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.