A Day at the Beach (and Archives)

Texas General Land Office
Save Texas History
Published in
4 min readJun 19, 2024


The possibilities promised by the Texas coast have always captured the imagination. Its earliest inhabitants included Indigenous people such as the Karankawa, Mariame, Akokisa, and Atakapa, who first recognized and utilized its abundant resources. Over the ensuing centuries, its charms have also attracted European explorers, military strategists, international shippers, oil and gas developers, and tourists and beachgoers. In their different ways, all these people have benefitted from the region’s unique properties. [1]

View of the Gulf of Mexico from the first atlas of the Americas, based on information brought back from sixteenth-century European explorers. [Cornelis van Wytfliet], Florida et Apalche, Louvain, 1597, Map #94076, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) also has a deep connection with the Texas Gulf Coast. As well as monitoring and advocating for a healthy coast through programs such as the Texas Beach Watch and Adopt-A-Beach, the agency oversees commercial leases on coastal public land and distributes millions of dollars in funding through its Coastal Resources Division. It also plays an important administrative role in responding to oil spills and derelict vessels.

Archives are generally known for their lack of sun, wind, sand, and water; but that doesn’t keep them from getting involved with celebrating coastal communities. On June 1, staff from the GLO Archives and Records Program attended the Texas Coastal Roundup at the Great Lawn at Waters Edge Park in Corpus Christi. Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, M.D., hosted this free outdoor event that featured fifty-two educational booths with activities, free items, and information for the public from the various organizations protecting and conserving the Texas coast. An estimated 1,500 visitors were in attendance.

Photograph of a sand sculpture at the Texas Coastal Roundup in Corpus Christi on June 1, 2024. All photographs taken by the author.

In the runup to the event, the Archives and Records Education and Outreach Team grappled with how to “bring the Archives to the beach” in a relevant and fun way, especially for kids. They settled on an ocean-themed “Make Your Own Map” activity that allowed participants to piece together details taken from various maps in the GLO Archives’ 45,000-piece historical map collection. But how could they pull it off in such a challenging environment?

The Texas Coast is a windy and humid place. To help their novice cartographers put their masterpieces together on the day of the event, Archives staff glued blue felt fabric within a simple wooden frame to create a canvas mimicking ocean water. The first step was to select one of nine land masses, most of which showed all or part of the Texas Gulf Coast from between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries.

One of the nine historical maps that GLO staff selected for providing a land mass for the activity (the Gulf of Mexico is visible directly underneath the yellow land mass at the top of the map). Sebastian Münster, La table des isles neufues, lesquelles on appelle isles d’occident & d’Indie pour divers regardz, Basel, [1552], Map #95836, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Once a land mass piece was in place within the frame, it was time to add decoration and, perhaps most important of all, story. Users could bring their map to life by adding Velcro-backed ships, sea monsters, compass roses, animals, pirate treasure, people, map labels, and a variety of other decorative features from five boxes labeled in English and Spanish.

Selected laminated land masses [top-left], ships [top-right], compass roses [bottom-left], and sea monsters [bottom-right] from the GLO Map Collection.

The activity proved to be a huge hit. Visitors commented with surprise on the diversity of representations of not just the Gulf of Mexico and Texas coast, but the earth’s oceans and land masses. Adults as well as children expressed delight as they handled sea monsters and other whimsical pieces. As for staff, they welcomed the opportunity to share information about all the fantastic maps and nautical charts housed in the GLO Archives in Austin and available online at historictexasmaps.com.

[top-left] Photograph of activity boxes containing laminated pieces of animals, sea monsters, ships, and miscellaneous map details. All pieces were sourced and reprinted from maps in the GLO collection. [top-right] Photograph of one of the “map stories” created by an activity participant. [bottom-left] Photograph of the activity area at the beginning of the event. [bottom-right] Photograph of individuals creating their own map.

Amazingly, despite the coast’s windiest efforts, all map pieces were accounted for at the end of the day — even the windheads!

[left] Photograph of laminated windheads from Sebastian Münster’s map General tafel begreifend der gantzen undern weldt beschrenbung. [right] Sebastian Münster, General tafel begreifend der gantzen undern weldt beschrenbung, Basel, [1545], Map #96566, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

[1] Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, “AMERICAN INDIANS,” accessed June 6, 2024, https://www.thestoryoftexas.com/discover/campfire-stories/american-indians; Handbook of Texas Online, Robert S. Weddle, “GULF OF MEXICO,” accessed June 6, 2024, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/gulf-of-mexico.



Texas General Land Office
Save Texas History

Official Account for the Texas General Land Office | Follow Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, M.D. on Twitter at @DrBuckinghamTX. www.txglo.org