The Texas Hill Country, about an hour north of San Antonio and west of Austin, brings you to some old German immigrant towns of the 1800s. Fritztown, officially named Fredericksburg, is one of the most popular, and they have a beautiful historic library!
On weekends crowds wander down Main Street, aka Hauptstrasse, in a historic district loaded with old west limestone buildings. Options include visiting beer gardens, German restaurants, antique shops, and wineries. Yes, Texas wine exists, and it tastes Wunderbar!
Fredericksburg dates back to 1846, when Texas became a state. The town was named for Prince Frederick of Prussia by the German settler Baron Otfried Hans von Meusebach. He and many other Germans left their homeland for the Texas wilderness to avoid tough times at home before the Revolution of 1848. But dangerous days weren’t left behind in Europe. The Governor of Texas warned the Germans they’d be unprotected in their new settlement, but that didn’t stop them.
The Baron renounced his noble title and went by John Meusebach. The town’s Baron Creek is a reminder and was named in his honor. Native Americans nicknamed him “The Red Sun” because of his reddish-blonde hair. He brokered a unique peace treaty in 1847 that did not take away the Penateka Comanches’ rights to share their land, which was one of the few unbroken treaties.
On bustling Main Street, the Pioneer Memorial Library is in the county’s second courthouse, built in 1882. The library happened to be open when we visited during Covid-19 with mask-wearing. The library was almost empty, so social distancing was easy to do.
In 1939, a new courthouse was built. Various organizations used the old courthouse for a while. But the building wasn’t maintained adequately, and in 1963, the building was condemned. Drifters, bats, pigeons, and other creepy crawlers took up residency.
Luckily, in 1965, when the McDermott’s from Dallas passed through town, they decided to fund a restoration. In 1967, the main library took over part of the courthouse, and in less than twenty years, the entire building. So many old libraries run out of space and get sold or torn down. So, this is such an incredible success story!
On display inside the library is a beautifully embroidered, nine-foot-long wall hanging by Carletta Gydesen Broun. Named “Our Town,” it captures some of the town’s unique history.
Across the street, the Vereins Kirche was the first public structure erected in 1847. Later, in another example of misguided thinking, it was torn down but rebuilt in 1936. The multi-purpose octagon-shaped building served as a church, school, town hall, and fort. Today’s it’s a museum, and the locals refer to it as the Kaffeemühle, coffee mill, because of its unusual shape.
If you are wondering what happened to the first courthouse, it came to an unusual and violent end. In 1850, a mob of soldiers burned down the combination courthouse-store when the store owner refused to sell them whiskey. Angry soldiers prevented the locals from saving the county court records from the fire. I wonder if they would have settled for a glass of German-made wine or beer?
Both sides of Main Street are full of offbeat shopping opportunities inside historic buildings. Fresh peaches are a favorite in the summertime. Unfortunately, we were too early for peach picking but it’s a great reason to return to this beautiful part of Texas.
Karen Stensgaard grew up in San Antonio, about an hour south of here and lives in Philadelphia. She’s a novelist and stays busy writing novels when she can’t take a break and visit a fascinating library. If you want to see next month’s quirky library, sign up for an email reminder.