Houston Museum of Natural Science Sugar Land
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Prison Turned Into Museum
This Houston Museum of Natural Science Sugar Land was at one time a prison farm. It was the first industrialized prison farm in the state of Texas and was built entirely with prison labor. Completed in 1939 the cost was a mere $73,000.
Central State Prison Farm, Camp Two was nicknamed Two Camp by the inmates as well as correctional officers. Back in those days, all Texas prison farms were meant to be self-sufficient. Inmates worked at several jobs. Some helped to build railroad tracks. Others worked in lumbering and mining.
At Two Camp farming was the primary job. Cotton, the principal crop, was tended mostly by African-Americans. Segregation was the norm in the prison system at that time.
Living Conditions Inside The Prison
Goods and services were shared between units of the prison system. Inmates elsewhere made the bricks used in constructing this massive building. Food was grown and shared. Inmates could eat all they wanted, but no food was to be wasted for fear of punishment.
The prisoners at this unit lived in sizable communal dormitories referred to as “Tanks.” Up to 80 prisoners shared a tank. Personal belongings were in lockers along the wall. The rest of the open space contained bunks, showers, sinks, toilets, urinals, and a barber chair.
Bars extended above the lockers to the ceiling and inmates could see into the adjoining tank. There were four tanks on the first floor and three on the 2nd floor. Also on the 2nd floor were guard’s quarters, a recreation hall, schoolhouse, laundry, and infirmary. The doctors and dentists operating out of the infirmary were also inmates. In cases of more severe injuries or illness, the inmates would be transferred elsewhere for treatment.
Hard labor was the norm during the week, but on Saturdays and Sundays, some time was allowed for sports like baseball or boxing. Attending school classes or church services and visits from family members were also on those weekend days. Evenings provided time for watching movies or practicing for talent shows.
Much of the information above, along with photos of the prison and pictures of some of the inmates are provided inside of the museum. The data is on large poster-type boards attached to a wall on the first floor next to a simulated archeological Dig Pit for children.
When segregation of prisons ended (1968-1969), this building became a storage unit. A land developer eventually purchased it and in 2008 was transferred to the City of Sugar Land.
The opening of the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Sugar Land took place on October 3, 2009.
On the first floor at the Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land is a cast skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex which would have lived 65 million years ago. Alive in that same period is a museum cast of a Struthiomimus dinosaur that was an “ostrich mimic.” Both came from the Cretaceous Period.
Most people are aware that the Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur was a carnivore. According to a sign, not only was his vision excellent, but he had a “sense of smell better than two dozen bloodhounds combined.”
Science on a Sphere is impressive to view. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration designed a projection system which “allows pictures and videos to be warped and displayed on a spherical surface.” It almost looks like a planet floating in the air. The images of the continents and clouds swirling about must be somewhat similar to what our astronauts view when looking at earth from the international space station.
See and Learn about Frogs
There is quite a sizable display regarding frogs on the first floor of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. One of the informative signs makes it clear that “Technically speaking, all toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads.”
There are almost 500 species of toads. Toads do have warty looking skin but contrary to what some people believe they do not give a person warts because of touching them. The toxins which can be squirted or ooze out of a toad’s glands are foul-tasting. That lousy taste protects them against predators. In some cases, it can be toxic enough to kill an animal the size of a dog.
Cases containing live frogs were adjacent to boards telling all about them, including their natural habitat. Information regarding the Smokey Jungle Frog aka Leptodactylus pentadactylus was the following:
“The Smokey Jungle Frog builds foam nests for its eggs on land or in the water. When the hungry tadpoles hatch, they will even eat each other! The powerful legs of this frog make it an excellent jumper and a culinary delight in some countries. Large frogs like the Smokey Jungle Frog, play an important role in the food chain by eating mice, birds, insects, and other frogs.”
Additional Frog Information
The so-called “Frog Capital of the World” is Rayne, Louisiana. A Parisian by the name of Jacques Weil established a company that shipped fresh bullfrogs by rail to restaurants like Sardi’s in New York. The shipped frogs were in the dark and on ice.
Frogs are associated with fertility, childbirth, abundance, and prosperity in many cultures.
Some of the live frogs on display inside the museum include the Red-eyed Tree Frog, Vietnamese Mossy Frog, Dyeing Poison Frog, and the American Bullfrog among others.
Rocks and Minerals
A small darkened cave-like room on the first floor has an impressive display of Fluorescent Minerals. Part of the sign reads as follows:
“These ore samples are all from the mines of the Franklin and Sterling Hill mining districts in the northwestern corner of New Jersey, world-famous as a source of fluorescent minerals. The ore bodies of these mines are unique mixtures of zinc-manganese-iron found nowhere else in the world. This unusual combination has produced over 340 different mineral species in the mines, over 80 of which fluoresce, glowing in a rainbow of bright colors when exposed to ultra-violet light.”
In natural lighting, these rocks look just like ordinary rocks. It is only under ultra-violet light that they become items of exceptional beauty.
I love the rocks and minerals section on the 2nd floor of the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Hermann Park. While it is more extensive than what is on display in this Sugar Land branch museum, there are giant-sized specimens here. Many of them are taller than the average man in height.
It is incredible how the colorful and glittering insides of these rock formations form a sharp contrast to their more drab exteriors. Of course, some crystalline structures grow beautifully and need not be cut open to be admired.
Rocks from Outer Space
Meteorites from outer space are also on display.
“The large, stony Allende Meteorite shows a black fusion crust, produced as atmospheric heating melted the stone’s exterior during its fiery descent. This sliced Allende Meteorite shows light-colored, calcium-aluminum inclusions (or CAIs) that are 30 million years older than the Earth and 700 million years older than the oldest known rock on Earth.”
There is much to learn about our solar system as well as stars and nebulas when visiting this section of the museum. They even have a small Digital Dome Theater that has different shows every half hour.
Most people enjoy the presentations by laying on the floor while gazing up at the curved ceiling. A few chairs are at the back perimeter for those who may have a problem quickly getting up from the floor. We enjoyed one of the shows which portrayed possible reasons for the extinction of dinosaurs.
So Many Dinosaurs!
Speaking of dinosaurs, many of them both large and small are on display on the second floor. It is incredible to think that creatures such as this once roamed our planet. I certainly would not wish to tangle with anything that large or dangerous-looking like some of the ones on display!
It is one thing to look at excavated bones on display but then another entirely to look at a simulated fleshed-out dinosaur-like one of the ones below. Yikes! Look at those teeth!
Many Examples of Fossils
Fossils of all types are in abundance at this natural science museum. There were cases and cases of them on display!
In the middle photo below to the front are some Crinoids.
“Crinoids, also called “sea lilies,” are animals related to sea urchins and starfish.”
There are many interactive, hands-on displays on the second floor where adults and children can become educated on many different subjects. A Block Party Too Room is set aside for adults and their children for some playtime fun. There is a slight extra charge to use this room as there is for the Archeological Dig Pit on the ground floor designed for kids.
Another room is set aside for meetings and parties such as birthday celebrations. It was not being utilized on the day of our visit but offers generous space for various type affairs. Personnel at the museum can check for available times and schedule appointments.
Much to See and Do
It is a delightful museum in which to learn about our natural world and be entertained at the same time. The staff is amiable and helpful.
If you wish to see live Red-bellied piranhas or view a reconstructed scary-looking jaw of a Megalodon, a giant shark that once lived, plan to visit this delightful museum. From the fantastic adult skull of a Trombone Duckbill dinosaur to simulated sea creatures that once existed to Titanosaur dinosaur eggs, there is that and much more to be discovered. A person could spend several hours in this museum or even entire days.
From the permanent microscope lab to special programs, field trips, and student labs, there is something here for everyone. Seasonal holiday program offerings will surely entice further visits to this museum for many people. Click here to learn more.
Future expansion plans include a full-sized planetarium, a theater, and classrooms. Where to find this fabulous museum: 13016 University Blvd., Sugar Land, Texas 77479.