Fredericksburg Walking Tour – A Brief History of Fredericksburg

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.

East Corner of West Main and North Milam – Evers Building

Karl Itz and Ludwig Evers, Karl’s brother-in-law, acquired the land from Peter Itz in 1867. When the three lots were partitioned, Ludwig took the corner lot. While Ludwig farmed and ranched in the northwestern part of the county, they moved into town in their old age and settled in the little log and rock house which was adjacent to this place. The floorplan of this building was fairly simple. Downstairs there was one large room, with a thick stone wall dividing it from the smaller back room. Underneath is a large cellar. At one time the steps led up along the east wall on the inside of the building, but these have been removed and an outside stairway put in their place. The upstairs was originally one large room, which was later divided with frame partitions. When the building was renovated, the rock walls in the front were knocked out and the show windows and additional upstairs windows were added. At one time the John Knopp family lived upstairs and he operated a saloon downstairs, selling groceries and some staples. During these years this place also figured in the “beer war.” At the time Frederick Probst was brewing beer on the street behind here and it was selling for 10 cents a glass all over town. Knopp sold Pearl Beer from San Antonio and sold it for 5 cents a glass. Probst closed his brewery a few years afterward. Later a doctor, feeling that goat’s milk would cure most people’s ills occupied the building and kept a lot of goats here to supply the demand. He shortly went out of business. The building has housed a dentist office, a millinery store run by Mrs. Louis Henke, Otto Schneider’s grocery store, Walter Knopp’s grocery store, Haversack Wines, W-K Electric, and now David’s Pit Barbecue.

312 West San Antonio – Gillespie County Historical Society

Continue West on San Antonio Street

The original townlot was granted to H. Spilner in 1849. His widow sold the lot to Heinrich Kuhlmann in 1853, who sold it to Ludolph Meyer in 1854. A few months later it was sold to Peter Imhoff, Frdr. Kneese, Ernest Houy, Gerhard Reinmann, and Jacob Treibs for $50. These gentlemen were trustees of “the M. E. Church South for the Fredericksburg Mission Texas Annual Conference.” The Methodist Episcopal Church had been organized in Kentucky in 1845. The Fredericksburg Methodists originally worshipped in the Vereins Kirche.

In 1855 the first stone structure was built, 40 by 60 feet in size. It was the oldest Methodist Church in the Hill Country. It was remodeled several times: in 1912-14, 1923, and 1948-1949. During the Civil War, the Methodist Church split, and were not reunited until 1970, using the Edison Street facility known as the United Methodist Church.

The Gillespie County Historical Society purchased the property in 1978, and has its office here.

419 West Main – Crenwelge Rent House

This house was built in the 1860s or early 1870s as a rent house. It was built on property originally granted to Conrad Kolmeier, whose grandson Otto married Dorothea Crenwelge who lived next door. Wilhelm Crenwelge bought the property in 1856 and it stayed in the family until 1960. The property was bought by Erwin Kraus in 1963. The house is still being rented out.

512 West Creek – Kreiger-Geyer Haus

George Geyer, a bachelor, and Adam and Eva Kreiger were both deeded these two lots in 1845. They had arrived in Texas on the same ship, the Hamilton, from Bingen Germany. But Geyer never appears in any records after this, so it is possible that he was a casualty of one of the early epidemics that hit the colony. The house sits on the dividing line of the two lots and was probably shared by the three. The oldest part of the house is the West end, and is of fachwerk construction. The east end of the house is rock. The house would have been plastered and the different construction methods hidden. Behind the house is an even older log cabin.

Continue West on Creek Street and Cross Milam Street.

117 West San Antonio – Old Gillespie County Jail

Turn left on Crockett street, then turn left on San Antonio Street.

117 West San Antonio – Old Gillespie County Jail

In 1852, the Gillespie County Commissioners authorized construction of the first jail. It was to be 18 by 18 feet wide, with an 8 foot high, two foot thick wall. It was built near where City Hall stands today, on the corner of North Orange and Main Street. The county’s first courthouse was across the street where the old Post Office stands today. But this first jail was not well built, and after a couple of escapes, the second jail was authorized in 1859, and built by Ludwig Schmidt behind the Court House, about where Nimitz Parkway runs. The third jail was built in 1874 on the South Side of the Courthouse. At daybreak January 7, 1885, fire broke out in the jail and a prisoner named William Allison, indicted for the 1884 murder of John Braeutigam, lost his life. According to once source, Allison set the fire himself, hoping to burn his way out of jail, but the fire got out of control.

By this time, the second courthouse, the McDermott building, had been constructed, and the Commissioners authorized a fourth jail to be built by C. F. Priess and Bro. for almost $10,000 on the townlot originally granted to Justus Herber. The contract called for the jail to be 25 feet wide, 35 feet deep, and 20-22 feet high with two stories. The contract also called for “waterclosets, privy, sinks, wash sinks, water tank,” etc., and bids were advertised in the San Antonio Express, Austin Statesman and Friederichsburger Wochenblatt.

The jail was finished in December 1885. Downstairs is a lockup, and jailer’s quarters. The lockup later was used as a women’s cell. Iron steps lead to the upper floor. On the east wall of the second floor are two steel cells, each with a crude lavatory and commode, and at one time steel cots were riveted into the walls. Going through a solid steel door, one reached the back room, or maximum security. Two cells stand in the center of the room with a “run around” around them where prisoners could get exercise. The only heat for the upper floor was a wood heater in the corner of the back room. Prisoners in the front cells were often moved to the back cells in extremely cold weather.

John Dietz built the wall surrounding the jail, complete with glass topping the walls, a crude but effective way to keep prisoners from scaling the wall, and often seen in Mexico.

When the current courthouse with its upstairs jails were built in 1939, the jail was converted into living quarters for William Heimann, the custodian of the new building, and his wife. When they moved out, the building was used for storage. In the late 1970s, Fredericksburg Heritage Foundation funds, matched by Texas Historical Commission dollars, restored the old jail. The sheriff’s office and kitchen are authentically furnished, as are the sheriff’s living quarters. Graffiti decades old still mars the cell walls upstairs.

The building is locked, but the wrought iron gate to the jailyard is kept unlocked so that visitors may examine the building’s exterior. The building is open for tours every year for the Candlelight Tour of Homes, held the second weekend in December.

Walking Tour – FM 965 – Cross Mountain

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.

105 West San Antonio – John Ruegner Home

This lot was originally deeded to Daniel Weiershausen, and by 1852 had brought rocks to the site. In 1854, he sold the lot to Johannes (John) Ruegner for $200. Ruegner built the original two-room limestone rock home. Ruegner was a stone mason and worked on several projects still standing in Fredericksburg, including the old college building at the Middle School Campus, and the stone wall on the lower side of the oldest part of the cemetery.

The original front room was a combined bedroom/sitting room and the back room was the kitchen/dining room. Later owners divided these two rooms into four. After Ruegner’s death in 1899, his family sold the lot to A. Walter, a pioneer Swiss jeweler who founded the Walter Jewelry firm, lived here until 1904. It was sold to Louis von Hagen, whose children included Else Mayer, wife of prominent Austin jeweler Carl Mayer. It changed hands several times until 1972, when Raymond and Eugena Kneese bought and restored the building. A new addition as made to blend in with the old construction.

Turn around and walk West on San Antonio, cross Orange Street

415 West Main – Wilhelm Crenwelge Home

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.

605 West Creek – Peter Walter Home

Peter Walter was in the first wagon team arriving in Fredericksburg. He started work on this little fachwerk cottage soon after his arrival in 1846, using materials from the immediate neighborhood. A freight hauler, Walter farmed the surrounding land between supply runs to Fort McKavett. St. Barnabas Parish bought the little house in 1952, restoring and consecrating it as a mission in 1954. When President Lyndon Johnson came to Texas to stay at his ranch, he would often worship at this church.

Continue West on Creek Street.