A Tour of The Pioneer Museum in Fredericksburg Texas

Fredericksburg Texas, in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, was a major settlement for German immigrants. Located in Gillespie County Texas, Fredericksburg presents an excellent example of early German migration to the state. In fact, there are many towns in the Texas Hill Country with German names such as New Braunfels, Gruene, Boerne and others. The Bavarian government largely discouraged emigration in the 1880’s but nevertheless there was a lot of publicity in Germany regarding Texas. Those who did publicize Texas told about the available land, the topography of the Hill Country and the abundance of wild game. Many Texas Germans arrived in in the state during the German Revolutions of 1848. One thing that is quite remarkable is that the early German settlers developed a good relationship with the Indians. It’s remarkable in the sense that trouble with the Native Comanches is so much a part of Texas history. A few other interesting facts about the Texas Germans was that they actively participated in politics, and by 1846 a German language version of Texas law was in place. Also, Fredericksburg stood out as a bastion of Union support during the American Civil War. Most of the immigrant population was adverse to slavery.

Today, Fredericksburg Texas is a fun Hill Country tourist destination with a lot to see and do. There are many things to do in Fredericksburg and one of these is to explore the towns early days of Texas German immigration.

One very historical attraction which goes a long way in explaining and showcasing Fredericksburg’s founding is the Pioneer Museum and village located in the heart of Fredericksburg Texas. The Pioneer Museum which includes many outdoor exhibits is located on three acres of shaded grounds and included many plants that are native to the Texas Hill Country.

Pioneer Museum, Fredericksburg Texas

The early Texas Hill Country was very active with people who emigrated to the area from the German region of Europe. Many towns in this part of Texas have German names.such as Fredericksburg, New Braunfels, Luckenbach, Bergheim, Boerne,and Gruene. The history of these settlements tell the story of the Germanic influence on the early settlement in this part of Texas. The Pioneer Museum does a great job in showcasing all of this early history.

The Dambach-Besier House stood at 515 E. Main Street for 135 years and was moved to 325 West Main Street where it has been reconstructed to form the entrance to the Pioneer Museum and the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau Welcome Center. The house was originally built in 1869. According to the museum, In 2005, the owners at that time, Kenneth and JoAnn Kothe, donated the house which was disassembled, moved, and reconstructed with funding from donors to the Gillespie County Historical Society.

Klammah House

The Pioneer Museum also exhibits the Kammlah House. This is another very interesting and historic structure. Originally built in 1849 as a one room structure, it grew considerably in later years to include three kitchens, bedrooms, living areas and a stone patio.  When the Historical Society bought the Kammlah property in 1955, amazingly, four generations of Kammlahs had lived in the house. A barn and smokehouse are part of the original property owned and run by the Kammlah family. A general store was operated on this property between the years 1870 and 1924.

 

Sunday House

While touring the museum grounds you’ll see a small structure called the “Weber Sunday House”. Lots of history here. The Sunday House was utilized as a place to eat and rest when the Weber family made the seven mile trip to town for shopping and church. This type of structure is unique to the Fredericksburg TX area. The Sunday Houses stopped being essential when the roadways in the area improved. Interestingly enough, during World War Two when gas rationing was in effect, Sunday Houses had a kind of rebirth of usefulness. It cut down a lot of driving for people who had access to one.

 

 

Watson Log Cabin

There is a 1880’s log cabin on the museum grounds that was the family home of John and Nancy Walton and their three children. After her husbands death, Nancy married John Smith and they added to the house. When this home was rediscovered in the 1980s, the original cabin had been totally encased by additions to the house. According to the Pioneer Museum, in 1985, it was moved and rebuilt at the Museum by Cox Restoration in memory of Jay Cox.

Fredericksburg is about 80 miles west of Austin and about 70 miles northwest of San Antonio Texas. Founded in 1846 and named after Prince Frederick of Prussia, Fredericksburg is a popular tourist destination in Texas and is well known for it’s unique B & B’s. Fredericksburg Texas lodging choices ar many.

A very well known son of Fredericksburg TX was Admiral Chester Nimitz who commanded Pacific Naval forces during the Second World War. Today, many people travel to the Nimitz Museum of the Pacific War which is in downtown Fredericksburg. The museum has absolutely excellent displays of just about everything related to the war in the Pacific. If you have the opportunity to travel to Fredericksburg, the Nimitz Museum is a must stop.

.Another noted resident from Fredericksburg was Carl Hilmar Guenther, an immigrant from Wiessenfels Germany. Guenther served at one time as Justice of the Peace and established flour mills in Fredericksburg. Eventually and because of a severe drought, he moved his flour mills to San Antonio Texas and they still stand today. The Pioneer Flour Mills grounds in San Antonio are a very popular tourist attraction, a museum and also features an excellent restaurant and bakery. It’s definitely a stop to add to your south Texas vacation planner.

You should find this article link about the Pioneer Flour Mills and Carl Guenther interesting. Good pictures of the Guenther house and grounds.

If you have a chance to visit the town during the holiday season, Fredericksburg is well known for their lights and displays. Some of the best holiday displays in the entire state of Texas.

 

A German Colony in Texas

The way in which the state of Texas was first settled is one of the more interesting stories of American westward expansion. It’s also a perfect example of how hard working people with a dream can start a new life.

The Spaniards coming north from New Spain (present day Mexico) were the first Europeans to set foot in present day Texas. Then, in the 1820’s after the Mexican revolt and the Spaniards were driven out of North America, the new Mexican government took control over this vast region.

fredericksburg texasI think one of the most interesting stories in the evolution of Texas involves the massive Texas German immigration mostly into what is now south Texas. It is amazing how so many people traveled such a far distance from their native country to begin a new life in a land filled with dangers which included the hostile Comanche Indians. The bravery and determination of these early Texas German settlers seemed to have no bounds. When you pass through the Texas Hill Country or travel there while on a Texas vacation, you will no doubt drive through several interesting towns with German names. These include the town with the largest percentage German immigration percentage, Fredericksburg ( top photo is the old hospital building in Fredericksburg and second image is frontier home in fredericksburg)  and also towns such as Gruene, New Braunfels, Luckenbach, Boerne and others. The towns mentioned are located in an area west of a line from Austin south to San Antonio. This is the general area of the Texas Hill Country. The towns stand as a living symbol of the large German migration to the area in an era where land was readily available for people searching for a new start.

fredericksburg texas frontier homeThe question that begs to be asked is, why were these risks taken in the first place? What was the motivation to leave Europe and travel thousands of miles over perilous seas?

As early as 1850, Texas German settlers made up more than 5 percent of the total Texas population. These migrations like similar mass migrations usually have two components. The first is that European migration often had to do with people seeking solutions to problems such as lack of religious freedom, economic stagnation and the unavailability of adequate land. In Europe, land was not an easy thing to attain and often to get ahead and support a family, land was the key. The German migration to Texas was a voluntary migration and voluntary migrations usually were begun by a dominant personality. This individual would be a natural leader who could convince others that migration to another land was the solution to their difficulties. Essentially, he used his personality to convince others to follow him in migration.It was even more effective if the leader was already abroad and could tell others of his experience.

In the case of the Texas Germans, the dominant personality who led the way to Texas was a man named Friedrich Diercks. In Texas, Diercks went under the alias of Johann Friedrich Ernst. Ernst worked in the Germany’s Grand Duchy of Oldenburg as a professional gardener. When he first migrated to North America he had his sights on Missouri but after arriving he heard about land grants being given out to Europeans in Stephen F. Austin’s Texas colony. Often, to populate a frontier area, and especially one the size of Texas, land grants were the way. In fact, both the Spaniards and the Mexicans offered land grants to white settlers. The Spanish, like those after them, had difficulty with the Comanches of Texas and they believed that a larger European population was the key to placing a buffer between them and the Indians. Ernst fared very well with the Texas land grants. He ended up receiving more than 4,000 acres of land in what is today the northwest portion area of Austin County.

The catalyst that set off the Texas German migration to this sparsely settled region were the many letters that Ernst sent back to friends in Germany. His description was of a land with a relatively mild climate, available acreage as far as the eye could see, hardly any taxes to pay, which was a big burden for many people living in Europe at that time, hunting and fishing without needing licenses, etc. What wasn’t included in these letters however were a few of the negatives, Comanche raids being one. As a result of these steady stream of letters arriving in Germany, people started migrating to this new land called Texas. It should also be noted that part of the allure of Texas at that time was that the area was a separate republic. It had won it’s freedom from Mexican rule.

guenther house in san antonio texasGerman noblemen began publicizing the hoped for migration to Texas. The noblemen had the idea of establishing their own Texas German colony comprised of German peasants. Most of the German immigrant clusters came from west central Germany, particularly Nassau, southern Hanover, Brunswick, Hesse, and western Thuringia. The noblemen figured that with Texas being a new republic they might be able to gain some control over the lesser classes of future Texas Germans. This never really materialized but what did occur was the migration of Germans with a diverse background and skill sets. The Germans in Texas who immigrated there because of Friedrich Ernst and a few other leaders generally were solid middle-class peasants. They were land-owning families, artisans, and, in a few cases, university-educated professional people and intellectuals.

As a side note, the photo above is the stately Guenther House, a San Antonio Texas historic landmark and former home of Carl Guenther the founder of Pioneer Flour during the 1850’s. The photo above is of Gruene Hall in Gruene Texas, long a Texas historic landmark and gathering place for musical entertainment. Gruene Hall is the oldest continuously operating dance hall in Texas.

The majority of these Texas Germans were farmers with a modest experience in trade. These German people were ambitious farmers and artisans who believed their futures were limited by the social and economic system at home. They were not poor and oppressed people. These people had the means to gather together enough cash needed to migrate overseas. In many ways however, the German immigrants were like many other immigrant groups. The Germans who settled Texas included peasant farmers and intellectuals; Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and atheists; Prussians, Saxons, Hessians, and Alsatians; abolitionists,  slave owners and farmers. They were honest people and there were criminals. They essentially were a transplanted diverse section of their society. Many people in the Hill Country were speaking German in Texas at that particular time.

The story of the settling of Texas is not complete unless the story of German immigration is included. Today, the Texas tourist traveling through the beautiful Hill Country can learn much about the history of the Texas German migration and enjoy the many authentic German restaurants spread throughout the region.