By Renée S. Gordon
Many Americans were first introduced to Texas Hill Country during Lyndon Johnson’s administration. His love of this land was infectious and suddenly people were caught up with the unbridled beauty of its rolling hills and visually stunning fields of wildflowers.
The Hill Country still beckons and I think its time to remind us about what first made us love it and the recently added sites, attractions and activities that make the Hill Country an ever changing destination that offers the comfort of an old friendship. www.texashillcountry.com
Sources differ on the size and scope of the Hill Country but it is generally considered the 67-miles, traveling east to west, from Austin to Fredericksburg. The limestone hills were formed millions of years ago by the rising of the sea floor. Around 12,000-years ago the Paleo-Indians migrated here and during the 16th century the Apache entered the territory from Canada and Alaska.
In the 1840s a society was formed in Germany to assist Germans wishing to immigrate and 33-year old Baron von Meusebach, later known simply as John Meusebach, was appointed Commissioner General. The Society promoted immigration as a solution for the political turmoil in Europe and the 4-million acre land grant was a perfect response to the Germanic States’ population growth. Unscrupulous businessmen swindled the Germans and the first commissioner but Meusebach managed to establish the settlement on May 8, 1846 with 120 people. The colony was called Fredericksburg in honor of Prince Frederick of Prussia.
The land was the traditional camping and hunting ground of the Comanche and Meusebach realized that to safeguard the settlement it was necessary to make peace. On March 9, 1847 he and 39 settlers and Lorenzo de Rozas their translator and guide, signed a treaty with the Indians in their camp on the San Saba River. This remains the only peace treaty never broken by the settlers or the natives.
Fredericksburg was laid out, prior to the arrival of the first inhabitants, with a very wide Main Street because many came with ox carts that could not be backed up but were instead turned. The Visitor Welcome Center is located along the main thoroughfare and I recommend you stop there and pick up brochures on the myriad activities, many with easy to follow trail routes.
A few blocks east is the Market Square that dates from the earliest years of the town. It is now a lovely park with commemorative statues, the most notable of which is the Peace Treaty Statue that depicts the meeting between Meusebach and the Comanche Chief. It was placed here in 1997. There is also a metal Maypole with eight branches that feature a pictorial depiction of the town’s history when read from bottom to top.
The focal point of the square is a 1935 reconstruction of the first public building erected, the Vereins Kirche, now a museum. Built in the Carolingian octagonal style with a cupola with each side 18-ft. long and 18-ft. high. A tour of the interior includes a model of 1890′s Fredericksburg and displays on the history of the early inhabitants. The Vereins Kirche is listed on the National Register.
Two blocks west of the Market Square is an outstanding three-acre Pioneer Museum complex that showcases 11 historic buildings. The star of this collection is the 1849 Kammlah House. It was originally three rooms but numerous additions were made and the house is a fine example of several architectural styles. The original owner was a teamster and this was an ideal location because the 3.5-mile Main Street was on the Butterfield stage route that ran from Fredericksburg to El Paso with nothing in between. www.pioneermuseum.net
The Culinary Trail in Fredericksburg does not include only restaurants but also includes several businesses that offer rare treats and unique tastes. Four that are absolute must stops are Fischer & Wieser’s das Peach Haus, Opa’s Smoked Meats, Tootie Pie Gourmet Café and Chocolat. Feel free to begin anywhere and feast your way to the end of the list.
Since 1969 the award-winning Fischer & Wieser’s das Peach Haus has been making all natural jams, jellies and pie fillings, along with a host of other specialty products. A 1960′s roadside peach stand has evolved into a food destination. Das Peach Haus was opened in an old railroad building in 1974. Today visitors can purchase gourmet food and wine items, tour a 1200 tree peach orchard, fish and swim. Products, recipes and information are available via the web. www.jelly.com
Opa’s was established in 1949 and was originally a butcher shop and a place for locals to store their meat. Today they sell products regionally and ship throughout the US. They sell specialty meat products, some specific German items and cookbooks with authentic German recipes. www.opassmokedmeats.com
Tootie Pie Gourmet Café was established in 1982. It has been featured on the Food Network and the pies, the café’s specialty, have been rated one of the top 10 pies in America. The piecrust recipe is a secret so don’t ask, just enjoy. www.tootiepiegourmetcafe.com
I really need only say chocolate and most folks get a tingle but they will positively tremble if given an opportunity to stop in Chocolat, a boutique candy shop and the only single bean chocolate purveyor in the country since 1984. They’re renowned for “Excellence in American Handcrafted Liqueur Praline and Specialty Confections.” Need I say more? www.chocolat-tx.us
Fredericksburg is a destination for those seeking to purchase exciting new works of art or simply wishing to delight their eyes with the beauty of western landscapes and Texas themes. Whistle Pik Galleries (www.whistlepik.com), Artisans at Rocky Hill (www.artisansatrockyhill.com), Galleria 19 (www.sanmiguelart.com), the Fredericksburg Good Art Co. (www.thegoodartco.com) and Insight Gallery (www.insightgallery.com) are all located along the 200 block of Main Street and have been instrumental in the city being deemed, “The Little Jewel of Art in Central Texas.”
The 120-mile Gillespie County Country School Driving Trail begins at the White Oak School on Main in the Pioneer Museum complex. You can visit one or all of the 17 schools on the trail. These unique structures have preserved a part of America’s history that often goes overlooked. The Pecan Creek School is my personal favorite. This school has original desks, texts, maps, canvass stage curtain and footlocker sized science lab complete with beakers and instruments. www.historicschools.org
Settlers were given a town lot and a parcel of land for farming outside of town in the original grant. Families would come to town on Saturday morning to sell produce and visit the neighbors and on Sunday they would attend religious service and return to the farm. Because of the distance many families built small wooden houses, usually 10-ft. by 10-ft or 12-ft. by 12-ft with one or two rooms, for weekend use. These houses came to be known as “Sunday Houses.” Some of these structures have been converted into modern accommodations and are available for rent.
The Fredericksburg Herb Farm is the ideal place to stay during your trip to the city. Fourteen replica Sunday Houses have been decorated in soothing tones with modern amenities and placed, like jewels, in this perfect setting. Adjacent to the houses is Nature’s Spa, a full service, state-of-the-art day spa with a relaxation room that has ultra-comfortable chairs that allow you to look out on a bucolic setting. A wonderful restaurant and a really exceptional gift shop are also on the premises. www.fredericksburgherbfarm.com
Just when you think it can’t get better Fredericksburg has something else to offer. I have saved two of the best nighttime treats for last.
From May to October visitors can experience a “Bat Emergence” at the Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area. You should arrive around 6:45 PM and take a short walk down steps to bench seating above the entrance to the 920-ft. tunnel that is the daytime home to approximately 1-million Mexican free-tailed bats. After a brief lesson on the secret life of bats you witness them leave the tunnel, fly in a vortex-like manner and fly into the wind as far as 100-miles away to eat. You are perfectly safe and the sight is unexcelled in nature. www.tpwd.state.tx.us
After the bats emerge you can head straight for Luckenbach, Texas. It was established in 1849 as a trading post and is now a 10-acre area with a dance hall, beer joint, outdoor stage and souvenir shop where you can purchase collectible tee shirts. Albums have been recorded here and this is the place Willie Nelson pays homage to in a song. Their motto, “Everybody is Somebody in Luckenbach,” is true. There is no better way to end this part of our trip. www.luckenbachtexas.com
Fredericksburg is nestled in the heart of Texas and I guarantee it will touch your heart too! www.visitfredericksburgtx.com
Fredericksburg, Texas, Portal to the High Country – Philasun.com; Renée Gordon, 9/23/11