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Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land (Central State Farm, Texas Department of Criminal Justice)
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Central State Farm, a prison farm, opened in 1909 on what had been the 5,235-acre Imperial Plantation. It was the setting for Steven Spielberg's 1974 film Sugar Land Express. As early as 1885, the Texas state prison system bought the twenty-five-hundred-acre Harlem Plantation (now part of Jester State Farm), just northwest of Central, as the first of its Sugar Bowl prison farms. These former plantations made prisoners pay for their incarceration by producing sugar cane, cotton, and other agricultural commodities. After convict leasing was abolished in 1910, there was even more pressure on the farms—and their occupants—to sustain themselves economically by putting prisoners to work in the prisons' fields.
The central building on Highway 90-A just northwest of its intersection with TX 6, one of several designed by Austin architects Giesecke and Harris, dates from a reorganization of the prison in 1930.
In 1987 the State of Texas began to sell off portions of the Central State Farm's ten-thousand-acre site. The red brick prison workshop building was given to the City of Sugar Land in 2006. The city in 2007 negotiated an agreement with NNP-Telfair, which was developing the former prison grounds into a planned community, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science to transform the prison into the museum's Sugar Land branch, which opened in 2009. Gensler of Houston was architect for the rehabilitation.
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