What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear of Fair Park? For most people, it would be corn dogs, car shows, and a whole day’s worth of fun at the State Fair of Texas. However, there is a place in this sprawling 277-acre complex not many people are privy to – the Hall of State. Much more than just a gorgeous building, the Hall of State is home to the Dallas Historical Society. Many relics are stored and exhibited in this building, which also doubles as a museum and research facility open to the public year-round. This summer, I got to visit, and went behind closed doors to get a glimpse of all that goes on here!
Built in 1936 for the Texas Centennial Exposition, the Hall of State contains some impressive art deco architecture on the exterior. Made of limestone native to the state, it cost $1.2 million, an astronomical figure back in the days of the Great Depression. Today, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the federal government, deeming it worthy of preservation.
Deputy Director Alan Olson took me around the building. Alan explained that the Hall of State is made up of several different rooms, each themed after a different region of Texas. The East Texas room, open to the public, contains murals that depict the importance of timber to the region, and the walls give the impression of entering an East Texas forest.
In there, I viewed an exhibit about Dallas in the time of Martin Luther King Jr. Display panels presented the Civil Rights Era as it happened here in Texas. It was eye-opening learning about how life was like in D-Town for African-Americans back in the 60s. The descriptions provided were thorough, and allowed me to get further insight into this time period.
One thing that caught my eye was this advertisement for the 1951 Texas State Fair. Although if you stand in the Midway or trek down the auto show hall today, you see people of all colors and nationalities, it wasn’t always this way. Up until 1961, there was only one day that people of color were able to access the entire fair.
While on the issue of civil rights, I came across a very unique document on display in the front lobby- one of the original versions of General Order #3, which freed slaves in Texas. Read to the people of Galveston on June 19th, 1865, it was the start of Juneteenth, a holiday still celebrated today.
This would be far from the only unique item I saw here, as I found out when Alan took me into the North Texas room. Currently used for storage, there were tons and tons of artifacts all with very significant historical value, ranging from Admiral Chester Nimitz’s uniform to antique rifles used in battle! These items are used on a rotational basis by the museum, depending on which exhibit is being shown to the public.
We then made our way towards the basement, but stopping by the Dealey Library(also known as the West Texas room) first. This reading room is where researchers can find and look at documents and books from the museum’s expansive collection – which was where we headed to next!
Downstairs, in a secure and humidity-controlled room, were rows and rows of rolling shelves filled with books, documents, files, and other treasures.
Here, various pieces of literature ranging from the first edition of the Dallas Morning News to old high school yearbooks can be found.
Think you know the layout of Fair Park? This sketch here was of “the proposed fair grounds”. Dating back to 1886, it looks much different than what actually got approved and built! Sketches and maps like these represent a part of the Society’s collection here.
Having all these possessions doesn’t mean a whole lot if one can’t find what they need in an efficient manner. Thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers and staff, the museum works are organized and inventoried, so that there is no need to rummage around to find a particular item. Alan also said that many works have been digitized, for even greater accessibility.
Just because something is modern does not mean the Dallas Historical Society doesn’t want it here! I saw multiple boxes of documents belonging to the Trinity River Project, a public works undertaking by the City of Dallas in the 2000s. History is always being made, and items that future generations will find valuable to understand the past are a prime candidate to being preserved.
Back upstairs, Alan showed me the part of the building most folks will at least spend a few minutes admiring – the Great Hall, located just past the front lobby.
Arguably the most architecturally stunning area here, this four-story hall features impressive design characteristics, such as a gold-leafed medallion and a hand-stenciled ceiling! However, what I really found amazing were the two giant murals on both sides of this room. These murals depict the story of Texas and the development of the state’s economy.
It is also in this room that you will find six flags hanging as part of the Great Hall’s grandeur, standing for the six nations in history that Texas belonged to.
Wrapping things up, I greatly enjoyed my visit seeing the Hall of State and all that was inside. With no admission or parking fees, this is a cool place to experience both a neat building and some interesting exhibits. If you are in the area, I’d recommend stopping by Fair Park to see it for yourself!
Thanks to the Dallas Historical Society for showing me around to make this post possible!