HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Sam Houston was big here, even before his 67-foot likeness went up along the freeway.

The larger-than-life Texas hero lived and died in Huntsville and even tried to make it the state capital. His work brought the Texas criminal justice system headquarters here. The state university bears his name, and a large museum preserves his memory.

But when a Huntsville-native sculptor proposed a concrete colossus of Houston on Interstate 45 — similar to the one he is now considering of a Texas Ranger in Waco — not everyone was thrilled.

‘‘A lot of people thought it was the stupidest thing ever,’’ recalls Robert Wade, a guitar repairman at One Music Square, a downtown guitar and motorcycle shop on Sam Houston Avenue. ‘‘Some people thought it was way too much, though some thought it was great.’’

But since it was finished in 1994, Wade said locals have embraced ‘‘Big Sam’’ as a town icon. For him, the lighted white statue, visible for six miles, is a welcoming sight when he’s driving home from a late night in Houston.

Community leaders say the statue by David Adickes has changed the image of this town known as the headquarters of the Texas prison system and the home of Texas death row.

‘‘Sam Houston is our brand,’’ said Kim Thomas, Huntsville Convention and Visitors Bureau vice president. ‘‘It has had a tremendous economic impact.’’

The visitors center next to the statue has drawn 670,000 visits in the last 13 years from 106 different countries. In the last fiscal year, the statue drew more than 52,540 visitors, Thomas said. In front of the statue are sandy patches in the grass, worn down by visitors who have stopped to snap photos.

Some visitors come to revere Houston and the key role he played in Texas’ independence and statehood. Others are just attracted by the sheer size.

‘‘I’m not sure who Sam Houston is, but he must be pretty important,’’ said Irving Duquesne, a California man who pulled off I-45 with his family of six to investigate the statue last week. ‘‘We were driving up from Houston. This is the only thing I’ve seen that grabbed my attention.’’

Officials at the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum hope Adickes can work the same magic in Waco. The Ranger statue they are proposing would stand next to the museum on Interstate 35, overlooking the Brazos River. They plan to fund the $650,000 statue with private donations. The City Council has given the group encouragement but hasn’t yet voted whether to allow the statue on city land.

At Adickes’ insistence, the statue would be smaller than the 67-foot Houston, but the exact size has not been determined, said Ranger museum board chairman Bill Warren.

Huntsville’s experience with Big Sam has some lessons for Waco, though in many ways the situations differ.

‘‘It would be hard for me to say there would be a transference to Waco,’’ said Gene Pipes, who was Huntsville city manager when Big Sam went up. ‘‘It’s a different dynamic. I can’t tell you whether you should or shouldn’t build it. All we can really tell you is what worked for Huntsville.”

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