The German Emigration Company, or Adelsverein, was organized in 1842 in Germany to establish a “New Germany on Texas Soil,” between the Llano and Colorado rivers. The first settlers arrived in December of 1844, and the city of New Braunfels was founded as the first in a planned series of German settlements in Texas. On May 8, John Meusebach arrived in Texas and began setting up the new settlement sixty miles northwest of New Braunfels, where two streams met four miles above the Pedernales River.
The first wagon train of 120 settlers arrived from New Braunfels on May 8, 1846, after a sixteen-day journey, and Meusebach named the new settlement Fredericksburg after Prince Frederick of Prussia. Each settler received one town lot and ten acres of farmland nearby. The town was laid out with one long, wide main street roughly paralleling Town Creek. It was wide enough that a team of oxen could be turned around easily.
Within two years Fredericksburg had grown into a thriving town of almost 1,000, despite an cholera epidemic that killed between 100 and 150 residents in the summer and fall of 1846. In those two years a wagon road between Fredericksburg and Austin opened; the Meusebach-Comanche Treaty was signed which made the area sager; the Vereins-Kirche—a combination church, school, fortress, and meeting hall—was built; Gillespie County was organized by the Texas legislature, and Fredericksburg named the county seat; the Nimitz Hotel was built; and the United States Army established Fort Martin Scott, two miles east of town. Fredericksburg also benefited from its location as the last town before El Paso on the Emigrant or Upper El Paso Road.
Religion played an important part in the lives of the German settlers of Gillespie County. Devout farmers drove as much as twenty miles into town for religious services. Since it was a long trip back home, they built Fredericksburg’s characteristic Sunday houses for use on weekends and religious holidays. They would come into town on Saturday to do their shopping for the week. On Sunday morning they would attend church. On Sunday afternoons, they would visit with their friends and neighbors before returning back to the farm.
Fredericksburg, like many of the German communities in south central Texas, generally supported the Union in the Civil War. And the people of Fredericksburg and Gillespie County suffered under Confederate martial law, imposed in 1862, and from the depredations of such outlaws as James P. Waldrip, who was shot by an unknown assassin beneath a live oak tree outside the Nimitz Hotel in 1867.
After the war, the Germans tried to maintain their independence by steadfastly refusing to learn or use English. As English speaking settlers arrived, tensions between the groups grew. In neighboring Mason County, those tensions broke out into the HooDoo War, or Mason County War, that pitted Germans and Anglos. It wasn’t until after 1900 that purely English-speaking teachers were employed in Fredericksburg’s public schools.
During World War I, the Germans were looked on with suspicion, so the local papers started publishing in English. (The Fredericksburg Germans weren’t alone in the suspicions. American Brewers, who were predominantly of German descent were also suspected of sympathy for the enemy. The brewing association publications also switched over to English. The widow Adolphus Busch who founded America’s iconic Anheuser-Busch brewery, was in Germany when the war broke out, and the United States government refused to allow her back into country, fearing she, and her family, were German spies.) Fortunately that same fear and suspicion of Germans didn’t occur during World War II. Fredericksburg’s own Chester Nimitz became Commander in Chief of the Pacific forces during World War II.
After the war, Fredericksburg began to grow as a farming community. When Lyndon Johnson became President after John Kennedy’s assisination, the area began to attract tourists eager to experience the region’s German heritage. Today, it is one of Texas’ most visited destinations.
If you would like to explore Fredericksburg and its history, follow along on the walking tour. Start wherever you like, and go as long as you like.
In February 1869, Johann Hoffman built the house of solid limestone with two rooms on the first floor, and a large bedroom and storage room on the second floor. The front room, larger in size, was the combination bedroom and sitting room. The smaller room behind it was the kitchen. Originally there was a narrow, ladder-like stairway that led out of the kitchen into the storage room (or rumpelkammer) at the back of the second floor. A small window in the east wall lit the stairway. Martin Keller, a Cain City farmer, bought the house when he retired. By 1938, the Kellers had died, and the family sold the home. It passed through several hands and many of the changes seen today were made, perhaps including the removal of the plaster that originally covered the limestone walls.
Continue down San Antonio to Edison Street and turn right, towards Main Street.
The community is invited to participate in this year’s Founders Day Festival honoring John O. Meusebach and the founding families of Fredericksburg who courageously migrated from Germany and settled here, establishing the city of Fredericksburg. A wreath-laying at the Vereins Kirche at the Marktplatz, located on the 100 block of W. Main Street, will be held at 9:30 a.m. this Saturda immediately followed by a Founder’s Festival at the Pioneer Museum grounds at 325 W. Main St. Refreshments and living history exhibits will be available. The grounds will be open for free from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Come see re-enactors and historical performances, and participate in hands-on activities and games while enjoying the live music. For information, call 830-997-2835.
John Schmidt built a log cabin to the west of the house site in 1850 that has been torn down, then sold it to Jacob Schneider in 1852. In 1860, Schneider, by this time blind, sold the property to Wilhelm Crenwelge. And his heirs lived in this house until the mid-1950s. Wilhelm Crenwelge lived in the log and rock house next door while his parents used the bigger house after it was finished. He and his father were wheelwrights and conducted their business here. The Crenwelges raised a large family on the property.
By the 1930s, Erwin and Paul Kraus who used the building for storing Coca-Cola and Pearl Beer. They ran their business from the building on the corner. They sold the property to Mary Crenwelge, no relation to the previous Crenwelge owners, in 1966, who conveyed it to her son Milton in 1972.
Commandancy of the Alamo
Bexar, Feby. 24th 1836
To the People of Texas & all Americans in the world —
Fellow citizens & compatriots —
I am besieged by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna —
I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man —
The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken —
I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls —
I shall never surrender or retreat.
Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch —
The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country —
Victory or Death.
William Barret Travis
Lt. Col. Comdt.
P.S. The Lord is on our side — When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn — We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 heads of Beeves.
At 1951 feet above sea level, the peak of Cross Mountain was once a place Indian signaled news of the advancing white settlers. John Christian Durst arrived in Fredericksburg in 1847 and received a town lot and 10 acres of land, including this hill. He found a timber cross on the hilltop, suggesting that Spanish missionaries had used it as a landmark on the path from San Antonio to Mission San Saba. Durst named the hill “Kruezberg,” or Cross Mountain.
In 1849, Father George Menzel, replaced the first cross with a larger one. For almost 100 years afterward, Easter services were held on the hill. In 1946, St. Mary’s Catholic Church built a larger metal and concrete cross decorated with lights.
Cross Mountain was also a big part of the annual Easter Fires celebration in Fredericksburg.
On the Saturday evening preceding Easter, bonfires were lit atop as many as twenty-two specified hills flanking the town. At the appointed hour the church bells of the town tolled, and the hilltops burst into flame.
The fires, dating from the first Easter celebration in 1847, are almost as old as the town itself. According to local tradition, the custom originated when Comanche Indian scouts lit signal fires in the night to communicate with their chiefs, who were negotiating a treaty with German leader John O. Meusebach many miles to the north, beyond the Llano River. The scouts presumably were informing their chiefs concerning the movements of the town’s inhabitants.
According to this tradition, the signal fires terrified some German children in Fredericksburg, prompting one imaginative mother to tell her children that the Easter Rabbit and his helpers had lit the fires to cook eggs before decorating and distributing them among the children on Easter morning. As a result, many residents believe the Easter Fires are a custom linked to the founding of their town.
However, the Easter Fires have a much more ancient history. The people of northwestern Germany, especially in the provinces of Westphalia and Lower Saxony, practice an identical custom of lighting Easter-eve fires on specified hills. The practice originated in pre-Christian times as part of a spring festival and, along with the rabbit and egg, represents pagan customs that passed intact into Teutonic Christianity. The German provinces where Easter Fires occur contributed almost half of the settlers who came to the Texas Hill Country. The most likely sources of the story were Hanoverians, one of the two largest groups in early Fredericksburg.
More damaging to the signal-fire story, is that the Meusebach-Comanche negotiations occurred on March 1 and 2, 1847, while Easter eve in that year fell on April 3. Perhaps these two major events in Fredericksburg’s first spring later merged in the popular mind, or possibly the initial Easter Fires frightened German children from Hesse or some other southern province where the custom was unknown. In any case, the Old World origin of the fires is incontestable.
The City of Fredericksburg, which owns the property, has plans to develop the park and add facilities in the future. A master plan has been developed, but its implementation has not yet been funded and may still be a few years away. It is accessible to the public free of charge. There are nature trails at the base of the hill, and several trails that lead to the top where one can enjoy a panoramic view of the town. There is a paved parking area a short distance from the entrance (but currently no restroom facilities).
The Fredericksburg Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas conducts field trips to Cross Mountain several times a year, and some members visit the park on a regular basis, and has compiled a list of plants found in the park and so far have identified over 130 species.
Go back towards town, turn right on West Austin Street.
One day only! One of the largest traveling prehistoric exhibits in North America is coming to Fredericksburg! ”Dinosaur George” of the History Channel’s “Jurassic Fight Club” will present an incredible display of dinosaur skulls including one of the largest T-Rex skulls ever found. You’ll see saber tooth tigers, crocodiles and much more. At the Pioneer Pavilion at Lady Bird Johnson Park. Bring your cameras! Program courtesy of the Fredericksburg Rockhounds.
9 am to 6 pm. Free admission. At Lady Bird Park, Pioneer Pavillion.
The B-17, B-24 and P-51 are on the 25th season of the Tour.
Tour through the authentically restored aircraft or take a flight aboard for the ultimate immersion in history!
Call (978) 562-9182 for flight reservations. At the Gillespie County Airport.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park will celebrate the 106th anniversary of President Johnson’s birth on Wednesday, August 27.
Visitors are invited to the Visitor Center first for a welcome kit, park permit and information on the day’s activities. The public can see a film about the President and the Texas Hill Country along with many exhibits. Throughout the day, visitors can visit the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm and participate in old-time family games and see how President Johnson grew up in the Texas Hill Country. While at the park, make sure to see the presidential exhibits, pack a picnic basket, enjoy the Pedernales River and visit the park store for park and historical-related souvenirs.
There will also be a wreath laying ceremony at his gravesite in the Johnson Family Cemetery by representatives from Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio at 10 am.
For more information on this and other park events, view or call (830) 868-7128, ext. 222.