This venerable public building suffered serious damage when it was targeted by arsonists on the night of June 8, 2008. At the time, the mansion was closed for renovation. Officers of the Department of Public Safety, charged with guarding the building and grounds, did not detect the intruders, and apparently some of the closed-circuit cameras were not working. All of this will make it difficult to catch the vandals. Workers managed to stabilize the structure and protect it from the elements, but extensive restoration is necessary. With all the budget problems the state faces, there was some difficulty allocating funds. Work has begun on restoration, and the projected completion date is February 2012.

In ordinary times, this mansion is the governor's residence. State law requires that the governor live here whenever he or she is in Austin. The house was built by Abner Cook in 1856. Originally it had no indoor toilets (there are now seven). The nation's first female governor, Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, entertained her friend Will Rogers in the mansion, and Gov. John Connally recuperated here from gunshot wounds received when he accompanied John F. Kennedy on his fatal motorcade through Dallas. Among the many historical artifacts on display are a desk belonging to Stephen F. Austin and portraits of Davy Crockett and Sam Houston.

Tip: You know how iffy projected completion dates can be. If you will be in Austin after February 2012, you should check the website. If the mansion is open, only a limited number of visitors will be allowed to tour it, so make your required reservations as far in advance as possible.