FAYETTE COUNTY, TEXAS
Footprints of Fayette article by Gary E. McKee:
In the spring of 1831, Friedrich Ernst settled on the banks of Mill Creek, in Austin County. He was so enchanted with the land, that he wrote a glowing letter to a friend in his homeland, Germany. The letter was published in a newspaper. Joseph Biegel read the letter and decided that this was the place for his family to start a new life. Upon arriving in Mexican Texas, Biegel was issued a league of land (4,400 acres) by the Mexican Government. Biegel, 29, and Margarethe, his wife, 34, began attempting to tame their new home. Indians were a major threat and Biegel kept his weapon nearby as he plowed his fields. Indian raids caused the Biegel's along with their neighbors to move down the Colorado River for several months.
Upon returning the Biegel's were soon forced to head east as the wall of serpents and eagles of Santa Anna's army was sweeping across Texas during the Revolution. After San Jacinto, the Biegel's returned to their farm and once again began to develop the area. In order to entice neighbors to the area; Biegel sold various parts of his league to fellow immigrants. By the 1850's a small community had emerged, with the Biegel homestead being the center of activity. It was reported that there was around 50 houses, a gristmill, cotton gin, saw mill and a post office. The census of 1850 listed Biegel as owning 411 improved acres, 300 unimproved acres with a total value of $800. He also owned 9 horses, 1 mule, 40 milk cows, 7 oxen, 25 swine, and 40 head of cattle with a total value of $1100. The records also show the presence of cotton, beans, potatoes, butter, and honey. Biegel also had a slave couple with four children.
Joseph Biegel's wife, Margarethe, died in 1866. Two years later, Biegel married Margarethe's 27-year-old niece, Catharine Winesdörfer. Joseph Biegel died at the age of 73 in 1875. Catherine lived until 1883. All were buried in the Biegel family plot.
The Biegel Settlement (the area was never incorporated) boasted a blend of nationalities. Emigrants from France, Prussia, Poland, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland resided here.
Two early residents of Biegel are worth mentioning, R. E .B. Baylor and Asa Hill.
Baylor settled there in the early 1840s. Baylor, a Baptist minister, was elected to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas, and was a Fayette County delegate to the annexation conventions of 1845. When Texas joined the Union, Baylor helped draft the first state constitution, championing the causes of free public schools, homestead exemptions and the exclusion of clergy from the legislature. He was a state judge for 18 years. He traveled his district by horseback, conducting court by day and preaching in the towns in the evening. In 1845, Baylor provided influence to start the college that now bears his name, Baylor University.
Asa Hill, a veteran of the Texas Revolution, moved to Biegel in 1839. During the Mexican Invasion of 1842, Hill and two of his sons, joined the Texian Army expedition that is known as the Mier Expedition.
February 23, 1861 saw Texas and Fayette County voting on whether to secede from the Union. Fayette County voted not to secede by a 626 to 580 count. Texas seceded despite Fayette and several other counties with similar votes.
On January 4, 1863, a secret meeting was held in the Biegel Settlement and a letter was sent to the ranking Confederate officer in La Grange, Brigadier General William G. Webb, formerly a local lawyer. The letter outlined the resident's reasons for protesting the draft. The major objection was the increase in the poverty level for the farmer's families, should they have to leave the farms. Five men stating that they represented about 120 citizens signed the letter. This was a very bold and potentially dangerous statement in a time of war.
The Confederacy reacted by declaring a state of martial law in Fayette County. The Governor of Texas, Francis Lubbock, immediately traveled to La Grange and met with the dissidents. The Governor gave a very plain, positive talk to them and extracted a promise of enlistment from a majority of the protesters. Lubbock's persuasive speech and the artillery piece belonging to the Confederate Cavalry Brigade that backed him up quieted things down. Several Biegel residents heroically served the Confederacy.
During Reconstruction, things were pretty tough as the members of the Biegel Settlement were trying to survive the economic and political disaster. The former slaves, who had become sharecroppers, struggled along with their former owners against the failed economy. Relations between the two appeared to be cordial as they all banded together during harvest time and helped one another.
In the late 1800s, the railroad came to nearby Fayetteville on its way to La Grange from Houston. The tracks missed the settlement causing the decline of the area in population as people moved to be near the railroad. Biegel had become a peaceful agricultural community. There was now a school and Verein hall. The hall was a focal point for the annual Schützen Verein or shooting club festival. Yearly, the community gathered for a day of socializing, food, drink, dancing and a target shoot of which the winner was declared the König Schützen or King of the Shooters for the upcoming year.
Life was quiet in the Biegel area during the 20th century as crops and children were raised. Some of the children went off to fight in the World Wars and didn't return, others went to the big city to find a job, and a very hardy few kept the farming tradition alive.
In the early 1970s, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) chose 6000 acres in the Biegel area as the site for a new electric generation facility. When LCRA acquired the area, some of the original log cabins were moved from the area to be preserved. They now can be seen in Henkel Square in Round Top and at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens. At least six cemeteries were moved to make way for the construction of the Fayette Power Project (FPP). The Biegel Family Cemetery was one of them. A total of 150 remains were relocated, some to the city cemetery in La Grange (Asa & Green Washington Hill) and some to new cemeteries still on plant property. Today much of the area of Biegel Settlement is under the waters of the FPP lake.
From Fayette County, Her History and Her People by F. Lotto, 1902
Biegel lies about eight miles east of La Grange on the La Grange-Fayetteville road, between Cedar and Baylor Creek. The surrounding country is sandy and gravel postoak. The better portions and the creek bottom lands are cultivated, the balance serves for pasture. Biegel settlement is one of the oldest settlements in Fayette County. It was founded by Joseph Biegel in 1832. It is a voting precinct and since 1875 a post-office. Mr. Theo. Kroll is the postmaster and merchant in that place. This mercantile business was established by his father; Mr. H. Kroll, in 1866, and is the oldest mercantile business in the county. From 1862 to 1866 Mr. Kroll also ran a distillery, the only distillery ever run in Fayette county, to the knowledge of the writer. In the earlier times Biegel used to be quite a prominent place. The dances, balls and feasts that were arranged there acquired quite a reputation and attracted guests from miles afar. The feasts now-a-days are given under the auspices of the Biegel shooting club, which was organized in 1872. The founders of this club were Theo. Kroll, Geo. Siebrecht, Louis Struve and Geo. Mauer. Its officers now are R. December, president, and Otto Kirsch, secretary.
Biegel Schuetzen Verein Hall
Contributed by Jason Moore
Among the first settlers of Biegel were: B. Sherer, the first commissioner of that precinct (deceased); his son, August; C. Halfinger, J. O. Tschiedel, Carl Wolle and ___ [Heinrich von] Struve, a Russian officer who published his autobiography, full of adventures.
According to his descendant, Jon Todd Koenig, Heinrich von Struve was of German ethnicity, though his father worked for the Russian Court. His autobiography was entitled Ein Lebensbild.
Otto and Jennie Holmgren Meitzen
Photos contributed by Bob Richardson
From Historical Sites & Communities:
Biegel was the first German settlement in Fayette County and the second in Texas. Founded by Joseph Biegel, Christian Wertzner, Bernard Scherner [sic.] and the Meitzen family in 1832, Biegel was the center of a non-violent revolt during the Civil War, causing martial law to be declared in Fayette county. The railroad bypassed Biegel and life slowed down. In the 1970s, the three remaining buildings were moved so that a power plant could be built on the site. Today nothing remains of Biegel, the community lies at the bottom of the Fayette Power Plant lake.
Text from the historical marker at the Scherrer House which has been relocated from Biegel to Round Top:
(1807 -1892) Bernard Scherrer left his native Switzerland at the age of 22 for extended travels before reaching Texas in 1833. After serving in Burleson's regiment during the Texas Revolution, he received a land grant in Colorado County but settled in Biegel settlement (Fayette County) about 1838. Here he served as justice of the peace, county commissioner, and in 1845 he married Gesine Eliza Margarete Koch. He left his civic, farming and freighting duties to serve in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. This cabin, Scherrer's first residence in Texas, was moved to this location in 1975.
Footprints of Fayette article by Sherie Knape:
Kroll Pickle Factory
The Kroll Pickle Factory was located in the once lively community of Biegel. Biegel was located eight miles east of La Grange between La Grange and Fayetteville. Helmuth Kroll and his wife, Bertha Von Els, and their two children Theodore and Annie immigrated to America from Germany in 1850. Helmuth purchased 27 acres of land, with cabin, in 1861.
The cabin was built of sturdy logs from the surrounding area, which were laid horizontally, filled at the corners, and plastered with mud and moss. The whole construction was fifteen feet wide by sixteen feet long and had some open windows. It had a smooth earthen floor. It was described as a double log cabin with gallery, passage way and over story. He remodeled the interior of the cabin and established a general store, a pickle factory and a commercial distillery.
After Helmuth's death in 1883 his son, Theodore Kroll took over the business. Theodore Kroll was married to Julia Meyer and they along with their children ran the family business. Theodore, his son, and one or two field workers planted the first crop of cucumbers from about three acres of seeds. The seeds were carefully planted in a sandy field not far from the factory. During the spring and summer Theodore paid workers, usually young teenagers to keep the field free from weeds. When it was time for the cucumbers to be picked, Theodore again paid workers: men, women, children, black or white, one cent per pound. The cucumbers had to be brought to the factory where they were cleaned and pickled.
As the cucumbers were brought to the cabin, Emma, Julie, Louise, and Annie Kroll, daughters of Theodore Kroll, carefully washed the cucumbers in large tubs outside the factory. The daughters would tightly pack the cucumbers in 30 gallon barrels, while Theodore combined vinegar, salt and water, which were boiled in an outdoor kettle. After he let it cool, he poured the salt brine in the barrel of cucumbers, and then let is stand. Because the salt brine caused the pickles and liquid to foam from the bung of the barrel, he had to keep adding more water every day until it stopped foaming. Sometimes he added onion or garlic, depending on what kind of pickles desired. When the pickling process was complete he opened the barrel, took the pickles out, and packed them into narrow, yellow, five-gallon kegs or crocks, to be sold for five dollars apiece to country and town stores, feasts and individuals.
The closing of the factory around 1916 was a very sad occasion for many people who enjoyed Mr. Kroll's delicious pickles. All of Mr. Kroll's children now had their own occupations so they no longer wanted to take over the trade. Although he hated to give up his thriving business, he had to, because of his failing eyesight. Theodore Kroll and his wife are buried in the La Grange City Cemetery.