at the Hall of State,” he said. “But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 20 years that it took Mr. Thomas Feely and his research team to create it.”
The exhibit, supported by lead sponsors Stanley V. Graff and Reed Graff, features 2,000-plus hand-painted pewter figures plus an interactive mobile app.
“It gives context to the size and scale of the battle that you cannot get anywhere else, including going to the actual Alamo site,” Chiao said.
Established in 1922, DHS uses its collections and exhibits to educate and inspire future generations, serving more than 20,000 students and welcoming 160,000-plus visitors annually.
“The most surprising collection we have is that of Admiral Chester Nimitz,” Chiao said. “With there being a Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas, I would have thought that his WWII items would have been there. However, when he donated these items to DHS in 1946, there was not yet a museum in Fredericksburg. We are fortunate to have not only his insignia but also his WWII uniform and the admiral’s flag that followed him everywhere he went.”
Chiao, a former DHS trustee who became executive director in 2018, oversaw the yearlong city-bond funded $14.4 million renovation of the Hall of State that wrapped up in November 2020, returning the building to its original 1936 glory.
Next came a six-month restoration project after sprinkler pipes busted during the winter storm of February 2021, causing $3 million in water damage.
“Now that our building has been restored, we will be focusing on educating not only the next generation but also all the new transplants moving into the metroplex about this wonderful city they now call home,” Chiao said. “We want to make sure they understand why Dallas is such an amazing place and the role that North Texas played in the history of Texas.”