Calaboose African American History Museum offers lessons on San Marcos' past

Hays County's first jail become a USO center for black World War II soldiers before it was turned into a museum. (Courtesy Calaboose Museum of African American History)
Hays County's first jail become a USO center for black World War II soldiers before it was turned into a museum. (Courtesy Calaboose Museum of African American History)

Hays County's first jail become a USO center for black World War II soldiers before it was turned into a museum. (Courtesy Calaboose Museum of African American History)

Image description
A historic look at the cotton industry offers a glimpse of a different San Marcos. (Evelin Garcia/Community Impact Newspaper)
Image description
Board member Elvin Holt said it is important for the museum to educate visitors on topics such as minstrel shows. (Evelin Garcia/Community Impact Newspaper)
Image description
With historic photos hanging from aged walls and vivid exhibits explaining 146 years of history, the Calaboose African American History Museum has made it its mission to safeguard local African American history in what originally served as Hays County’s first jail.

“When we start a tour, we tell all about the history of the people [photographed] and the objects. We always try to tie our exhibits to our local scene—places people know,” museum board President Elvin Holt said.

Built in 1873 the former calaboose, or jail, that once housed prisoners now hosts around 12 exhibits celebrating local black heroes in sports, music, business and the military. The museum also displays documents and newspaper clippings from periods of segregation and integration, noting the injustice and inequality.

The building was first renovated in 1990 before opening as a museum in 1997 after founder Johnnie M. Armstead worked to create a home for local African American history. Since then, the museum has served as an educational destination for the community and tourists.

“When Mrs. Armstead died, the museum nearly closed because board members dropped out, so we had to work hard to reconstitute the board. Her death was a hard blow to the museum because she was the real soul of the museum, but I was able to recruit new members,” Holt said.

Holt says there are a few controversial exhibitions at the museum that are important to showcase, as they tell the story of African American history in San Marcos. Such exhibits include images of blackface, minstrel props and a display of an original, local Ku Klux Klan robe from the 1920s.

“It’s important to display it because it’s local, and it confirms that San Marcos was a Klan-friendly town. There was a Klan rally in San Marcos that attracted 20,000 Klansmen,” Holt said.

Open on Saturdays or by appointment, the museum operates through donations and volunteer work; the utilities are funded by the city. The building received its historic landmark status in 1990, according to Holt. The museum, Holt said, invites the community to engage with local African American history through both exhibits and events. Calaboose African American History Museum 200 W. Martin Luther King Drive, San Marcos 512-393-8421 Hours: Sat. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and by appointment


Ascension Seton Hays cut the ribbon on the new maternity unit. (Courtesy Ascension Seton Hays)
Kyle's Ascension Seton Hays hospital cuts ribbon on new maternity unit

The hospital is also expanding its women's services program.

The city of San Marcos will be celebrating the dedication of its newest mural on Dec. 7. (Courtesy city of San Marcos)
City of San Marcos to dedicate a new mural at Wonder World Cave and Adventure Park

The city will be offering a dedication for the new mural "“Wild Rice” on Dec. 7.

Mavericks opened in Buda on Nov. 27. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Mavericks Dance Hall now open in Buda

The new Buda spot has five bars and a dance floor.

San Marcos Premium Outlets are located off I-35 in San Marcos. (Anna Herod/Community Impact Newspaper)
Versace now open at the San Marcos Premium Outlets

The Italian brand will feature clothing, footwear, eyewear, handbags and more.

Ascension Seton Health Center Buda is home to a new dermatology clinic. (Courtesy Ascension Medical Group Seton)
Ascension opens new dermatology clinic in Buda

Ascension Medical Group Seton Laser & Cosmetic Dermatology offers a range of services.

The store sells work from regional artists. (Anna Herod/Community Impact Newspaper)
Paper Bear in San Marcos to close after 41 years

The local novelty and San Marcos souvenir store is projected to close in spring of 2020.

The City Park amphitheater is nearing completion. (Evelin Garcia/Community Impact Newspaper)
Buda City Park construction set to finish before 2020 Weiner Dog Races

When complete, the work will include an amphitheater, two playgrounds and a splash pad.

The Restore in San Marcos opened last year. (Community Impact Newspaper)
Habitat for Humanity's ReStore in San Marcos celebrates one year in business

The nonprofit's donation center and store opened last December.

Downtown Buda will soon get a new arts center in the old City Hall building. (Community Impact Newspaper)
Downtown Buda's Inspired Minds Art Center set to open in January

The nonprofit Hill Country Theater will share the space.

After 20 years, Buda's Big Oaks Kennel and Dog Park Co. still keeps dogs tired and happy. (Community Impact Newspaper)
Buda's Big Oaks Kennel celebrates 20 years in business

Big Oaks offers boarding, grooming, day care and a membership-based dog park.

Back to top