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HMNS at Sugar Land History

From Prison to Museum: The Story of our building


The Main Unit of the Central State Prison Farm - which reopened as the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land on Saturday, October 3, 2009 -  and three barns were built in 1939 to replace existing wood structures on the older Imperial Prison Farm, which was located on the same grounds.

Two Camp

When the Main Unit opened for operation, the facility was renamed the Central State Prison Farm, No. 2 and nicknamed "Two Camp" by the residents and staff. Prisoners fired the red bricks for Two Camp at the nearby Jester Unit plant. The building marked a shift in prison construction from wood to brick structures.

Between 1939 and 1968, the Main Unit housed mostly African-American inmates distributed among nine wards called "tanks," which were located on the first and second floors of the structure. The Main Unit also housed administrative offices, solitary confinement cells, laundry facilities for officers, an interior picket area for monitoring prisoner movement, a small school house, kitchen, a dining hall, a small infirmary, a theater and a stage. The harvest of cotton was the main field crop at Two Camp. Convicts were generally organized into work parties, called Squads, of up to 20 convicts.

Saturdays at Two Camp

Leisure time included school in the School Room, as well as movies and talent shows in the second floor auditorium. The movies were popular films of the period. Sundays were visitation days and work was reduced. Visitors waited in the stairway to the Officers Quarters near the restroom by the main entrance and met with inmates in the visitation room. Sunday church services were also commonly held in the auditorium

Midnight Special

Before Two Camp was constructed, Huddie Ledbetter (better known as Lead Belly) was incarcerated in the wooden structures at the Imperial Prison Farm, until his pardon in 1925. The train from Houston to San Antonio would arrive in Sugar Land at about midnight with its light shining brightly. Lead Belly's words to "Midnight Special" reflected on his experience in Sugar Land.

If you're ever down in Houston
Boy, you better walk right
And you better not squabble
And you better not fight

Bason and Brock will arrest you
Payton and Boone will take you down
You can bet your bottom dollar
That you're Sugar Land bound

Let the Midnight Special
Shine the light on me
Let the Midnight Special
Shine the ever-lovin' light on me

Recent History

From 1968 through 1999, the building was used for storage. During that time, many of the windows were bricked in. These have since been restored to their original function. In 1995, "Two Camp" was used as a setting for the movie Powder.
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