Exploring The Texas Hill Country – Part I
Note: this post is from February 25, 2020 and prior to the Covid-19 lockdowns.
Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country and a stone’s throw from Austin and San Antonio is the tiny town (population of about 11,000) of Fredericksburg. Boasting not only an old world German charm but also a 30 mile stretch of thriving wineries between the town and nearby Johnson City, unique one of a kind shopping opportunities, and a springtime array of gorgeous wildflowers, Fredericksburg has become an extremely popular tourist destination.
Popular? Oh, boy, is it ever! Over the years we had tried a number of times unsuccessfully to book a reservation in the area but when planning our 2019-20 winter itinerary the saying “the early bird catches the worm” definitely proved true – calling in September scored us a week long reservation at the end of February! Little did we know at the time that the availability was due to the fact that it was about a month or two too early (darn) to enjoy the brilliant display of fields of blooming wildflowers, or the wonder of watching up to 3 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge nightly (double darn) from Old Tunnel State Park, usually in May. But not to worry, there were a lot of other things to do! Guess another visit to Hill Country will remain on our future bucket list.
It was just an hours drive from San Antonio to our destination, The Vineyards of Fredericksburg RV Park, a new park with 149 large well spaced full hookup sites located about 3 miles north of town on US 87.
Our only complaint was that, except for an occasional tree, there was no foliage between sites to offer any privacy. Oh, and by the way, if you don’t have an RV, you can always glamp in one of their covered wagons! That might be a pretty neat experience!
Once settled into our site we were off and running, ready to explore! Since this was our first time in the area, a visit to the Fredericksburg Visitors Center was at the top of our list so we could obtain maps and learn about all the things we should see and do during our stay. After talking with a travel consultant, we knew it was going to be a very busy week!
Here we learned a little bit about the history of the town. The town was initially settled by 120 immigrants under the auspices of the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas or by Adelsverein which was established in 1842 in Germany to encourage and finance immigration to Texas.
Friedrichsburg (the original name of the town which was named for the Prince Frederick of Prussia), was founded in 1846 by Baron Ottfried Hans von Meusebach, a German nobleman who dropped the title, becoming John O. Meusebach once settled in Fredericksburg. Thanks to the efforts of Meusebach, those settlers and future ones didn’t have to worry about attacks from the Comanches as he brokered the longest held peace treaty with the Native Americans on the frontier.
To entice new settlers, each immigrant family was given a town lot measuring 100′ x 200′ and a 10 acre lot outside of town where they could grow a variety of crops. Still standing throughout the town are several of the original “Sunday houses” which were built on the in-town lots as weekend residences by farmers who lived outside of town. These residences were used primarily when traveling to town to attend church services or to stock up on supplies. Despite sickness and lack of food which took a great toll on human life, the town grew quickly as a steady stream of immigrants arrived – by 1850, census records stated that the town had 754 residents, and Gillespie County had 1,235 residents. Read more about the history of the town here.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Fredericksburg’s National Historic District has over 80 points of historic interest and significance encompassing 40 blocks of historic buildings dating back to the mid-19th century. It is one of the earliest Germanic settlements in the state. The town is known for its 19th-century vernacular buildings of stone and fachwerk, which is a traditional German building technique consisting of heavy timber framing and diagonal bracing, with an infill of limestone.
One of the points of interest in the historic district is St. Mary’s Church. In 1846, St. Mary’s Parish was established in a log cabin so the settlers could worship. As the community grew, however, the log cabin could no longer support the growing membership so it was replaced by a stone structure which was completed in 1863.
The membership continued to grow rapidly and once again the town outgrew the stone building. In 1908, San Antonio architect Leo M.J. Dielmann (who designed St. Mary’s Church in High Hill that we visited) was chartered with designing a new St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fredericksburg. After raising $40,000 (equivalent to $1M today), the new stone Gothic Revival church was built next door to the Old St. Mary’s on West San Antonio Street. The Old St. Mary’s has served a variety of purposes including a schoolhouse.
Although the interior of St. Mary’s was quite elaborate, it didn’t seem quite as spectacular as the magnificent St. Mary’s in High Hill near Schulenberg, TX.
As we strolled down Main Street, the town’s German heritage could be seen (and often heard) everywhere. “Wilkommen” (translation: welcome) signs were on full display. Entering many of the shops, we were greeted with a cheerful “Guten Tag” which translated means good day or good afternoon. And of course as expected in a town with German roots, Weiner Schnitzel, Sauerbraten, and Bratwurst were the offerings at several of the local restaurants. But more about that later.
Looking for more of an educational experience, Fredericksburg offers a variety of museums. One of the the most popular is the National Museum of the Pacific War. Admiral Chester W. Nimmitz was born in 1885 in Fredericksburg.
His grandfather’s hotel is now the Admiral Nimitz State Historic Site. Since we recently spent a fabulous two days at the National War Museum in New Orleans, although the museum had good reviews, it didn’t make it to the top of our must see list.
Another popular museum that we never found time to visit was the Pioneer Museum which covers 3.5 acres in downtown Fredericksburg and features historic homesteads & buildings including a log cabin, a Sunday house, a bath house, a barn, and a smokehouse. Maybe next time!
In the center of the Marktplatz or Market Square is one of the most revered treasures of the city, the octagonal shaped Vereins Kirche which originally served as a town hall for meetings, a schoolhouse, a fort for protection against Native Americans and as a church for all faiths. Each side of the octagon was 18 feet (5.5 m) wide by 18 feet (5.5 m) high, with each side having a roof 10 feet (3.0 m) high, topped by a 7-foot (2.1 m) high octagonal cupola. In 1897 the original building was removed following the town’s golden jubilee.
The Vereins Kirche was rebuilt in 1936, using the cornerstone from the original building and today serves as a museum on Fredericksburg history. Since the building was undergoing construction during our stay, the museum was closed. The surrounding Market Square provides a playground for the kids, places for picnics, an ice skating rink in the holiday season and a venue for festivals and concerts.
Main Street, often referred to as The Magic Mile, is a shopper’s mecca offering a variety of one of a kind shops and boutiques, art galleries, jewelry stores, restaurants, wine and beer bars and wine tasting rooms, bakeries, coffee shops, and live music. You won’t find a WalMart here as franchises and chain stores are not allowed in the National Historic District. Great place to whet your whistle with a beer or a glass of wine, grab a cow bench and people watch or satisfy your hunger pains by sampling German cuisine. If you’re shopping there seems to be something for everyone here!
Or exercise your credit card with the purchase of a bottle of Texas hot sauce, barbeque sauce or mustard at Rustlin’ Bob’s Gourmet Texas Foods….
Or decorate your home with unique Texas artwork or home decor…
Or enhance your wardrobe by buying a cowboy hat or a pair of cowboy boots at Headquarters Hats. Or be like Brad Paisley, Destiny’s Child and a number of other Country Western Superstars and have them create a custom design. But don’t be as shocked as I was looking at the prices on their website – hats range in price from $49.99 to $799.99 and boots range from $399 to $3000. What does a custom design cost I wonder?
Or you can even buy a Texas cowboy hat for your pooch much cheaper at Dogologie! No cowboy boots though!
For those visitors (like us) who are not particularly fond of shopping, in the midst of all the commercialism, plaques on each of the buildings can further enhance one’s knowledge of the history of the town. Or better yet, pick up a historic walking tour map of the town at the Visitor Center.
Even though we had fun perusing the unique wares in some of the Main Street stores, our favorite store was located approximately two miles north of town. The owners of the The Pottery Ranch claim to be purveyors of “all things Texan” so whether you need to spruce up the house, yard, or patio or buy a gift for a special someone, they “offer something different, something original, and most of all… something typically not found at the big box stores.” What a cool place!
Speaking of eating (which I wasn’t), during our stay we dined at several of the local restaurants.
Finding a reasonable breakfast in the area was a little challenging but finally we did – Tequila Jalisto Mexican Restaurant had favorable reviews and decent prices. Cute place! Not sure how their Mexican food is but their Big Texas breakfast special which included 2 eggs, hashbrowns, bacon and toast for $5.99 was spot on and one of the best breakfast presentations we have ever encountered. We liked it so much we ate here twice!
To see if the Weiner Schnitzel in Fredericksburg was as good as or better than Schilo’s Deli in San Antonio, we stopped for lunch at The Old German Bakery and Restaurant where we both had Jager Schnitzel (breaded pork cutlet) with mushroom gravy and served with spaetzle (noodles) and iced tea or coffee. Our opinion – it definitely was better than Schilo’s Deli!
Located a short distance from the RV Resort was Porky’s Hamburger and Onion Ring Co. Not much to look at from the outside but it had good reviews so we figured we would give it a try. Nothing fancy on the inside either – order at the counter where they give you a number, then they deliver the food when it is ready.
A Black & Blue Burger ($9.49) for me with onion rings (my favorite) while Rob had a 6 oz. Cheeseburger ($7.79) with tator tots (his favorite). Yummy!
This is how we felt afterwards!
Outside of town, there was a lot more for us to explore…more about that in our next post.
Great review! Looking forward to part II!
Good and interesting story – as always, strange that there were no “Holy Klappstuhl” signs 🙂
Hey Ha Ha Klappstuhl Ordner! Well just because we didn’t see any doesn’t mean they weren’t there. I bet some of the churches had some LOL!
Hope you and Nette are doing well!