The Texas Governor’s Mansion is the fourth oldest continuously occupied governor’s residence in the United States, and the oldest one west of the Mississippi River. My three year old and I had the opportunity to take a tour of the mansion and feel like governors for the morning. Kind of. Please excuse any crooked or less than lovely photos, as I was photographing from behind velvet ropes while holding a three year old most of the time.
Governor’s Mansion tours last 20 minutes and are free but must be scheduled at least one week in advance for security clearance. Tours run on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m., but tour times depend on how many reservations are made. I worked with Eric from the Capitol Visitors Center, who was kind enough to help me reschedule my tour for another day when traffic unexpectedly kept me from my original reservation time.
After checking in at security at the corner of 10th and Colorado Streets, our tour group met in front of the mansion under the massive oak trees that grace the expansive front lawn, where we started with a bit of history.
Serving Texas governors since 1856, the mansion was built in the Greek revival style by Austin master builder Abner Cook. The house features a deep porch with Cook’s signature “X and stick” railings. Large windows and a wide hallway allowed breezes to pass through the mansion in the days before air conditioning.
Our group had about 10 people in it, and I had the only child. The tour is restricted to the first floor of the mansion, with all visitors gathering in the hallway, which is flanked on either side by parlors and the State Dining Room. The rooms are roped off, but it was easy to peek in and get a good look at the opulent furnishings and historical antiques. Our guide told many of her favorite stories about the history of the mansion, most notably how former governor James “Big Jim” Hogg drove nails into the stairway banister to discourage his children from sliding down.
Due to the museum-like nature of the mansion, it’s hard to believe that the governor and his family live there, but our guide assured us that the family does actually inhabit the house (private quarters are upstairs, and a kitchen is just past the door under the staircase), and it’s also used for many official state purposes as well.
In June of 2008, an unidentified arsonist threw a Molotov cocktail onto the front porch of the mansion, causing extensive structural and architectural damage. Luckily, thanks to plumbing and electrical maintenance that was underway at the time, the mansion was uninhabited and empty of most of its valuable contents, such as the four poster bed that Sam Houston slept in and Stephen F. Austin’s writing desk. The mansion has since been fully repaired and restored.
Important parking and tour information:
- Parking is available in metered areas surrounding the mansion on 10th Street, 11th Street, and Congress Avenue. We chose to park in the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage at 12th and San Jacinto. The first 2 hours in the garage were free, and it wasn’t that far of a walk to the mansion at 11th and Colorado.
- Upon arrival at the Governor’s Mansion, visitors are required to stop at the screening facility located at the corner of Colorado and 10th Streets and present photo ID to the DPS troopers.
- No bags or purses of any kind are allowed in the mansion, so leave all bags in a safe place in your car, or don’t bring them at all. There is no place to leave bags at the mansion, and you will be required to return to your car and possibly miss your tour.
- Cameras are allowed, with no flash.
- There is no bathroom on site. This isn’t usually a problem for adults, as the tour is quite short, but 20 minutes can be a long time to wait for a young child.
Leigh Ann Torres is a freelance writer and blogger living in Austin with her husband and three girls. She’s a pretty good cook, a mediocre photographer, and a horrible housekeeper. She writes about the good, the bad, and the ridiculous of life with twins plus one at Genie in a Blog.