DENTON -- Texas, where "the rigors of winter are never felt, and the temperature is delightfully equable and mild."
Nope, that's not a come hither letter to a California company from the Texas governor's office, it's from the "Guide to Texas emigrants. 1835," a flowery recruitment for prospective settlers who were in for a brutal awakening once they got here.
It's just one nugget in a gold mine of historical documents, rare maps, out-of-print books, vintage photographs, family letters and old newspapers that are precisely assembled and easily searchable in the Portal to Texas History, an ever-expanding digital gateway to the Lone Star State's rich past.
"The Portal of Texas History is one of the most important developments in the age of the Internet," said Light Cummins, a history professor at Austin College in Sherman and the current state historian of Texas.
"It's bringing the archives of Texas to the desktops of students and teachers all over the world," he said "It is taking the historical profession in Texas by storm."
Created and maintained by the University of North Texas Libraries' Digital Projects Unit, the online portal started in 2002 and now contains nearly 1.9 million files.
It is growing as fast as a team of 18 full-time employees and 30 part-time student workers can scan and catalog items that run the gamut from historical to whimsical.
'The War of the Rebellion'
One massive collection-in-progress, "The War of the Rebellion," coincides with this year's 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.
Made up of 130 volumes compiled by the federal government in the 1880s, the "Rebellion" collection includes firsthand accounts, orders, reports, maps, diagrams and correspondence from both the Confederate and Union governments.
Not previously available online, it's on track to be completed in June, said Dreanna Belden, an assistant dean for external affairs at UNT.
"We also have a lot of books about the Civil War for people who want to delve deeper. With the portal you can sit there in your pajamas and use them," Belden said.
On the flip side of the portal's more than 130 collections is one called "Agricultural Design: Creating Fashion from Fruit, Vegetables and Flowers," from the Weslaco Museum.
It features 305 photos from the Rio Grande Valley town's annual "Birthday Party'' fashion show, in which women created elaborate outfits made from produce.
One Dutch-themed ensemble features a skirt made from five quarts of crushed bachelor button petals, a bodice constructed from 2,000 bougainvillea blossoms and a blouse of 583 periwinkles. It took 723 hours to construct.
Whether you are interested in history, genealogy, photography or topography, the portal's collections probably have you covered:
"Where the West Begins: Capturing Fort Worth's Historic Treasures," contains more than 4,000 photographs that reach back to an 1879 shot of the Tarrant County Courthouse and public square.
"The Clyde Barrow Gang," has case files, photos, documents and fingerprint cards about the pursuit of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker from the Dallas Police Department Historical Records and Case Files collection. Among the oddities: a photograph of five shotgun pellets taken from the body of state Highway Patrolman H.D. Murphy, who was shot and killed by Clyde Barrow on April 1, 1934, on what is now Dove Road in Southlake.
The "John F. Kennedy, Dallas Police Department Collection," details the presidential assassination investigation.
It features 404 photographs, including a gristly shot of Lee Harvey Oswald's body in a morgue.
Cathy Hartman, associate dean of the UNT library, came up with idea for portal in 2000 and secured a state grant in 2002 that started it, Belden said.
"Her whole idea was that we have great collections in this library but there are a lot of smaller libraries and museums that have great content about Texas history but they don't have the staff or technology to put things online," she said.
Now the portal has 150 partners that include libraries, museums, archives, county historical societies, genealogical groups and private family collections.
"We have things like the city of Alvord's criminal docket from the turn of the century -- what people were getting busted for back in the day -- public drunkenness, cussing in public," Belden said.
Like people, history travels, and the portal's materials stretch well beyond Texas, Belden said. Use of the site illustrates its broad appeal: 21 percent of users are international, 28 percent are from Texas, and the rest from other states.
And some collections span the globe as well.
Jerrell Jones, a digital imaging specialist, is handling exquisite history every day as he works on a three-year project to digitize the University of Texas at Arlington's amazing collection of 5,000 rare maps dating from the 1400s to the late 1920s.
"These maps are amazing, and we are capturing very, very high quality images of them," Jones said.
Belden and Cummins both refer to the portal as a "game changer" for historical research.
"We feel like we are redefining what it means to be a library in the 21st century," Belden said. "We see this as important, to digitize and provide access to unique things. It's a game changer to provide that sort of service."
Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981