Levi Jordan Plantation lets visitors dive into history

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With a focus on archeology, the site will be reopened not only to educate people who want to learn more about Texas history, but also to provide opportunities for those who want to get started and get into the field. .

“The idea behind the installation was to provide a museum atmosphere that is not traditional, in a sense. In most museums you enter, you read a lot. There are no tangible parts in the museum, or they have small parts of tangible objects,” said site manager Chris Elliott. “It’s kind of a twist of the script, where it’s about the permanent behind-the-scenes tour.

“From archeology to conservation to museum studies, our historic sites encompass such a wide range of different specialties, but normal museum visitors never see that,” Elliott said.

To help pull back the curtain, the site’s visitor center is set up to allow people a clear view of archaeologists, lab technicians and historians as they clean and catalog artifacts.

More than that, they are allowed to walk around and talk to them.

“It will be a completely open facility,” Elliott said.

Visitors view and discuss the various artifacts on display at the Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site Visitor Center during the site’s grand reopening on June 11, 2022.

Jeremy Hill/The Facts (Brazoria County)

The only closed part of the visitor center is the museum’s collection storage room, which will house artifacts collected since work began on the site in the mid-1980s.

Locating these objects takes a lot of old-fashioned digging and work, but technology tends to help, like ground-penetrating radar. “Before we dig the hole, it kind of gives us a glimpse of what’s there,” said Shannon Smith, the site’s assistant manager.

The Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site held a reopening event this past weekend.

In addition to the new visitor center, an education center has been built and will be available for rent. The site seeks to attract businesses, schools and tourists.

“We’re going to hold workshops there, and what’s great is that it’s designed so it’s not just a local facility. We have two transit vans that we can use to shuttle between Houston Hobby (airport). There are eight full bedrooms and attached bathrooms,” Elliott said. “We want our program to be a national program.

In addition to the bedrooms, the center has a combination kitchen/dining/classroom and laundry room that visitors can use, as well as a fenced porch to discourage mosquitoes.

Elliott says part of the purpose of what they’re building is to educate educators — giving teachers information on how to instruct students on topics that can be challenging. They want to bring courses to the site to facilitate engagement.

Family photos and the Mack family tree along with a Bible belonging to Charles Phillip McNeill, grandson of Levi Jordan, are on display at the Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site in Brazoria.

Family photos and the Mack family tree along with a Bible belonging to Charles Phillip McNeill, grandson of Levi Jordan, are on display at the Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site in Brazoria.

Jeremy Hill/The Facts (Brazoria County)

“We have Southwest Airlines looking to be a sponsor so they can fly teachers in at a very low cost. The reason we decided to do the chambers is to reduce the cost of this program, to involve more people,” Elliott said.

“It’s a good program for teaching archeology one-on-one and 101,” Smith said. He said that includes what archaeologists do and the differences between archeology and fields like paleontology and geology.

On the tourist side, Elliott calls what they want to offer an “Eduvacation.” He hopes people will make time on the site to get a clean, comfortable room and participate in the research.

“Frankly, I feel like archeology can be a long process. You have your days in the field, and what a lot of people don’t realize is that artifacts come out of the ground, get cleaned, cataloged, washed, weighed, labeled — all of that. So what this shows are all of these processes. Also, as the site’s researchers try to expand the story, we may ask the public to help us grow that story,” Smith said. “So you can come get your hands dirty with us and help out.”

The idea behind the redesign of the historic site is to focus not so much on Levi Jordan himself, but on the slaves who, according to an 1860 census, numbered 134 at the time.

“The idea is to be an active archeology on the historic site. We’re trying to find out more about the slaves who lived here, not necessarily the planter. We have a lot of files on him, but we don’t know much about the slaves,” Elliott said. “So we’re going to do a lot more archeology on the site to get more information about their daily lives.”

Harris County Pct.  1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, a former state senator, officiates on June 11, 2022 for the dedication of the Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site.

Harris County Pct. 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, a former state senator, officiates on June 11, 2022 for the dedication of the Levi Jordan Plantation State Historic Site.

Jeremy Hill/The Facts (Brazoria County)

They hope it will also serve to distinguish the Levi Jordan Plantation from other historic sites in the area that largely focus on former landowners or major figures from Texas’ past.

“This site is purer, in the sense that it came from the descendants of the planters directly into the hands of the state,” Elliott said, comparing the site to the Varner Hogg plantation.

Smith explained that most of the ground had never been cultivated for agricultural purposes, especially where the main structures were, although one was disturbed when a pipeline passed.

The site will also work with families in the area, trying to find more information for genealogy and ancestry purposes. Elliott says that while finding your family tree may be easy for some, it doesn’t work well for descendants of slaves.

“African Americans don’t have that luxury because there’s a big gap in there,” Elliot said. “What we want to do is help find those connections.”

“We want to learn more about individuals and their individual stories,” Smith said. “We may have a name, but we don’t have much more than that.”

They hope to add the material to existing documents like the oral histories the Works Progress Association collected in the 1930s to further understanding of how slaves lived in Texas and who they were.

The next planned phase of the site is to continue stabilizing the main house. They plan to open it eventually, using Jordan’s granddaughter’s writings as a springboard for their exhibits.

The potential for a larger museum at the site with a focus on African American history in the area is there, Elliot said, but it’s still in the design phase and unfunded. He is currently concentrating on setting up the site and on the work of discovering the past.

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