Whether they attend Houston Christian University or local elementary schools, or are lifelong “students of history,” members of the public can get a hands-on history lesson at the university’s Morris Family Center for Law & Liberty.
Its main building, which is open for public tours, is modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
The replica structure, visible from afar at night thanks to its lighted dome, includes a re-creation of the Assembly Hall, where America’s forefathers debated and approved the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. The Courtroom, The Clock Tower and The Liberty Bell are among other features.
”There’s a lot of interest by students who are studying American history in school,” said Eleanor Barton, HCU’s director of historical museums.
“Schools from as far as Leander have come in for field trips,” she added. “The field trip curriculum aligns with what they’re learning in school. We try to make it fun and interactive for them. We have costumes that they put on — colonial-era hats and coats and things that students can wear to really get into character.”
”And there are some games and activities that they’ll play as they go through the difference phases and learn about different events in American history,” added Barton. “There’s been a lot of fun.”
High school and college students may visit for a lecture or more in-depth lessons, “so there’s kind of a variety of activities we can do,” said Barton.
For example, in May the center hosted a dinner to celebrate the birthday of Thomas Jefferson. An actor portraying Jefferson was present and answered students’ questions about Jefferson’s life.
HCU, located in the Southwest Management District, offers degrees in political science and history and provides a learning laboratory for students, according to Barton.
”We have mock trials in the courtroom area here and different events from time to time. The goal is to have a sort of non-traditional classroom space where they come in and learn and do different things in a setting that’s very unique and historical.”
But there’s also a broader audience: the community.
“We have a lot of adult groups from the community or church or senior groups,” said Barton. “We can do guided tours for them as well.”
A minimum of 10 visitors is needed for a guided tour.
Also Independence Hall also is open to self-guided audio tours that do not need to be scheduled.
Visitors can use their smartphones to scan a QR code and then listen to narrators describe important features. The audio tour, which already has been used by hundreds of guests, was created by HCU staff.
Self-guided tours will resume Jan. 8. The building is open 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. weekdays.
The second floor houses a banquet room, available for a fee, where people can host a party or event. There’s also a 2023-24 lecture series that focuses on historic documents that influenced the U.S. Constitution and people’s understanding of liberty.
Lecture series dates include:
Feb. 13, 2024 – The English Bill of Rights and American Liberty with Dr. John Tyler
April 9, 2024 – The American Constitutional Experience with Dr. Chris Hammons
Officials and supporters celebrated the opening of the center on Sept. 15, 2022, 19 months after groundbreaking and after more than 10 years of work by Hammons, who was then dean of the school of humanities. He now is director of the Morris Family Center for Law & Liberty as well as professor of government.
He and the center have won recognition.
The Morris Family Center for Law & Liberty was chosen as a winner of the Houston Business Journal (HBJ) 2023 Landmark Award last April. The center was named project beneficiary in May by the Texas Society Children of the American Revolution’s 2023-24 State Project “Liberty Lives in the Lone Star State.” Hammons was awarded a National Society Daughters of the American Revolution Founders Medal in March.
— by Karen Zurawski