These brief histories were written by members of the Fayette County Historical Commission. They first appeared in the weekly column, "Footprints of Fayette," which is published in the Fayette County Record, Banner Press, Flatonia Argus, Schulenburg Sticker, and Weimar Mercury newspapers. A new article appears weekly. See index of all Footprints of Fayette articles.
The following are excerpts by Rosa Berry Cole from Memories of By-Gone Days and was published by the Smithville Heritage Society. Transcribed by Gary E. McKee
The Berry family landed in Velasco, Texas and were met by two Berry brothers who had come ahead and locate a homestead in Texas. They put the wheels back on and rolled them on to Texas soil, hitched the oxen to the wagons that the Berry brought and started on the long tip overland, infested with savages, wild beast, tigers, bears and leopards. Camping at night, Tom Berry was their guild. He killed deer, turkey and other game so they had plenty to eat. I think they were ten days getting to Woods Prairie [west of La Grange], a settlement on the Colorado River. There was no La Grange there but a crossing on the river. I think it was a ford, maybe a pontoon bridge, logs fastened together and hung to east river bank. When the river was low, you could drive across, it would sink down and water would cover the logs, but you would not bog down. Then up the river to their home, if I remember right, it was September of 1832.
Thomas O. Berry and Lucinda Kenner were married and went to housekeeping in a 10 x 12 Cedar log house on the bluff of the Colorado River. You could stand in the back door and throw a rock into the river. There was a strip of land some 20 or 30 feet below the second bank and in the second bank they had their drinking water spring. It was clear and cold and so good. One day she said she and her mother had been sitting for hours and she slipped up behind and threw a 30 pound rock over her head in the river. Just as the rock sank Granma Nancy caught a 25 pound yellow cat, the largest fish she had ever caught. The two women landed the fish. It used to make my mouth water to think how fine it must have tasted, all browned in bear’s oil. They did not use lard as in the summertime it got rancid, but bear’s oil was always sweet and did not congeal like tallow did when it got cold. They ate quite a lot of bear meat. It was very much like pork. They killed the bear for its skin as it made a good cover when cleaned and dressed. They would trim four hides and dress them till they would be soft. They sewed the four together and there was a warm bed covering. The buffalo robes were fixed the same way. I remember seeing one. It was soft as silk; it was cream colored on the top with long curly hair almost like fur.
by Marie Watts
Today Sam Houston is a beloved and revered figure in Texas history. However, his relationship with the citizens of La Grange was a rocky one. Soon after his arrival in Texas in December, 1832, Houston began to exasperate area residents.
Houston went to Gonzales to take command of the Texas army shortly after his appointment as major general on March 4, 1836. The army, under his direction, immediately began a wholesale retreat as the Mexican army under Santa Ana advanced. Area residents fled, leaving their possessions behind and running for their lives. Many residents blamed Sam Houston for not standing up to Santa Ana and forcing their evacuation. This event is known as the Runaway Scrape.
Then, as Houston retreated through the La Grange area ahead of Santa Ana, he ordered the burning of Burnam’s Ferry. Burnam never forgave Houston and felt Houston ordered the destruction out of spite.
Houston, as President of the Republic of Texas, vetoed a bill in 1838 making La Grange the state capitol. The area was to be named “Austin”, and a square mile was to be set aside for a university. Instead, the town of Houston, founded in 1836 and named in his honor, continued to serve as the capital of the Republic. La Grange residents were infuriated and issued a bill of indictment against him.
Perhaps the largest insult to La Grange came in December, 1842. Houston ordered citizen soldiers, attempting to rescue San Antonio citizens and Dawson Massacre survivors (including many from Fayette County) captured by the Mexicans, not to cross the Rio Grande. Approximately 300 men, including a number of Fayette County residents, disobeyed and entered Mexico, only to be defeated and captured. This incursion is known as the Mier Expedition. The survivors were marched to Perote Prison southeast of Mexico City. During the march south, 188 Texians escaped. Of these, 176 were recaptured. Santa Anna was livid and ordered the men executed. He finally backed off, ordering only 1 in 10 to be killed. The decision of which 17 would die was made by drawing beans from a pot—white meant life, while black meant death. The incident is now known as the black bean incident.
Later President Houston stated that the Mier men had acted without authority of the government, leaving the impression that they were not entitled to treatment as prisoners of war unless the Mexican government wished to assume that obligation.
Thomas J. Green, a member of the Mier Expedition who escaped Perote in July, 1843, lashed out at President Houston in a notice printed in the La Grange Intelligencer on May 23, 1844. He accused Houston of being responsible for the deaths of the men in Perote Prison, because of his failure to support treating them as prisoners of war. Furthermore, Green pointed out that the Texas Congress had ordered $30,000 to be paid for care of the prisoners. No money had been sent and, when Houston was confronted with this, commented (according to Green) that the men were better off than they would be at their homes. Note: At that time Mexican prisoners were given scant food and no clothing. They were, however, allowed to purchase decent food and clothing with their own funds.
Would the citizens of La Grange have then invited Sam Houston to the September 18, 1848 ceremony honoring those who lost their lives in the Mier and Dawson Expeditions? Highly unlikely. It is hard to imagine them inviting him to speak, much less giving him a bed to sleep in.
An article in the Democratic Telegraph and Texas Register (Houston, TX) dated September 28, 1848 describes the interment ceremony. A procession from the courthouse to Monument Hill was led by the marshal, Col Lester, and the remains were escorted by the military under command of Col. Martin K. Snell. A chaste and appropriate sermon was delivered by Rev. Mr. Kinney.
An article from the previous edition indicated that Houston was expected home (Huntsville) at any time. He was returning from Washington D.C., where Congress had adjourned on August 14, 1848. Additionally, he had not seen his new daughter, Margaret Lea, who was born in Huntsville on April 13th of that year. He most likely would have declined to travel to La Grange even if he were invited.
Sam Houston certainly did not sleep here.
Transcribed by Connie F. Sneed
A letter to E. H. Cushings, Esq. signed with only the initials of C. F. H.:
Jan 18, 1860
After an absence of two years to return to the old stomping ground, to meet the warm embracings of old and tried friends, is certainly a congenial pleasure. There is so much said in a shake of the hand that the heart responds to the pressure. To judge of the honesty of a man’s professions of warm and devoted friendship, you must feel the grip. Many such, I am happy to say, I have received during the few days I have spent among the citizens of the Queen City of the Colorado Valley.
During my visits to different sections of the States the past year, I found many beautiful locations, much fine land, good water, and in fact much of everything conducive to the happiness and prosperity of the people occupying those localities; but I say it honestly, I have not, in all my sojourning, found so much of all these things concentrated in any one county as in Fayette County. There are large bodies of rich land, both river bottom and uplands, as can be found anywhere in the State, excepting perhaps the Brazos bottom; true, it is not in as large quantities as in Tarrant, Dallas, Ellis, and many northern counties, but that is more than compensated by the vast bodies of timber in Fayette of which the others are most wholly destitute of. Again this county has as many running streams of as pure water as any other in middle and northern Texas.
There has been a very great change in the face of the county during the past two years. In many places where there was only a small improvement in miles, there is now plantation upon plantation, many them embracing hundreds of acres. Lands which five years since could have been bought for from fifty cents to one dollar and fifty cents to ten dollars per acre. Even the large bodies of post oak lands, generally admitted to be very poor and sterile, cannot be bought for less than three dollars per acre. They have their advantages, also, with the rich prairie lands, in serving for pasturage, and an outlet from the settlements. The amount of taxation must have quadrupled in the last five years.
The late cold weather has materially injured the fruit trees, and you may trace its ravages among the stock everywhere. Cattle, sheep and hogs are frozen; but to compensate for this destruction, I have heard many planters say their lands were never in better condition than at present for another crop.
I have seen fit to call La Grange the Queen City of the Colorado Valley. I might go further, and say the Queen City of middle Texas. Her fine court house , of rock from the bluff opposite the town, is the handsomest piece of architecture in middle Texas-the spire of which, towering above the tops of the loftiest trees, can be seen for over three miles, and that over a body of timber; her clean streets, rural cottages nicely painted, and surrounded by beautiful gardens, the pride of the housewife and the delight of the passer by, her schools and churches, her stores and workshops, can vie with any upland town. True, the store houses are small, mostly one story buildings, but that is occasioned by the destructive fires which took place sometime since, destroying the buildings on two sides of the public square, and considerably impoverishing the owners.
The hotel of Mr. P. Tate, (who has lately taken possession) is conducted in a style which is conducted is bound to give satisfaction, the proprietor himself seeing that his guests are properly waited on and promptly attended to. His bill of fare is the best the county affords, and plenty of it. Bedding clean and comfortable, and above all, a good stable, plenty of provender, and careful and attentive grooms. It is a new epoch in the life of Mr. Tate, and we sincerely wish him well of his laborious and generally unthankful vocation.
There is a general complaint here of the management of the B. B., B. & C  road. Cotton which has been sent to Eagle Lake for shipment to Houston for several weeks is still lying there. There is also a general dissatisfaction evinced and expressed towards Galveston as a cotton market. The planters want the disposing of their produce and do not wish to be compelled to employ a commission merchant to sell for them.
There is also a general dissatisfaction expressed against the new receipts  of the central road, and many have declared they will forward by the old slow coaches, rather than forward by the railway at their own risk.
On the whole from what I can gather in conversations, I think next fall will present somewhat of a new appearance. We had a very fine rain, and the people are actively employed preparing the land for another crop, the prospects for which at present are truly flattering. May a heavy harvest reward their labors in an earnest wish.
1. Not the present day courthouse, the original Kreische's courthouse
2. Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railroad
3. Receipts refer to the general freight charges and methods of shipping.
by Katie Kulhanek
Taken from The La Grange Journal, July 21st, 1880:
Sometimes, believe it or not, it’s hard to come up a good Footprint of Fayette article. Fortunately, a wealth of information lies in our county newspapers. As I searched through pages of The La Grange Journal, looking for anything that would catch my eye, I found a list of new ordinances that were to be issued to the city of La Grange in 1880. I found several of them to be quite entertaining. It just goes to show that you never know when you’ll find something interesting. These ordinances may seem a little funny and particular to us these days, but back in 1880 they were just a part of everyday life. And thus, for your enjoyment and entertainment…
“Be it ordained by the City Council of the Town of La Grange that the following ordinances be and the same are hereby enacted, to take effect 10 days from the after publication;
Article 69: That any person who shall, in any public place in this city, appearing in a state of nudity, or in any dress not belonging to his or her sex or who shall make any indecent exposure of his person, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction there of shall be punished as in other cases of misdemeanors.
Article 78: That any person who shall ride any animal on or across any of the sidewalks around the public square, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor.
Article 81: That it shall be unlawful for any person or persons within the fire limits of the city to throw stones or other missiles, or to fly kites, roll hoops, shoot with bow and arrow or to shoot off any stone or other missile with or from a sling, or from any elastic spring or springs, or to play with balls, and any person so offending shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor.
Article 83: That any person or persons who shall keep a disorderly house or house of ill-fame, or any person or persons who shall rent out a house for said purposes shall be deemed a misdemeanor.
Article 85: That any person or persons who shall bathe in a state of nudity in the Colorado River within 500 yards of any of the ferries within the corporate limits of this city, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, provided nothing in this article shall be so construed as to prohibit persons from bathing at any place in said river between the hours of 8 o’clock p.m. and 4 o’clock a.m.
Article 89: That any person owning, harboring, or sheltering any pigeons who shall permit or so keep them that they may go out at large shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction be punished as in other cases of misdemeanor.
Article 90: That any pigeon found trespassing upon the premises of any one may be killed by the owner of such premises.”
By Marie W. Watts
After emancipation the State of Texas began to pass Jim Crow laws (laws requiring racial segregation). The Lone Star state eventually passed 27 of these laws which were not repealed until 1964. Blacks were segregated in schools and when using public transportation. Voting rights were curbed. Interracial marriage was outlawed and, by 1915, violating this law could bring you a prison sentence of two to five years.
Despite the contentious relationship between the races, an extraordinary event occurred in La Grange late one spring evening in 1883. Mr. J.F. McClatchy, a white man from Mississippi, found his livery stable ablaze. It was located on the east side of the town square. He lost 23 horses to the fire and nearly all his buggies. At one point the fire threatened to destroy the square’s entire east side. However, both African American and white citizens joined together to fight the flames and limited the damage to McClatchy’s property and several other small buildings. Sadly, the fire was thought to be the work of an arsonist.
Unfortunately for Mr. McClatchy, insurance covered less than half of his loss. However, local African Americans came to his aid. Having no money to give, they donated their time and labor to help him build a new stable:
Johnson Miller 6 days
Reuben Pierce 6 days
Jack Blocker 2 days
W. A. Schropshire 2 days
Granderson Lindsay 3 days
Sam Rogers 1 day
George Holmes and team 1 day
Nathan Powel 2 days
Bob Lyles 1 day
Richard Smith 1 day
Mr. McClatchy was able, within 36 hours, to open another stable with 18 stalls on the same lot.
White citizens expressed their appreciation to those who helped put out the fire in a May 25, 1883 letter to the editor of the La Grange Journal:
“We, the signers hereto, desire through the columns of your paper, to express our sincere thanks to the citizens, white and colored, who came to our relief on the occasion of the recent destructive fire. Your prompt and continuous efforts saved, not only the property of the signers hereto, but the property of many others. For the prompt, noble, and untiring efforts of the citizens and visiting friends, we do most sincerely tender our grateful acknowledgements.”
White & Bradshaw,
Chas. W. Gregory
H. Scholz & Co.
Kruschel & Schmidt
by Larry K. Ripper
Did you ever wonder what a trip to La Grange, or any other small Texas town, for that matter, would have looked like in the late 1800’s? Think about the shops and services that you might see available there…or equally important…the things that you don’t see. Advances in transportation, communications, energy, refrigeration, and other technical innovations make our world a vastly different place today. So if you look closely at the people of 1885…and not their possessions…you would see that we are not that different from those who walked here before us.
The population of La Grange in 1885 was listed as 1,800 persons, compared to a current population of approximately 4,900 in the 2010 census. Fayette County, on the other hand, had an overall population of over 30,000 that was larger than today’s population of approximately 25,000. This reflects a countrywide trend of migration from rural farms and ranches to towns and cities that took place during the past 100 years. Some of us see this trend reversing over the past few years, at least with retirees leaving the big cities and heading back to the country.
This historic look at La Grange is based on an 1885 map produced by the Sanborn Map and Publishing Company. They were in the business of producing maps and information for fire insurance companies at the time. I only looked at those businesses in the “commercial” blocks surrounding the court house square, and which were in residence at the time the map was published. To my amazement, the overall downtown area of La Grange looked similar to the way it appears today. The following is a list (and numbers) of the more common businesses found in 1885:
Dry Goods (8)
Continuing the inventory of businesses and shops in 1885, we see many things that we might expect to find in a small town: a post office, meat market, stove shop, gunsmith, clothing store, law office, barber, baker, and a tailor. But we also discover stores that might bring the finer things in life to people of that time: a jewelry store, billiard hall, photo gallery, dining room, insurance office, soda water plant, and a cigar factory.
We also see something called a Painty Shop, which I assume has something to do with painting houses, as does one called Paints and Oils. A store listed as Gro/Liq/Beer may have been an early attempt at becoming a neighborhood convenience store. Many shops carried more than one product, as they do today. And the Carriage Repository can only be our equivalent of the modern-day parking garage.
Within this central area, we find the Presbyterian Church with a 65-foot spire on West Travis Street; it previously was known as the Union Church with the local Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Baptist congregations all sharing the same building. There also was a Lodge for the Knights of Honor and the Masonic Lodge. The Masons utilized the top floor of a three-story building, known today as the Old Masonic Building located on the north side of West Travis Street between Washington and Jefferson Streets. What I did not see were any buildings designated as a bank, or ones for doctors’ or dentists’ offices. Many buildings are listed as offices, sleeping rooms, dwellings, storage or warehouses. These may have provided a multitude of goods and services to the community.
There are some observations we can make about the customers who visited these shops and businesses in 1885. Anything to do with horses (10 businesses) must have been very important in daily life. The people of that era relied heavily on these shops for the necessities of life, yet they had access to some of the nicer things in life. They appear to have eaten out far less than we do today (one dining room), but probably read more that we do today (two book stores and two printers). And they probably had the time to appreciate the simpler, yet enjoyable things that we have long since forgotten in today’s fast-paced world.
By Carolyn Heinsohn
The name “Airdome” piques one’s interest to try to imagine what this structure might have looked like and what purpose it served. La Grange actually had its own Airdome, although its existence was short-lived. Unfortunately, there are no photographs available to provide a visual image, only sketchy written descriptions.
In late February 1911, the La Grange Journal announced that the city would have an Airdome, a modern open-air “play house”, for the entertainment of its residents in the coming spring and summer evenings. There would be a modern one-story iron-clad stage and a seating capacity that would accommodate the “entire” public in an open-air theatre with an iron fence on two sides, according to its promoters, J. Walter Blaize and John T. Holman. The outdoor venue was located between the old Fink Building on the corner of N. Main and W. Colorado Streets and the Julius Meyenberg residence, which is the present site of the Colorado Valley Bank on the west side of the square.
On April 13th, the paper announced that the Airdome theatre had been completed and would formally open for public patronage in a few days, which actually occurred on April 20, 1911. A later issue stated that special arrangements were made with the United States Amusement Company for the use of their eight reels containing special features, the first of which would be shown on Saturday night, May 13th. Entitled “The Truth about Dr. Cook”, the reel featured 2,000 feet of pictures of the Artic region with a lecturer explaining every feature.
Subsequent newspaper articles stated that “The Fall of Troy” was a well-received recent attraction at the Airdome, and that illustrated songs by local talent would accommodate the regular programs of three reels in the future. The promoters stated that they only used the License Film service, so could guarantee the quality of their show for a fee of 5 and 10 cents.
The Airdome closed for the season in mid-October, 1911 and re-opened for the winter months under the same management in the Warnken building, located at 119 W. Colorado St., but with a different name, “The Question Theatre”. In May1912, P.F. Granger closed a deal with John T. Holman for possession of the motion picture show located in the Warnken building. He turned the management over to his son, Ed, who had some experience in the business.
The Airdome’s last outdoor picture show was held on October 9, 1912, closing after only two summer seasons. The cause of its demise is unknown. The first show of the winter season was shown the very next day in Granger’s theatre that had a new elevated floor and several other improvements for the comfort of the patrons. In November 1912, John Holman advertised that all material from the Airdome was for sale for half of the original cost. By April 1913, the Airdome was completely dismantled and all of its material was sold, including a roof, which apparently was added after the initial construction. Perhaps a roof was needed over the stage to provide a better image on the screen.
The space where the Airdome was located and the adjacent Fink building were replaced by a large two-story brick building that housed the Mohrhusen-Schmidt Company founded by H.G. Mohrhusen and his son-in-law Dr. B. Schmidt. The building has housed a number of businesses, including furniture stores and several restaurants. The Colorado Valley Bank acquired the building in 2006 and remodeled it to provide additional space for its banking needs.
by Sherie Knape
For many years, the La Grange cemetery, presently known as the "Old Cemetery", was neglected and did not receive the proper care that such a sacred place deserves. The cemetery was hardly ever mowed, and prior to the 1870's, hogs and cattle quite often grazed throughout the grounds. Animals and high grass in the cemetery caused monuments and grave markers to become injured, trampled on and knocked over. It is said that no one ever visited except when another body was laid to rest. It was this neglect that persuaded the ladies of La Grange to organize what was to be known as the Ladies' Cemetery Association of La Grange, Texas.
On the evening of April 17, 1873, a meeting to organize the Ladies' Cemetery Association was held at the Union Church with fourteen ladies present. According to the Texas Historical Commission, La Grange had the first chartered Ladies' Cemetery Association in Texas. The constitution and the by-laws provided for a well-run club with the care of the La Grange cemetery being their main concern.
Since that time, there have been some major developments that the Ladies' Cemetery Association has had to deal with. At first the old cemetery had only wooden fence surrounding it. This fence was neither adequate nor suitable for protecting the graves. The Ladies' Cemetery Association decided to have a new fence built around the cemetery. In just two years, they raised enough money to purchase an iron fence with hitching posts. The total cost was $2,531.51, which was raised through the sale of burial plots. The fence is still standing guard around the cemetery today. The Ladies Cemetery Association was also trying to keep the cemetery neat and beautiful. They decided to have a special day when every grave would be decorated with flowers. Every third Thursday in April was declared Decoration Day. Both businesses and school would have a holiday with all the citizens of La Grange decorating graves of their loved ones with the help of the local men and the Ladies' Cemetery Association. It was also an all day event highlighted by the Decoration Day Speech.
For over a hundred years the Ladies' Cemetery Association served the community faithfully, without a cent of money being gained for themselves. The group was active until the late 1970's when the upkeep of the cemetery was turned over to the City of La Grange. It is the hope of the association that their dream of having a neat and clean cemetery shall never be shattered.
By Bruce D. Collins
Most people in the county know that Fayette County was named after Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834). La Grange (which means “the barn” in French) was the name of Lafayette’s place of residence most of his life. When he was sixteen, Lafayette married fourteen year old Marie Adrienne Francoise de Noailles - allying himself with one of the wealthiest and important families in France (she was related to the king.) During his many active years in politics, Lafayette lived at La Grange, one of his wife’s family homes, about 35 miles from Paris. La Grange is a still a private residence, owned by members of the family.
Actually, the Chateau de Chavagniac (or Chavaniac, depending on the source) in Haute-Loire, Province of Auvergne, France, was Lafayette's birthplace and boyhood home. It is located in south central France, about 260 miles from Paris, a considerable distance at that time. The chateau appears to be much larger than La Grange and is open to the public. It is advertised as the “Chateau Lafayette” rather than the Chateau de Chavagniac, obviously to capitalize on the fame of this man who was involved in so many world changing events at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries. The location of La Grange, so close to Paris, was much more convenient for a politically driven man like the Marquis. Although he was of the nobility, he renounced his title. His democratic ideals displayed during and after the French revolution did not fit in with the rise of the Emperor Napoleon so the Marquis retired to La Grange until Napoleon was defeated. Three generations of Lafayettes, the Marquis, his son and his grandson were all involved in politics.
The Marquise, Marie Adrienne Francoise de Noailles, was also a liberal and was very active in movements to abolish slavery. She died at La Grange in 1807.
The Marquis’ son, George Washington Lafayette, lived at La Grange with his father and after Lafayette’s death in 1834, the chateau passed to him. Of course, he was also a liberal. George Washington Lafayette’s son, Oscar Thomas Gilbert du Motier, another politically active liberal, retired to the chateau after Napoleon III came to power in 1851.
By Katie Kulhanek
Did you know that the first courthouse of Fayette County had once been a grocery store? In 1838, the year Fayette County was organized, a decision was made that the county should have a hall of justice. The county’s first courthouse was purchased from James S. Lester and William M. Eastland at a cost of $250 and G. S. Kornegay was in charge of moving it to the square in La Grange, where the current courthouse sits today. The building had formerly been a grocery store occupied by B.F. Nabors, and needed much work. After putting it in good condition, county officials moved in. It was a small building; there was no room for the District Court to be held in it, so it was held instead in rented quarters. Many of the county officials did not even have their own room in the building.
In 1847, after serving the county for about ten years, the first courthouse was dismantled. Plans were drawn for a second brick courthouse to be built. But due to either the unavailability or cost of brick, the new courthouse was built completely out of wood; it was “two stories high, approximately 30 by 40 feet with a stone foundation. It had a bell that cost $100, to which the citizens of La Grange contributed $20”.
Coming into the 1850s, the county was on the move with erecting new, modern buildings. In 1853, the City of La Grange purchased two lots in order to build a new jailhouse. A. Ammann and H.L. Kreische entered into a contract with the county and constructed the new jail. The building was two stories high and was 32 by 23 feet. In addition to having two rooms on each floor, one cell was lined with boiler iron for extra security. Prisoners began to be moved into this new jail in 1854. In F. Lotto’s “Fayette County: Her History and Her People”, he states that “the new jail therefore looked better than the courthouse; the prisoners of the county had quarters of better aspect than the county government”. A decision was once again made that Fayette County needed a new courthouse. However, Lotto comments that “the old one would have seemed still sufficient”.
In 1855, the second courthouse was dismantled and moved to the southeast corner of the square where Judge Augustine Haidusek owned and occupied the building with the printing office of his newspaper, the “Svoboda”. The second floor of this building was later destroyed in a fire. The third courthouse was built by H.L. Kreische at an expense of $14,500 and was completed in 1856. The new courthouse was simple; it was a two floor building made of rock and cement with offices for the county officials on the first floor and a court room on the second floor. Lotto states that the building of this new courthouse ushered out the “era of hardships, financial embarrassments, and makeshifts”. Not only was official county business performed there, but also festive occasions and celebrations. A party was held in the courthouse commemorating the much earlier Battle of New Orleans that ended the War of 1812. Lotto notes that the Grand Lodge of Masons of the State of Texas met in the courthouse in 1860 for their meetings.
Starting in the 1880s, a series of improvements were made to the grounds of the courthouse. Previously around 1845, an iron fence had been erected around the courthouse square. William Raatz had built it at a cost of $1.80 per foot. In 1883, plans were made and the City of La Grange dug a well on the grounds and also erected a windmill and tank pipes. These would aide against the threat of fire on the public square. One year later, a small building was built on the north side of the square for storing a hook and ladder maintenance truck.
In late 1889, the Fayette County grand jury reported on the condition of the courthouse and the “lack of space and conditions which jurors and witnesses endured” thus prompting them to recommend “the appointment of experts to examine, investigate and pass upon the condition of the court house building”. On March 20th, 1890, a committee of three “first class architects” was appointed for just that purpose. The committee consisted of George F. Sacrey (United States superintending architect of the US custom-house and post office building at San Antonio), C. Michelis of La Grange, and Robert Albert of Flatonia. The three men condemned the courthouse and “advised the building of a new one” rather than repairing the old one. The Commissioners’ Court (consisting of Judge Augustin Haidusek, and commissioners George Mauer, John Speckels, Tom Ivy, and Gus Seydler) quickly approved of the report and voted to start building a new courthouse. Many citizens of Fayette County were saddened to see the courthouse once again be torn down. It had become a fixture of the county, being designed by one of Fayette County’s own citizens. But nonetheless, the excitement of the new courthouse would soon captivate the people and boost the county into another era of grand development.
A meeting was held and the cost of the fourth courthouse was set to be between $65,000 and $90,000. At the meeting, twenty-seven year old James Riely Gordon, an architect of San Antonio, offered to draw a rough sketch of the ground floor and the Commissioners’ Court quickly agreed that he should submit more formal plans at the next meeting. His plans were accepted and Gordon was given a 5% commission on the actual building cost. The construction contract went to the firm of Martin, Byrnes and Johnston of Colorado City, Texas at a bid of $82,750. Although everything had gone smooth so far, troubles soon began. The location of the courthouse caused some concern since it was located in the flood plain. Some questioned if there were really any “bad” conditions in the old courthouse and why there was even a need for a new one when there were other county issues that needed to be addressed. It is said that the local newspaper questioned Gordon’s high fee. Overall, the actions and “business methods of the County Judge and Commissioners’ Court were constantly under public scrutiny”. Some citizens even wondered “why no other architects were given the opportunity to present their plans to the Commissioners’ Court, and they believed the whole affair was ‘done in the dark’”.
In July of 1890, demolition of the third courthouse began; the building was so strong that it took dynamite and giant powder to bring it down. By December, men were working at the Muldoon quarries to get out the rock and shape it for the walls of the new courthouse. Actual construction began in January and the cornerstone was laid on April 9th. There was a large ceremony conducted by the local Masonic Chapter with dining and dancing that continued all night and the attendance was said to be at 2,000. The total cost of the new courthouse was $99,407.
Gordon went on to become a noted architect of public buildings in Texas. He designed eighteen courthouses in Texas (twelve of which are still standing) and many other residences and buildings throughout the state. In 1903 he relocated to New York where he continued designing buildings. He served thirteen terms as president of the New York Society of Architects. Gordon passed away in 1937, by that time he had designed seventy-two courthouses throughout the nation. His records, plans, and other papers (including those of the Fayette County courthouse) are at the University of Texas at Austin.
The courthouse was built in Romanesque Revival style which is based on the Romanesque style that was popular in medieval Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries. The thirty foot square courtyard, or atrium, in the center of the building was open to the sky, allowing for natural cooling and lighting. The exterior walls of the courthouse are made of blue sandstone from Muldoon and are trimmed with red Pecos sandstone, pink Burnet granite, and white Belton limestone. The slate roofing is in a Spanish tile design and has copper valleys.
Everything finally started going smoothly. Court opened in November of 1891, but the courthouse was “formally accepted” by the Commissioners’ Court on December 1st, 1891. A new ‘Seth Thomas’ clock bought from R. F. Day for $725 was set in place in the steeple along with the old 800 pound bell. The courthouse was lit with electricity for the first time in February, 1892. And by March, the courthouse grounds were being landscaped nicely. It was reported that “When the work is completed everything will harmonize with the elegant structure which has been erected at great expense and visitors can say that there is no temple of justice and grounds that surpass it in the State.”
There have, however, been changes over the years. With the accessibility of steam heat in 1927, the chimneys were removed. In 1949, the atrium was closed off and turned into offices and a vault for need of space. In 1951, the clock was converted to electricity, and the flag poles were removed over time as well.
In 2001, the Judge Janecka and the Fayette County Commissioners’ Court decided to apply for a grant to restore the courthouse. The Fayette County courthouse is the oldest existing J. Riely Gordon designed courthouse in the nation, so it seemed fitting to restore it to its original grandeur. They were awarded a preservation grant of $3,999,989 for the complete restoration of the courthouse. “All woodwork was completely refinished and brought back to its original luster. The floor coverings and seating in the district courtroom were recreated from original samples. A new elevator was installed and one of the entire three story staircases was recreated…The exterior was thoroughly cleaned and completely re-pointed with new mortar…All of the ridge ornaments were replaced and the clock tower and weather vane also received a face lift. All twelve chimneys were recreated atop the new slate roof…Flag poles once again project from the four corners of the courthouse.” In order to match the original paint color of the interior, artisans carefully scratched off layers of paint until they reached the original base layer. A cistern was found during excavation for a new entrance to the basement. It was found to be pre-dating the existence of the fourth and last courthouse. Perhaps the most drastic restoration was that of the atrium. It was slow work, but the restoration was a success and “The only difference from the original open air courtyard is that a glass skylight now keeps out the elements”.
The Fayette County courthouse is noticeably one of the most beautiful and breathtaking architectural structures in our great county. When stepping in to it, you can really feel as if you are stepping back in time to 1891. It is a prize jewel of the county and, thanks to the restoration, it can now continue to be a jewel for many generations to come.
by Connie F. Sneed
This institution, located at La Grange, had its beginning under the name of La Grange Collegiate Institute in the fall of 1848. From a diploma issued by this institution March 4, 1850, M. A. Montrose was president of the institution, and Elizabeth Montrose, principal. Trustees were W. L. Adkisson, I. B. McFarland, W. B. McClellan, W. F. Hodge, and B. Townsend.
La Grange Collegiate Institute opened in the spring of 1849 under the supervision of the Colorado Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Marcus A. Montrose, who was in charge of the school in 1850, was succeeded by Horace Clark, who took charge in January 1851. Clark was succeeded by James Sampson. Tuition for a five-month session varied from ten to fifteen dollars in the academic department and was twenty dollars in the collegiate branch. The school was incorporated on February 14, 1852. Trustees were empowered to confer degrees, grant diplomas, establish a theological professorship and operate a preparatory, as well as a college department. The school closed by 1852, apparently because of denominational jealousies. In January 1853, the two-story building was used by Mary Jane Gregory for the La Grange Preparatory School for Females, and Shannon School used the building in 1855 and 1856. The trustees reorganized the institution and operated it as a boys' school taught by R. P. Decherd from 1857 to 1860. On October 10, 1859, the Colorado Presbytery transferred the school to the Colorado Synod, and its name was changed to Ewing College on February 11, 1860.
Ewing College, previously La Grange Collegiate Institute at La Grange, Fayette County, was chartered on February 11, 1860, under the Colorado Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The school opened its first session in September 1860, with R. P. Decherd as president and three other faculty members. Tuition for a term of twenty weeks ranged from $12.50 to $20.00 in the preparatory department and from $20.00 to $25.00 in the collegiate department, with a $5.00 extra fee for Spanish, French, or German. In October 1860, the school was described as suitable for education of ministerial students. Fifty-five attended the second term, and a commercial science course was added. With the outbreak of the Civil War in the spring of 1861, the trustees suspended the college as a synodal school and allowed K. C. Decherd to use the building for a private school called La Grange Male Academy. In 1863 J. R. Casselman became Decherd's partner and advertised the school as La Grange Male and Female Academy. After the Civil War, the school became Ewing Female College. A. H. Cross established a school in the college building in September 1867, but an outbreak of yellow fever ended it. The Colorado Synod retained its trustees in order to save the charter and the property. In 1868, James W. Smith and A. J. Adkisson were appointed to dispose of the property; they sold it in 1870 for $500 and turned the proceeds over to Trinity University. Its work was stopped by the breaking out of the war.
By Shirley Schaeffer
155 North Main on the west side of the square has a long history in La Grange. In 1842, Johann Caspar Fink purchased Lot 172 from Rachel Longley for $250. Fink was an immigrant to Texas in the early 1840s. He became a businessman who saw the need for a general mercantile store in La Grange, so he erected a wooden two-story building for his store on the lot that he owned, which later became 155 North Main. For quite some time, this was the largest building in the area. In the early 1850s, it was a center for traders who came to town marketing their goods. Farmers and ranchers made a stop at Fink’s mercantile on their monthly trips into La Grange with Saturdays being the busiest, when men, women, and children stopped by the store for candy, cloth, coffee and more, or to swap stories of life on the farm.
In 1852, Fink married a widow, Louise Eilers. La Grange prospered, although Fink’s mercantile suffered during the Civil War. However, his business made it through the difficult years and began to prosper once again. Unfortunately, Fink became ill with tuberculosis and passed away in 1873. Louise Fink did say that her husband had left a large sum of money for his children as their inheritance. Fink’s widow did not continue to operate the business, but rented out the space to other merchants for many years. Eventually, Louise Fink sold the building to Benno Kirsch. She died in 1895 and was buried next to her husband in the Old City Cemetery.
William Ruppersberg, a dealer in dry goods, groceries and hardware, occupied the building until his death in 1881. Captain Renfro rented the building for a drug store in 1884, but he soon moved his business to Washington Street. William Haase moved his store to 155 N. Main while he built his new store on Colorado Street. Haase later married Ruppersberg’s widow in 1887. The store sat vacant in 1885. It was described then as a two-story building with a porch and gallery and outside stairs on the south side. The rear part of the building was one-story with a well and a large cistern on the south side.
H. A. Brandt moved into the building while his old store was being torn down and replaced with new construction in 1886. In 1888, Charles Migurski and Conrad Petersen, who were photographers, formed a partnership and opened a gallery on the west side of the building. The partnership dissolved within a month, and Petersen moved back to his old location over the Hermes Drug Store. In 1890, the front of the building was a printing office, and the middle section was Migurski’s photography gallery. The Fink building went up for rent again in 1892. By 1896, the front section was used for a dry goods business, and the rear was a dwelling. The Chinese Laundry with Bak and Sing as proprietors advertised their business in the old Fink building in 1896, but this business moved out within a couple of months.
In 1897, Otto Amberg purchased the Fink corner with plans to raze the old Fink building and break ground for a new building to house a mercantile business in partnership with his brother. However, those plans never materialized, and the proposed building was never erected. There were rumors of gambling in the old building in 1898. By 1901, the front of the building was used for a bottle works business, and the rear was once again a dwelling. The entire building was used for the bottle works in 1906. The building, which then housed a tamale and chili stand, caught fire in 1908 with only a small hole burned in the roof. A hurricane in 1909 destroyed several gallery posts on the old building. In 1911, the Airdome, an open-air theater, was completed in La Grange on the corner of Main and Colorado between the Fink building and the Meyenberg residence. After closing for the season, the Airdome reopened on Colorado Street. In 1914, plans to replace the Fink building began again.
Henry Mohrhusen immigrated to Texas from Germany at the age of 16. He lived and farmed in Rutersville for 36 years before coming to La Grange. He went into the mercantile business with Ernst Knigge, but later bought out his partner’s interest to go into business with his son-in-law, Dr. Bernhard (Benno) Schmidt, a masseur who immigrated to the U.S. in 1905. Mohrhusen’s daughter, Anna, married Dr. Schmidt in 1909.
Mohrhusen and Schmidt purchased the original Fink building and lot when they needed a larger building to expand their business. The Fink building was called an “eyesore” by then, so they began tearing down the old structure. The partners broke ground for a new building in August of 1914. The building would be two stories, possibly three, made with brick in a modern design with the ground floor featuring large plate glass windows. The masonry of the new building was completed in October of 1914, leaving the carpenters to finish the building. The paper reported that the Mohrhusen-Schmidt Company would be “the largest store building in this section of Texas”.
In 1915, the partners moved into their new building, which was twice the size of the old Fink building. “Everything spick and span” was the verdict of the first visitors to the new home of Mohrhusen-Schmidt Company with its plate glass windows and concrete walk. The lower floor, that was 60 by 90 feet, was used as a sales room. Manager Schmidt supervised the interior display arrangement in the style used in big cities. The store carried a variety of household necessities, including furniture, wood stoves and heaters, linoleum, paint, wallpaper, plumbing supplies and hardware, as well as galvanized cisterns.
The building had a hand-operated, rope-propelled wheel elevator from Otis Elevator in the back of the building. According to Charlie Tobias, a future business owner, the original hemp rope was replaced with a sisal rope, and he believed that was the only time the rope was replaced. The elevator remained in use through 1997. (Remnants of the old elevator are still displayed in the lobby entrance of the Pioneer Bank.)
The west end of the second floor was utilized for storage. The front end of the second floor was the home of Heintze’s Traveling Men’s Museum, also known as the Texas Museum, which held August Heintze’s collection of curios from around the world. It was dubbed the finest show in the South with Heintze’s main collection housed at 130 N. Washington on the second floor now occupied by the Vallejo law firm. The collection became so massive that Heintze needed additional room in other buildings on the square; hence part of his museum occupied space on the second floor of the Mohrhusen-Schmidt building.
In 1922, Mohrhusen-Schmidt Company placed an ad in a local newspaper that announced their addition of an extensive line of undertaker’s supplies which would be shown in their new showroom. The ad stated that A.W. Koenig, who was the undertaker, became a licensed embalmer in 1909. Koenig brought a complete line of undertaker’s supplies with an assortment of coffins and caskets to place on the showroom on the second floor. By 1929, Koenig and Mueller, who were the undertakers at Mohrhusen-Schmidt at that time, had added an ambulance service. Some remembered that one could tell when someone in the community had passed away, because the lights on the second floor of the store would be shining during the night.
Schultz Studio with Earl D. Schultz as proprietor was on the second floor of the building from 1946-1947. When Schultz moved to the Hermes building, Marburger Electric Shop, licensed and bonded electricians, moved into the back of the building.
The late Nettie Freudenberg recalled that part of the second floor of the building was used as a meeting room and demonstration kitchen when she came to La Grange as an extension agent in 1957. The EH building at the Fairgrounds was built the following year in 1958 to provide for the needs of the county Extension Homemaker Clubs.
The Mohrhusen-Schmidt Company continued operating as a furniture business at 155 N. Main until 1958 when Leon Schmidt sold the business to Charlie Tobias, who remained in business until 1973. Clarence Schulze operated Furniture World in the building from 1973 to 1976. The building was next operated as Satterwhite & Peel Furniture from 1976 to 1986. From 1986-1997, John Schaeffer Interiors occupied the building with a furniture and design business.
From 1998 to 2006, numerous food establishments under several different proprietors occupied the building. Colorado Valley Bank purchased the building from the descendants of Bernard and Anna Mohrhusen Schmidt in 2006 in order to expand from its original space next door. The building is now owned by Pioneer Bank after its acquisition of Colorado Valley Bank in 2012.
Today, when looking at the corner that was once 155 North Main Street, one may not realize how many changes have occurred there since the mid-1800s. The original Fink building was razed, a new building was constructed, and then it was altered multiple times to fit the needs of the proprietors, who sometimes came and went in “the blink of an eye”. Although the façade has changed somewhat, and the interior has been renovated, the external structure of the original Mohrhusen-Schmidt Company store still exists.
by Victoria Collins, La Grange Main Street
Can you imagine roller skating in the Heritage Texas Country Properties building at the corner of Travis and Main Streets? According to an article in the La Grange Journal March 15, 1906 entitled The Skating Rink – “The craze has reached La Grange and the roller skating rink is an ‘established thing.’ Saturday night in the brick building opposite R. T. Huettel’s store the initial opening session was held from 7 until 10 o’clock, and there was a large crowd in attendance. No broken arms or legs have been reported so far.”
In 1880, twenty six years before the “skating craze” Jacob Weil broke ground for the building of a two story brick building on the west side of the square. According to articles published in the La Grange Journal the ownership of this building changed hands several times from Weil to Theo Schmidt, who was the only man in the country authorized to sell the Vogelsang cotton sprinkler, and then to J.C. Eccles, and again to Jacob Weil in 1900.
In 1890, the tax collector’s offices and the County Clerk occupied the building while the courthouse was under construction. The next recorded occupants in 1896 were the Rosenthal Brothers operating a general mercantile. For several years the upstairs was used as the knights of Pythias lodge room.
Over the years the known businesses included Weils Stoves and Tin ware; Theo Schmidt General Store; Friedberger’s; a confectioner, A. Levin selling fruits and candies; Dr. Adams, dentist; A.F. Weber and Son cotton buyers; Dier’s Feed Store; Eckel’s Sweet Shop and the Kerrville Bus Depot; AAA Farm Program; Rosenberg Sweet Shop; Dyer’s Pharmacy; Colortyme; Remax Real Estate and currently Texas Country Properties and Hollub Financial.
In 1995 the Building was sold to Dick and Kay Carlton, who under the Main Street Program reopened the upstairs windows and completely renovated the building.
by Victoria Collins
An advertisement for the Beer Agency Office and Bottling Company Office Building at the Fayette Museum and Archives lists the former owners of the land situated at 114 South Main Street. The first recorded owner in 1831 was the Mexican Government. The parcel was sold or transferred to Colonel John H. Moore that same year. In the next 18 years, title to the land changed ten times as the parcel was bought and sold. In 1855, F.W. Grassmeyer commissioned German-Texas stone masons to construct an Italianate commercial building. By 1885 and until 1893 it served as part of the Central Hotel.
In January 1893, German immigrant Fritz Presun purchased the building from the A. Meerscheidt Estate and conducted a sales office for various breweries. By 1896, a balcony and porch were added to the structure.
In 1897, Mr. Presun opened a Crown soda bottling factory.
Henry M. Presun maintained his office for the Magnolia Petroleum Company at this location and by 1918 he was operating the first franchise of the Coca-Cola Company in La Grange.
In 1921 oil and gas sales were introduced with the installation of gas pumps in front of the building.
The Coca-Cola bottling works moved from this site in 1929 and George Giesber assumed charge of the Magnolia Oil Company after the death of Henry Presun. The service station was in operation until the late 1950’s.
The building was used for office space beginning in the 1960’s and has been home to Boyd Photography since 1999. In 1983 the building was bestowed with a Medallion from the Texas Historical Commission and designated as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark. The Medallion recalls the building’s history as a Beer Office and Bottling Company.
by Carolyn Heinsohn
Have you ever wondered about the history of the vacant lots around the courthouse square in La Grange? Were buildings ever there? Why are they gone? The vacant lot on the corner of W. Travis and S. Main Streets next to Prause’s Meat Market has a rather interesting history dating back approximately 170 years.
Between 1839 to1844, Aaron A. Gardiner, in partnership with Samuel Ward, built a two-story frame building with hand-sawn lumber that remained on this lot until the late 1940s. Gardiner was quite a patriot, always ready to fight for his country. He served twice in Captain Dawson’s company under the command of Col. John H. Moore, the noted Indian fighter and founder of La Grange. He first joined Col. Moore at Plum Creek in early 1840, followed by another conflict against the Comanche Indians at the Red Fork of the Colorado River 300 miles north of Austin. Gardiner was the Fayette County Sheriff in 1844 to mid-1845, when he died following a rifle duel for an unknown reason with a Fayette County Representative to the Republic of Texas Congress. In Gardiner’s probate there is a long list of all those residents who owed him for unpaid accounts and bar bills. So apparently Gardiner and Ward used part of their building as a saloon.
The “Ward Building” was eventually sold to C.S. Longcope in 1849, and little is known about the businesses housed in the building until 1881, when it was noted that John H. Carter, one of the oldest citizens of La Grange, opened a large general merchandise store in the building. He carried a substantial stock of dry goods, groceries, farming implements, hardware, crockery and glassware, harnesses, wood and willowware. In 1884, he sold his stock to H. Studemann, who leased the building and continued to operate the store until his death in 1887.
In September 1889, John Carter remodeled the 40-year old building, adding exterior stairs on the west side, and leased it to Mrs. S.C. Robertson, a milliner and dressmaker, who had her business on the first floor and used the second floor as a home for her family. The one-story warehouse in the rear of the building was converted into an outside kitchen. Mrs. Robertson only remained in the building for a year and a half, because the building was sold by Carter in July 1891. Nothing is known about the activity in the building after the sale until early 1895, when George Speckels and F.C. Arnim opened a grocery store and saloon at the site.
In 1903, when the consolidation of two neighboring mercantile firms, Rosenberg & Co. and the Heintze Cash Department store, necessitated several structural changes, plus the move of George Hopper, a hardware dealer, from his adjacent building to the Carter building next door, the latter building also received the attention of a carpenter. The old porch was removed, and the front of the building was extended to the sidewalk to match the other three buildings that had been remodeled, changing the appearance of the old southwest side of the square.
The La Grange Saddlery was located in the Carter building from 1909 to 1916, at which time the business was dissolved, with the harness and buggy stock being sold to Zweiner & Rabensburg and the farm implements and wagons to Meyer Brothers. While the saddlery company occupied the building, the upper story was renovated, and an elevator was installed to move the stock of buggies that were kept upstairs.
By 1921, the entire building was occupied by a confectionary. During the next 20 years, several other renovations had been made to the old building, which eventually was changed back to a structure with a front porch and a gallery above. A vegetable and fish market, owned by Jake Palmer in the late 1930s, seems to be the last known business in this 100-year old edifice that gradually was “tottering with age” and became too structurally unsound to save. This one building with a long history is all that has ever occupied this now vacant lot.
by Elva Keilers
Christian Wilhelm August (William) Hermes was born in Altona, Duchy of Holstein, Germany in 1828. In April 1846, he emigrated to the U.S. via Galveston, Texas, and traveled overland to Fredericksburg, encountering various devastating illnesses during his journey and early months there. He left in 1847, traveling back to Galveston and then on to Houston, encountering more illness and hardship along the way. He found employ as a clerk for Cornelius Ennis, a leading businessman in Houston. Wishing to study medicine, Hermes returned to Germany in 1851, where he entered a three-year medical course in Berlin.
After completion of his medical curriculum, Dr. Hermes was determined to return to opportunities in The New World; he sailed to Houston on the Neptune in 1854. In 1855, he made his way to La Grange in Fayette County. At that time, Mr. Robert Janssen owned a drug store there, which had burned. Janssen asked Hermes to take over the drug store business, which he opened in 1856. Also in 1856, Dr. Hermes legally denounced his German citizenship, as he had previously sworn his allegiance to the United States at the county court in the Fayette County Court House in 1850.
Busy with both his medical practice and drug store operation, Dr. Hermes purchased Lot 148 in Block 20 in La Grange, then owned by Charles and Sidonia Praetorius, at the corner of Main and Colorado Streets on the northwest corner. This, then, was the first location of Hermes Drug Store.
Personal interest intervened for Dr. Hermes. He married Mary Schaefer of Fayette County on April 9, 1859. John Cabaniss, JP of Fayette County, performed the ceremony in the courthouse. Mary was 20 years of age at the time of her marriage; Dr. Hermes was 32. Mary was said to be the daughter of Charles F. Schaefer, an immigrant with family from Holstein; Mary had been born in Hanover, Germany in 1838.
Another chapter in the drug store history began in 1861 with the advent of the Civil War. The German population of Fayette County was divided in its feelings regarding Union versus Confederacy. The biggest issue was not that of slavery, but of the wisdom of seceding from the United States, as the majority of the population were loyal Unionists, strongly anti-secesionist. On the slavery question, most were moderates, believing that the states should be allowed to work out that question, not the Federal government. Many tried to remain neutral, to no avail. Texas was admitted to the Confederacy March 1, 1861.
Dr. Hermes sided with the Unionists and felt that he would be banished if he remained in Texas. He sold the drug store to John Wirts for $1,000, and he and his wife decided to join a German colony operating out of New Orleans. Passage by ship was sold out and not available to them. They traveled overland to Matamoros, Mexico on horseback and then sailed to Cuba and on to Panama, where upon arrival, they were met with the news that the colony had dissolved. William and Mary Hermes wound up in Bluefields on the eastern coast of Nicaragua. After a stay of less than a year, they ventured on to Colon, Panama, where a fire again claimed the business Dr. Hermes attempted to establish. Disheartened, the couple decided to return to Germany in 1863, where Dr. Hermes secured a position as a teacher in a family school for girls, owned by two of his sisters who had remained in Germany after William’s initial departure for the U.S.
After learning of the surrender of the Confederacy in 1865, the Hermes couple wasted no time in returning to La Grange sailing to New York to Galveston and then traveling by wagon through Houston to La Grange. Dr. Hermes re-entered the drug store business in partnership with Dr. A.H. Eck, a native of Denmark, who had received his medical eduction in Germany and had worked in Houston before migrating to La Grange. Their buiness was then named Eck and Hermes Drug Store.
In December of 1866, William and Mary Schaefer Hermes welcomed a son, George, their only child. However, tragedy arrived in 1867, as yellow fever swept the area. It is reported that 20% of the population died, including Mary Hermes and son George. Guilt for not being able to cure his family affected Dr. Hermes, and he once more quit La Grange from 1867 – 1868.
Dr. Eck operated the drug store himself along with continuing his medical practice. He personally contracted the disease and survived, but was left with minimal vision. Dr. Hermes returned to the solo drug store and medical practice while Dr. Eck traveled extensively, trying to find a cure for his blindness, to no avail.
In early 1868, Dr. Hermes purchased what was to be known as the Old Hermes Homestead on the corner of N. Main and Guadalupe Streets. Later that year, William married Lisette Holste of Fayette County; they were ages 40 and 26, respectively. Their first child, William Hermes, Jr., was born in 1869, followed by two daughters who did not survive early childhood. A second son, August, was born in 1881.
All in all, Hermes Drug Store has existed in some form from 1856 until after the end of the Civil War. The store was moved again to the corner of Washington and Colorado Streets. Dr. Eck retired in 1870, and Dr. Hermes bought his interest in the store, becoming the sole owner. In 1871, Hermes purchased “a two-story wooden frame building” from Peter Shaw. In that building , the drug store was joined with the post office, as Dr. Hermes had been appointed postmaster for the years 1866-1873, in addition to his medical practice and drug store business. The second floor was rented to a photographer, Conrad Petersen. In the 1850s, a clause in the Texas Constitution made banking illegal, so the sending of gold and silver fell to the postal department, thus the responsibility of Dr. Hermes. He sold schoolbooks and supplies, herbal remedies and patent medicines, in addition to the usual standard prescription medications, most of which were compounded on the premises. The building became a general store of sorts for the community.
Early in the twentieth century, Dr. Hermes decided to construct a “modern, brick two-story structure” in the middle of the block on Washington Street on the east side of the La Grange square. Until construction was completed, the business was moved to the first floor of the Lester Hotel on Colorado Street. In the new brick and red stone construction, Hermes Drug Store existed until 2009.
Both the Hermes sons became pharmacists; William, Jr. receiving his degree from Vanderbilt in 1888 and August from the University of Texas College of Pharmacy in Galveston in 1889. William, Jr. returned to La Grange and took over Hermes Drug Store as sole owner. He married Augusta Willenberg; their children were Gilbert William and Myrta.
In 1927, William, Jr. sold one-quarter interest in the store to his brother, August. He retained one-quarter for himself and gave half-interest to his son, Gilbert, who had also obtained his pharmacy degree from UT in Galveston. In 1930, William, Sr. sold his own quarter interest to his brother, August, thus forming an equal partnership between his brother and his son. They operated the store jointly until August’s death in 1940. August, never married, left his half ownership to his nephew Gilbert, making him sole owner of the pharmacy.
Ownership of the store changed in 1946, when Gilbert retired and sold the business to A.F. and Edgar F. Anders. Edgar (nicknamed “Smiles”) had attended the Dansforth School of Pharmacy in Fort Worth and became a registered pharmacist in 1934. He operated the store until 1979, when he sold the store to pharmacist Justin Bartos. After Justin’s retirement in 1994, ownership passed again to pharmacist Yolanda Cuellar. At that time, Hermes Drug Store was recognized as the oldest continuously-operating pharmacy in Texas, usurping the claim of a Greenville firm that opened during the 1890s.
As usually happens, times change; modern society needs finally took its toll on the long-lived drug store. The age of large company ownership had arrived, and in 2009, Hermes Drug Store became a part of a Texas pharmacy chain, Life Check Pharmacies. Finally in 2010, Life Check Pharmacy of La Grange moved from its location on the square to its present location just a couple of blocks away on Travis Street (Highway 71). They they remain and continue to serve the residents of Fayette County.
The red stone building earlier occupied by Hermes Drug Store is now the home of retail businesses, frequented by both local citizens and an ever-increasing stream of visitors from other areas. A recent renovation has restored much of the former lower exterior of the building. One can still read the name Hermes at the top of the façade, a testament to the history and legacy of over 150 years of service to the community.
One of the most historically significant structures in La Grange is the building presently owned and used by the congregation of St. Paul's A.M.E. Church. The building was moved to its present location on East Guadelupe Street from downtown La Grange in 1954. At that time the building was the home of the First Presbyterian Church and had been at that location for more than 100 years.
G. W. Sinks originally granted the downtown lots in 1845 to a "Union Church" of Baptists and Presbyterians. The original construction is thought to be about 1853. The La Grange Journal of September 27, 1930 states that "the lumber furnished by Mr. Rabb's mill (for construction) has proven to be splendid because after three-quarters of a century of use the building shows few signs of decay."
Episcopal, Lutheran, Christian, Presbyterian and Baptist congregations used the building at different times. The local Presbyterian Church came unto exclusive rights to the building because of a provision in the original deed to the property that specified that if either the Presbyterians or the Baptists retired from the Union Church agreement then the building and the right to its use could be sold to the " highest bidder of the Christian denomination." In 1884 the Baptists announced that they wished to retire from the contract. In January of 1885, a sale was held in front of the courthouse and the Presbyterian Congregation became the high bidders and paid $400.00 for the building and its use. During these years the church was the scene of many weddings, baptisms, funerals and other special events in La Grange history. The most memorable was probably the huge funeral procession to and from the church for Private Hugo J. Ehlers who was killed in action near the end of World War I.
The Presbyterian congregation remained in the church until their new church was built in 1954 at South Franklin and East Crockett streets. The old church building was sold to St. Paul's A.M.E. congregation in December 1953 and moved to its present location in January 1954. The steeple was reconstructed. Church services are still held in the building. Many original fixtures remain in the building including an unusual and several pews. The balcony of the church has three small partitioned rooms that were used both as schoolrooms and as Sunday school rooms.
By Carolyn Heinsohn
Sadly with time, neglect and the ravages of nature, old buildings meet their demise. This was the fate of an old church building that was condemned and razed by the City of La Grange in February of this year. Initially, the building was known as the Union Church, because it was shared by both the Presbyterians and Baptists of La Grange. The wood frame building that was approximately 164 years old was structurally unsound and had reached the point of no return insofar as restoration and preservation.
Rev. Thomas Washington Cox, a veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto, and James Huckins, an early missionary to Texas, along with 13 charter members, organized the first Baptist Church of La Grange in March 1840. They first met on Clear Creek near Oldenburg.
The La Grange Presbyterian Church was organized in October 1848 by Dr. David Baker, a missionary minister, with only five members, who first held their services in the courthouse. Dr. Baker moved on and later founded several colleges in Texas, one of which was Austin College in Sherman.
A lot on Travis Street in La Grange was donated by the G.W. Sinks family for a church building, to be called the Union Church, which would be constructed jointly by the two congregations. Built in circa 1852, it was constructed of pine lumber cut at John Rabb’s steam-powered grist and saw mill located at Rabb’s Prairie on the Colorado River upstream from La Grange.
In March 1853, Rev. R.F. Bunting became the first pastor of the La Grange Church made up of those two congregations. When Rev. Bunting resigned in 1855, there were between 35 and 40 members.
The Episcopalians also held church services and Sunday school classes in both the Union Church and private homes from the time that their congregation was organized in 1855 until 1876 when they purchased their own building.
In the early years of the La Grange Presbyterian Church, there were 35 black slaves who were allowed to join their owners for Sunday services, a very unusual privilege. The slaves were received into the church through letters or on profession of faith until their emancipation in 1864, at which time those 35 asked to be dismissed to a Methodist church. The present-day Presbyterian Church had in its possession three benches from the balcony of the old Union Church that were used as seats for the slaves. One actually had an identifying name of a slave on it. Unfortunately, all three were sold.
From the Civil War until 1900, there were so few members that the church almost became dormant. This was partially due to the devastation caused by the war and the loss of so many lives from the yellow fever epidemic in 1867. However, in spite of their setbacks, the small Presbyterian congregation paid the Baptists $200 in November 1884 for their interest in the lot and church building and thus became sole owners of the property. There was no Baptist church in La Grange from 1884 to 1920.
Two new pastors in 1900 and 1915 revived the Presbyterian Church and increased its membership. Despite the financially hard years during the depression, alterations and repairs were made to the church building, including the installation of new pews and a gas furnace. In 1935, Mrs. Lad Vanek bequeathed her home at 258 East Crockett Street, along with much of its contents, to the church to be used as a manse (minister’s home). Prior to that time, a home had been rented for the minister.
In 1950, plans were initiated for a new church, and a fundraising campaign was begun. An impressive ground-breaking service for the new church on the corner of Crockett and Franklin Streets was held in March 1953. The church was completed in May 1954. The old church building, once known as the Union Church, was sold to the African-Methodist-Episcopal Church in December 1953 and was moved to the 700 block of East Guadalupe Street. The steeple was re-built with a lower profile at that time. The Lauterstein Building, comprised of rental office spaces, was then constructed on the church’s original site.at 135 East Travis Street.
Known as St. Paul’s African-Methodist-Episcopal Church, the old church building served its new congregation for decades until one by one the members either died or moved away. Without anyone to care for it, the building slowly began to sag and deteriorate. There was some interest in trying to save it a number of years ago, but due to a lack of organization and financial support, that idea eventually fizzled.
Thankfully, a member of the Fayette County Historical Commission purchased three Arts and Crafts-style Chancel chairs, more accurately referred to as a “Communion Set” that was once used in the sanctuary of the old St. Paul’s AME Church. A larger, taller chair was placed in the middle with the shorter chairs flanking it on either side. All three chairs have been donated to the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives. Hopefully, at least one of the slave benches will someday find its way back to the archives as well. Even though the old church building is now only a memory, artifacts from two eras of its history associated with African Americans were saved for posterity.
by Larry K Ripper
Over the decades I had watched her decline, concerned—but from afar. The first to go was her protective coverings, then her precious copper and brass, and finally her steel, cast iron concrete, and wood. She fell late last year to salvage—defiant to the end. For well over a century she stood proudly in old LG Town, between E Fannin and E La Fayette streets, just east of College. She was the business end of the La Grange Cotton Compress; she was the Cotton Press and Steam Cylinder.
The cotton industry had always tried to compress its product into smaller (denser) bales making them more economical to handle, store and transport. The first compress machines were manually powered screw jacks. With reliable steam power, mechanical cotton compresses could be found throughout the South in the late 1800’s. The Texas Railroad Commission would later mandate regulations governing the transportation of cotton, a boom for the industry. Modern compresses are still operating in major cotton shipping centers today.
The La Grange Cotton Compress was established in 1893. In later years it would also be known as the La Grange and Lockhart Compress Company. A major fire in 1906 would destroy a large amount of cotton and damage equipment. But the business survived and continued well into the last century. There was a major boiler upgrade in 1954. 1971 was the last year that the business appeared in the local phone directory.
As with similar vintage compresses, what makes this machine efficient is the large over sized steam cylinder that used relatively low pressure steam power (50 lbs sq/in). This energy drives the various mechanical tie rods, gears, cams, levers, tables, platens and other components to produce the tremendous forces (65 tons) necessary to compress each bale. Most machines could compress a standard cotton bale to 25% of its original size.
In 1893, before automation and safety standards where known, working in and around these machine would have been difficult and dangerous; life and limb were in constant peril. The pay for laborers may have been low, with production goals set high. With job titles like truckers, dankeymen, setters, band snatchers, boilerman, leverman, pressman, and tyers; the beast demanded constant attention. In near perpetual motion, the team moved around and inside the clanking compress jaws with a precision rhythm. To onlookers they appeared as family of industrious spiders. They were the compress “Spidermen”.
In order to maintain this precise chorography, one team member would call (sing out) specific orders to the Spidermen. Workers performing tasks would either repeat the verse or answer it with one of their own. A typical call to the leverman would be “let her fall, let her fall”. A good press caller (singer) set the cadence; he controlled the machine and movements of the team. Suggesting an old delta blues rhythm, the songs sometimes expressed the frustrations the men felt about their hard, dangerous work. Sing old Spidermen of yesteryear, of all the things you have seen.
In the end we can only dream back to the days when waves of the white fluffy bolls (and boll weevils) rolled across our black land prairies. When we were the weavers of our cloth and the makers of our own shirts. Back to when America was strong, when cotton was king, when Spidermen would have been our neighbors.
by Carolyn Heinsohn
During the decades between the late 1930s to circa 1980, the enticing smells of burgers, “dogs”, fries, chili and stew lured the residents of La Grange into the Green Lantern Café, the source of the olfactory-pleasing aromas. Of course, tourists and “country folk” found their way to this beloved iconic establishment as well. Students from the high school several blocks away frequently chose to enjoy lunch at the Green Lantern in lieu of eating the less-palatable cafeteria fare.
Owned by Adeline Melcher Harbers, the café, painted green of course, had multiple occupants who rented the building throughout the years. However, Edwin and Thelma Baca, a sister of Mrs. Harbers, operated the café the longest. They began their restaurant management careers around 1943 with a hiatus of three to four years when they managed a small grocery store on East Colorado Street. They were then asked to return to manage the Green Lantern, which they did until Edwin Baca decided to retire in 1973 after operating the café for a total of 27 years.
Located in the middle of the 100 block of East Travis Street, which was also Highway 71 that traversed through town, the Green Lantern had the typical ambiance of most eating establishments in rural communities during that era. There were a number of signs on the exterior walls advertising soft drinks and beer, plus in earlier years, there was a round clock that was located on the roof under the café sign. If one did not have a watch or stomach pains to indicate that it was time for a meal, the clock was a good reminder.
Upon entering through one of four screen doors, the customer would notice a wooden counter fronted by swivel barstools on the left side of the café. The counter held a dessert display case filled with generous portions of freshly-baked pies and cakes. An assortment of soft drink and beer signs, some with neon lights or simulated waterfalls, advertising beers no longer in existence, such as Jax, Falstaff, Southern Select and Grand Prize, added interest to the “no-frills” décor. Dance hall placards, promoting upcoming dances in the surrounding area, shared the wall space with church festival posters and a large calendar from a local business. Rectangular beverage coolers with sliding doors on top were conveniently located behind the counter. A real glass was provided with each bottled beverage.
For those customers who preferred to sit elsewhere other than the counter, there were multiple square tables covered with oil cloth with four chairs each scattered around the rest of the small space. A jukebox with a variety of “old-time” waltzes and polkas, country-western tunes, and a few “big band” numbers provided musical entertainment for those patrons who chose to pay for their favorites.
The café, when operated by the Bacas, was first open seven days a week, serving meals morning, noon and night, from 6:00 a.m. until 9 p.m. In later years, they were closed on Sundays. When the Bacas first took over the management of the Green Lantern Cafe, a hamburger cost 15 cents, a hot dog was 10 cents, a regular lunch was 40 cents, and an ice cream cone or a cup of coffee only cost a nickel. As time progressed, business increased, and prices got higher. Inflation was also a factor. Of course, there were other “vittles” available for lunch and dinner in addition to those already mentioned, such as sandwiches, meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs, fried and baked chicken, steaks, and an all-time favorite, chicken fried steak with gravy, all served with the usual sides. A customer remembers that the most recent managers of the café offered a “blue plate” lunch special—if a customer received a lunch on a blue plate rather than the usual beige plate, the lunch was free.
During the first year of the Bacas’ management, business was slow with an average of only seven customers coming in daily for lunch. However, there never was a shortage of customers at the Green Lantern Café after those first few years during WWII; some customers became “regulars”, who patronized the café week after week.
The staff for the café through the years included part-time cooks Millie Svoboda, Mary Prihoda, Elphine Gest and Ed Karisch. Two kitchen assistants, Christine McGee and Erna Tiedt, made the chili and stew and did the prep work like peeling potatoes, and Leona Schultz and Elisabeth Polasek worked as dishwashers. One of the evening cooks was also responsible for making pie crusts and hamburger patties for the next day. Many waitresses worked at the café during the years of operation, but the ones with the longest tenures were Lillie Mae Tiedt, Erna Von Minden, Emma Thuemler and Mildred Mueller.
After the Bacas retired, there were several more restaurateurs who rented the cafe, including Erland Schulze and Ivan Fajkus; however, around 1981, Mrs. Harbers decided to sell the property where the café was located to the founders of the Fayette Savings and Loan Bank. Edwin Baca was employed to dismantle the café, where he had spent a large part of his adult life helping to satisfy the gastronomic cravings of many satisfied customers.
When the Green Lantern Café closed its doors for the last time, there were many disappointed people who felt like they had lost an “old friend” – a place that provided them with comfort foods, camaraderie, and the local news shared by customers from around the county. Time marches on, so the Green Lantern Café is only a fond memory now for those of us lucky enough to have lived during its existence. For the senior generation of today, the “cookie-cutter” franchised fast-food establishments can never compete with the nostalgic memories of the “small-town” family-owned cafes of yesteryear, each with its own unique story to tell. The Green Lantern Café more than likely could have spoken volumes, even though it was a mere footnote in the colorful history of our town.
by Gesine (Tschiedel) Koether
Here is a store, there is a store, and all over Fayette County there are and have been small grocery stores. They are found in the smallest to the largest of our communities. The ones that fascinate me are the ones that are still owned and operated by our Fayette County families. You see, my grandfather, Elo Tschiedel, owned the Hilltop Grocery in La Grange, Texas located on Hwy 77 North, but it was closed as he aged and was no longer able to care for it.
These stores held all the things the community needed. The 1956 ledger from the Hilltop Grocery shows that business was good. It is interesting to note that the ledger shows totals for each day, as well as a breakdown by products such as bread, beer, sodas, milk, ice cream, produce, meat, gas, kerosene and cigars. A separate page listed all the other miscellaneous items that were sold there. Each entry was carefully registered in the green ledger book in pencil in case of an error. These inventory lists made it easier to know just what needed to be ordered the next time the suppliers came by.
Paperwork from Continental Oil-Conoco (Houston), John Bremond Wholesale Grocer (Austin), Pearl Brewery (San Antonio) and P.H.S. Tobacco Co. (Houston) shows that these were some of the companies delivering the goods for Hilltop to sell. Oh how I wish the pieces of paper could tell those special stories of the way life was for the owners of these establishments. I find glimpses of a different time on the last ledger pages where there is a list of I.O.U.s from various customers. Guess these are the precursor of credit cards today. However, I think they were more of a time honor system with a handshake and faith that tomorrow the customer would be back to pay.
I know this to be true as an acquaintance from the Fayette County Historical Commission recently told me that as a child she would go into the Hilltop Grocery store and get an ice cream and tell my grandfather to put it on her tab. I believe her tab at the Hilltop Grocery was held by her uncle. She did this often enough that my grandfather was driven to ask her uncle, after a number of months, exactly when he would be paying for her tab of ice cream. She says that her uncle was quite surprised to learn of this particular line of credit he was subsidizing for her. Guess you can imagine the trouble she got in.
Sounds just like something many of us would have done in 1956. Oh what a nice memory of a way of life that was and still is found here in Fayette County. So many of our ancestors, friends and others contributed so much to make this county a success. It is nice to see the small stores survive and continue what our ancestors started with their settling in Fayette County. My search continues for other evidence of what Fayette County and I have in common and hope to let you know what I find.
by Carolyn Meiners
A literary group intent upon studying William Shakespeare and his works was responsible for the start of a library in La Grange and later for the preservation of the building which served as the city library for 66 years. Organized in 1899, the "literary circle", as the ladies called themselves, met every two weeks with attendance dependent upon the weather.
In February 1902, the group proposed a circulating library under the supervision of the club, thus marking the actual birth of the city library. During that same month, the group joined the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs and adopted the name "Etaerio", meaning companionship. The club began meeting in the La Grange Opera House; an immense wooden structure erected in 1894 at the site now occupied by the La Grange City Hall.
The old Stiehl home at the corner of North Franklin and Fannin Streets was purchased by the club for $700 on May 23, 1912, after the ladies realized the need for a place to store the many volumes in its fast-growing club library. County Judge J.C. Stiehl built the little "fachwerk" structure with its handmade bricks and hand-hewn timbers, joined by wooden pegs, in 1852.
After being purchased by the club, the walls that divided the house, as well as the kitchen, were removed to provide the appropriate space for a library. An underground cistern was also filled in, but the renovations did not affect the overall outward appearance of the building.
Meetings of the Etaerio Club continued until 1938, when the property was transferred to the city of La Grange for use as a public library. The city received the building, property club furnishings and 1,500 volumes in a gift deed. Thereafter, the group ceased to function altogether due to a lack of interest.
Miss Norma Ulrich served as the first librarian, followed by Miss Minnie Crum, Miss Agnes Robson and Mrs. Mae Eldridge. In 1976, construction began on a new library, which was dedicated on April 20, 1978. In November 1984, the historic old library building became the home of the La Grange Fine Arts League. Now 150 years old, the little house still stands in the shade of majestic oak trees, a silent reminder of the past, a time when reading was the primary means of enlightenment, and genteel folk shared their love of learning in literary circles, a time when the books inside assuaged the hunger of locals for knowledge of the world outside. It has served its community well.
See text of historical marker at the Old City Library.
from Fayette Heritage Archives
In early 1849 the exciting news of the discoveries of gold in California at Sutter's Mill stirred the spirit of adventure in people all across the nation. Surprisingly many gold rushers kept diaries of the adventure en route to California. One such record tells the story of one small wagon train from La Grange, Fayette County, Texas to Sullivan's Creek, Tuolomne County, California. Three different men, Captain John Murchison (until his death), Samuel P. Birt (who provided more regular and detailed entries) and John B. Cameron (who took over after Birt left to pursue gold on his own) kept the journal of the La Grange Company.
The La Grange Company was formed when Captain John Murchison heard the news of the gold discoveries. His son wanted to try his luck in the gold fields of California but John did not want him to go alone. So he organized a gold-seeking company in La Grange. Murchison advertised in the local paper the TEXAS DEMOCRAT on March 31, 1849 that he was recruiting persons to join the company. He proposed to run the company in a military style with that type of organization and discipline. Murchison provided himself and the company with ample supplies by borrowing against his estate from the local merchants Breeding and Company. The company planned to follow the route across the staked plains of Texas, up the Pecos River, across the Guadalupe Mountains and over the desert to El Paso del Norte and then on to California. The La Grange Company left home on May 1, 1849 and traveled 75 miles to Austin. The company journal begins on May 27 without mentioning how many men are in the company. By July 11 and 12 seven wagons and forty-three men had crossed the Rio Grande. John B. Cameron made the following record in the company journal following the accidental shooting death of Captain Murchison on July 28, 1949: "Here lies the remains of John Murchison. He was a pious and humble Christian, a worthy member of the M. E. church. A good free mason and an honest man. Reader go imitate his virtues and pray to heaven that thou mayest be so well prepared to die." Six months later on November 10, 1849 the company finally reached its destination with nine men and three wagons. The journal indicates that along the way men had left the wagon train to join other groups or had simply gone off alone.
by Bob Heinsohn
Fayette County has had a jail since July, 1838, only eight months after the county was officially created. It has had a colorful history, which includes two hangings and stories about ghosts of past inmates whose presence have been heard and felt by a number of employees throughout the years.
The first jail, which was constructed for $460, was adequate at the time, because prisoners were confined with irons and chains. However, due to poor construction, the use of this structure lasted a mere ten years before being abandoned. During the transition period prior to a new jail being built, prisoners were kept in private homes for a boarding fee of as much as $3.00 per day, which was quite expensive for the times, so the price must have also included their safekeeping.
In 1852, a new jail was planned with a total of four rooms in a two-story structure that measured 32 by 23 feet. The following year, land was purchased for $400, and A. Ammann and H.L. Kreische entered into a contract with the county to build the jail. The building was finished in 1853. By 1854, the new jail held its first prisoners. Twenty-two years later, this second jail was remodeled to meet the requirements for the safekeeping of prisoners.
The old jail that now stands at the corner of Crockett and S. Main Streets was completed in 1882 for $25,000. The stones used in the construction of the jail were hauled by ox wagon from the Muldoon quarry. The jail complex consisted of three buildings – the main jail and two “drunk” blocks outside for those too inebriated to climb the stairs to the jail itself. The “drunk” blocks, nicknamed “hoosegows”, each contained a bunk, heater and toilet. The main building contained the cells, as well as living quarters for the jailer and his family. The women’s quarters, consisting of one room with two bunks and a bathroom, were located upstairs, along with a storage room that led to the top level of the men’s cells below. The men’s cells were stacked on top of one another in a large room. Eight small cells that opened into one large cell and a bathroom were located on the bottom with a walk-around in back of the cells. Eight more cells were on the top level. The basement of the jail was used for storage.
The living quarters for the jailer were located on both floors in the front of the building with a peephole from the apartment’s bathroom into the men’s cells. The jailer’s wife was expected to prepare the food for the prisoners. Sheriff August Loessin and his wife Louise were the best-known jailers. Louise’s compassion and concern for the prisoners resulted in some of them having a change-of-heart regarding their lifestyles.
In 1884, the grounds of the jail were improved by the installation of an iron fence around the property and an eight-inch sewer pipe that ran from the jail to the river. A guard was also provided to assist the sheriff. Jail bonds were used to pay for the costs of completing the new improvements.
Only those convicted in county court cases were put into the county jail. Approximately, 25-30 prisoners were jailed each month, most of which were DWI’s and misdemeanor cases. However, there were occasional thieves, burglars and murderers. Two men in the Bonnie and Clyde gang spend time in the jail in the 1930s for robbing the Carmine State Bank.
The historic old jail was closed in 1985 after a new detention center was built on Hwy. 77 North. The building was remodeled in 1995 to accommodate the La Grange Chamber of Commerce. A small museum, located adjacent to a meeting room, has exhibits of memorabilia from the old jail and former law enforcement officers and features the only remaining cell that was left as a reminder of the earlier days when law and order was based on much simpler principles.
An old windmill, that is located on the left side of the jail, was donated by Gladys Brewer. It belonged to her parents, Hugo and Elsie Ulbricht, who lived in New Bielau, south of Weimar, Texas. The original well and windmill were located on the right side prior to the installation of city water lines.
by Katie Kulhanek
Records for the Fayette County jail go back to 1838 when F. Lotto (in his book, Fayette County: Her History and Her People) stated that at that time the county possessed a jail. Andrew Rabb and L. S. Sister who were appointed as commissioners, were assigned to contract for and superintend the building of a jail. The building cost them $460 and was “sufficient for the safe-keeping of prisoners”, meaning that the jail kept the prisoners ironed and chained well. But after only ten years the jail was up for sale, it being insufficient for its job.
Plans were made and drawn to build a new jail, but these plans were cancelled before building even started. During this time, the prisoners were “given in charge and board to different persons” with a high boarding cost of $3 a day. The high cost ($3 in the 1850s was a lot of money) was due to the prisoners’ safe-keeping. From November 1851 to November 1852, the county paid out $622 for keeping prisoners - this was one half of the county’s entire annual budget. It was an extremely high rate and it was clear to the commissioners that this method of boarding prisoners could not be continued for very long. In one instance, a prisoner named John H. Vaughn was in jail in 1852 for the charge of murder. It would have cost the county $800 to guard and feed him until his trial. This was just not feasible for the county. Over the next few years, Vaughn was transferred from jail to jail throughout several different counties, so that the county would not have to pay a lucrative amount for holding him. The last known Fayette County records of Vaughn show that he was in the Austin County jail in the fall of 1854.
In 1852, William Lewis drew up plans for a badly needed new jail and the plans were soon adopted. The new jail was set to be “32 feet by 23 feet and two stories high with two rooms in each story”, with also a chimney and a fire flue. One of the cells was lined with boiler iron or by bar iron crossed and riveted, making it very secure. The Texas Monument, the Galveston News, and a Houston paper carried advertisements for sealed proposals. $25 was to be given to the builder. Two lots of land were purchased in 1853 from C. S. Longcope for $400. Also in 1853, A. Ammann and H. L. Kreische entered into a contract to build the jail. They finished the jail in that same year and were complimented on their “good and workmanlike manner”. In 1854, the La Grange City Council was allowed to confine prisoners in the jail. Since Fayette County was in such debt to the jail contractors, a new law was passed providing that state taxes should be relinquished to counties building jails in the future.
Not long after the building of this new jail, plans for a new courthouse were made. Lotto comments that “the new jail therefore looked better than the courthouse (which had been built in 1847); the prisoners of the county had quarters of better aspect than the county government”. H. L. Kreische was also in charge of building the new courthouse and it was finished in 1856 at an expense of $14,500.
The 1853 jail served Fayette County for many years and it was remodeled in 1876. But as the times changed, it was “deemed that it did not meet the demands for the safe-keeping of the modern criminal”. Lotto notes that as the building of jails improved, so did the ingenuity of the criminal to break out of them. A committee was formed in 1881 that included a member from each justice precinct; their job was to “advertise and receive bids, plans and specifications for the building of a new jail”. The committee was composed of Charles Michelis, Max Meitzen, George Weyand, Alex McDow, J. C. Melcher, R. O. Faires, A. Ammann, and George Knippa. F. Schulte entered a bid to build the jail for $22,075 and his bid was accepted. An additional $3,000 was appropriated for the building in the same year, 1881. The supervisors of the building process were architects Andrewarthe and Wahrenberger and they were given a salary of $550. County Judge J. C. Stiehl entered into a contract with F. Schulte, wherein the Judge gave Schulte a bond of $5,000. The timeline for building would allow the jail to open on January 14th, 1882.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as smooth as planned. Schulte could not complete the new Fayette County Jail by the stipulated time and the county had to take over completing the jail. It also cost the county much more than Schulte had proposed. Fayette County sued Schulte, along with his bondsmen (R. Wolters, F. W. Turner, Chr. Baumgarten, J. Kinkler, and C. Kruschel) for the amount that the county paid over Schulte’s bid. Four attorneys brought a suit against Schulte’s party at a fee of $800. The suit ended up not being tried, but was instead compromised by Honorable Judge Hildebrand with Schulte’s bondsmen in 1885.
After the jail’s completion, another problem plagued the county – debt. Fayette County found itself in debt to the school fund of the county. “To liquidate this indebtedness a special tax of three-twentieths of one percent was levied for jail and court house purposes.” In 1884, twenty-two jail bonds of $1,000 each were issued. The bonds bore five percent interest and ran for fifteen years; they were taken up by the school fund.
Now that the jail was finished, prisoners could be moved into it. It was an amazingly prominent and first-class jail for its time. The building was made of blue sandstone that was taken from a quarry in nearby Muldoon, Texas. There were two “drunk blocks” built beside the jail – these blocks were used when a prisoner was too drunk to ascend the stairs to the second floor of the jail. The drunk blocks were made from cement blocks and each contained a bunk, heater, and toilet. All the windows on each of the three buildings had bars put on them. An iron fence was ordered from Philadelphia and was built around the jail in 1884 at a cost of $2,078. Also in that year a sewer pipe was laid from the jail to the river, a distance of 3,600 feet. For safe-keeping of the prisoners, a salary of $40 per month was given to a guard to watch the prisoners.
The top floor of the jail was the women’s quarters (one room with two bunks and one bathroom) and a storage area and another bathroom. The bottom floor consisted of the men’s cells (eight small cells, one large cell, and a bathroom). There was a walk-around built which circles the back of all the cells, and on the top level of the first floor there are eight more small cells. The jail also has a basement, which was used for storage. There were living quarters for the jailer and his family. This consisted of a kitchen, dining room, bathroom, bedroom, living room, another bedroom, and a room on the top floor. There is a peephole behind the mirror in the bathroom that looked into the men’s cells so that the jailer could keep an eye on the prisoners. The Fayette County Record stated that,
“The prisoners put into this County jail were only those convicted in County Court cases, misdemeanor cases, or drunks. Bums with no place to go in bad weather were given lodging occasionally. Approximately twenty-five or thirty prisoners passed through the jail every month… Most of the prisoners were DWI’s, but the jail also carried theft, burglary, and murder prisoners. Sometime in the mid-1930s two gang members, Ray Hamilton and Gene O’Dare of the Bonnie and Clyde gang, were held there for robbing the Carmine Bank. There have been many attempted jailbreaks. Some signs of these may still be seen, such as cut bars, missing rivets, and chipped plaster.”
One of the more famous inmates of the Fayette County Jail was Marie Dach. A widowed woman who murdered, burned, and buried her farmhand on her farm. She was sentenced to death but instead starved herself to death in the Fayette County Jail to avoid the death penalty. A Footprint article on the story of Widow Dach will be appearing in the papers soon.
On August 10th, 1985, the old jailhouse was vacated. The prisoners would now be detained in the new detention center located off Hwy. 77 north. The jailhouse was remodeled in 1995 and the La Grange Chamber of Commerce moved in. They still occupy the building to this day.
by Donna Green
At the south end of Vail Street in La Grange is a small cemetery. It was officially established in 1868 when the La Grange Hebrew Benevolent Society purchased four acres of land on the high bank of the Colorado River about one mile from downtown.
There were already three graves on the site when the land was purchased. Alice Lewis was the first person to be buried at the cemetery. She was born in 1858 and died in 1862. Burials continued at the site until 1934 when local Jews began using the city cemetery. Several of the monuments are beautifully carved with vines and calla lilies. They are inscribed in Hebrew text.
The name of the society was later changed to the Ladies Hebrew Cemetery Association. The last surviving member of the association, Essie Alexander, sold the property in February 1957. The property was re-surveyed the cemetery covers 5.467 acres. The deed stipulated that the new owners would provide for upkeep of the cemetery as well as "provide ingress and egress across adjoining lands." There is no evidence that any of this was done.
The property was sold again in December 1981 to a private citizen. The new owners built a home not far away from the cemetery and tried to maintain the area but the cemetery was already so overgrown that it was a difficult job.
The cemetery had been abandoned for many years with vines and weeds growing over and on the markers. The fence on the west and north sides was wrecked many years ago with only pieces of it remaining. However, part of the fence on the south and east sides were still standing.
In 1997 the cemetery was completely and thoroughly cleaned and some stones repaired under the direction of David Vogel. He enlisted the help of Temple youth groups from both Houston and Austin. They responded enthusiastically and not only cleaned the cemetery but added flowers and grass. Currently Mr. Vogel and the property owners keep the area mowed and trimmed. A total of 32 marked graves exist in the cemetery but it is believed that there may be as many as eight unmarked graves.
The cemetery has been recorded and documented by representatives of the Texas Jewish Historical Society. The Texas Historical Commission has also designated it as a Historic Texas Cemetery. Kelly Scott surveyed the cemetery in May 1992 and recorded inscriptions, including verses and created a map of burials. His findings are filed in the Fayette County Archives.
by Carolyn Heinsohn
“You can but admire these grand old oaks, that seem to stand sentinel in La Grange, at each and every corner, and as they toss up their broad arms into clear heaven with a spirit and a strength that kindles your dawning pride and purposes and make you yearn for a kindred sprit and a kindred strength to do likewise.” This quote from a “Sketch of Fayette County” by Laura J. Irvine in The American Sketch Book, An Historical and Home Monthly, 1880, so aptly describes the many beautiful live oaks in our historical city that have invoked admiration from local citizens, as well as tourists who are enthralled with trees growing in the middle of city streets. We have lost some of our lovely trees to disease, storms and saw-wielding people with little regard for the preservation of things of beauty. But now in these times of environmental concerns, we have come to appreciate the remaining old stalwarts that have survived their assaults in spite of the odds.
At 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 23, 1994, the ravages of nature took their toll yet again on another majestic live oak that probably stood at the time that La Grange was founded. Located in front of the “Blue Caboose Bed and Breakfast” in the 300 block of North Washington, it just fell over in the silence of the night taking down power lines in its act of self-destruction. Heavy rains earlier in the week and severe internal rot were too much for this top-heavy, shallow-rooted sentinel that had previously withstood innumerable storms and heavy downpours.
The old gnarled tree leaned precariously over Washington Street near the intersection with Lafayette Street that was once part of the old La Bahia Road leading to Moore’s Ferry on the Colorado River, affording it the opportunity to witness the comings and goings of many people in the early days of La Grange. The live oak stood only a short distance from the twin blockhouse at Moore’s Ferry (present-day La Grange), built by John Moore in 1828, that was used as a safe haven for local settlers from marauding Indians. It more than likely “saw” Sam Houston come through La Grange on July 18, 1857, while on his campaign trail, most probably traveling down Lafayette Street, since it was the main road through town. It stood only a block north of its “brother”, the historic oak that marks the spot from which Fayette County sent its sons to battle for over a century. Tenaciously existing next to the railroad tracks, which were built long after its birth from a small acorn, it looked diagonally across the iron rails to the MKT depot that provided a stop-over for passengers traveling from near and far for over 75 years. It “heard” the whistle-stop short speech of Teddy Roosevelt made from the back of a train car when he traveled through La Grange on March 12, 1911, as well as the tearful farewells to soldiers leaving to fight on foreign soil in both world wars. Before the advent of the railroad, it “heard” the sound of a bugle announcing the arrival of the stage coach as it entered the town on Lafayette Street, which later became the route of the railroad through town. One can only imagine what a wonderful legacy this tree could have left, if only trees could talk.
Nothing living lasts forever, but some of us surely miss this grand old tree that was a link with the history that occurred in that part of our town. Several centuries of existence ended in mere minutes of crashing destruction, resulting in the return of the tree to the earth from which it sprang forth.
By Lillie Mae Brightwell
In the 1960’s Arnold and Clara Hunger lived on their farm near La Grange, Texas and decided to buy the Helter mattress factory equipment which was located on highway 77. They purchased the mattress equipment, small cotton gin, and a heavy duty sewing machine (Singer 31-15 Industrial Tailoring treddle machine) and rented a building from August Hunger. They eventually purchased a home at 1094 North Von Minden and a tin building with a wooden floor for their factory.
It was a second marriage for the two. Arnold had a son named Leslie whose mother died when he was 4 years old, and Clara had a daughter Patricia. Clara and Arnold were a team, making new adult small, and double mattresses plus cotton pillows. Mattresses were made either with light duty springs or heavy duty springs (either box springs or innersprings). They also made baby mattresses. If someone had an old mattress and wanted it reworked, they would do that too.
People would bring their own cotton or new cotton was purchased for a mattress. The cotton was ginned by the small cotton gin run by an electric motor and placed on a form the size of a mattress. Boards were used to flatten the cotton, and the cotton was sucked into the cover made of cotton ticking; somewhere during this operation, the innersprings or box springs were added. A crank pulled the cotton into the cover, and the boards were removed. Clara sewed the mattress cover and rolls around the side. Arnold tufted the mattress by hand and needle, attaching the thread to a cotton ball.
Springs came in compressed small bundles by freight and had to be opened outside, tied with a rope and then released. They would stand five feet high when opened. Ticking came in big rolls.
When they received an old mattress to rebuild, some had lint cotton (trash) in them, and they could not use the cotton. If the old mattress had good cotton, but not enough, they added more cotton, and it was ginned to fluff it up. A new cover and springs were added, and the mattress was loaded and tied to the top of the car and taken to Brenham where a heat process was used to sterilize it. They delivered the mattresses tied to the top of the car to the customers. To manufacture a new mattress, it took one to two days.
They manufactured mattresses for the old jail in La Grange, and reworked the mattresses from the jail. Sometimes they found small bags of marijuana in the mattresses to rework. They also did work for the Fayette Memorial Hospital in LaGrange.
Eventually the mattresses got to be too heavy for the mature Hungers to handle. It was time to semi-retire. Arnold started to sharpen saws, circle saws, scissors, knives and lawn mower blades. He and Clara spent more time at church, with the family and working in their garden. They retired in the 1990s.
A collector of antique sewing machines here in Fayette County is now the proud owner of the sewing machine and states it is in excellent condition. The cotton gin was donated to the Schulenburg museum.
by Lillie Mae Brightwell
M. O. Meriwether was appointed La Grange's first U.S. Postmaster after the Postmaster General of the United States assumed control over the Republic of Texas Postal System on May 22, 1845. He served until 1848 when he was replaced by Swante Palm, a Swedish immigrant, silversmith and watch repairman by trade, but a scholar and bibliophile, who later donated his ten thousand book library to the fledgling University of Texas.
Along with Palm, other early La Grange Postmasters revealed different and interesting backgrounds. David Gregory, for instance, was a Presbyterian minister and attorney, while William Hermes practiced medicine and owned one of the earliest drugstores in the state.
Later in the century, the La Grange Post Office made statewide postal history when it established Texas' first rural free delivery route. Following passage of the RFD bill in Congress in 1896, Postmaster H. C. Heilig requested that August F. Loessin, known for his knowledge of the county and is residents, map a satisfactory route.
Henry Cremer was given the authority to circulate a petition to secure the required number of signatures, and on August 1, 1899, the Post Office Department granted the request. Cremer was appointed the first carrier and was succeeded by Charles Lampe two years later.
Walter P. Freytag is characteristic of the distinguished citizens who have served in this capacity. Freytag was a Captain in the U.S. Army during World War II, and was later Superintendent of Schools and Mayor of La Grange. Oscar Cook came to his position through the ranks, previously serving as Assistant Postmaster.
U.S. Postmasters of La Grange were: M. O. Meriwether, 1846; Swante Palm, 1848; David G. Gregory, 1850; James T. Patton, 1865; John W. Farley, 1865; William Hermes, 1866; Arthur Meerscheidt, 1874; William S. Robson, 1887; George L. Siebrecht, 1890; John P. Ehlinger, 1893; Charles H. Helmcamp, 1898; Herman C. Heilig, 1899; August F. Loessin, 1901; L. V. Vanek, 1901; Theodore W. Lueders, 1914; Edmund A. Giese, 1920; Carl Amberg, 1934; Walter P. Freytag 1949; Oscar L. Cook, 1973.
Richard Henning just retired after over 20 years as Post Master. He attended the University of St. Thomas and the University of Houston. Job security and attractive benefits appealed to him and he got his bid for the top postal job in La Grange. He stated that the events of September 11, 2001 shook the postal service and was a reason to be careful. La Grange is in need of a larger building and more parking spaces.
At present  Bill Schwartz is the officer in charge until another postmaster is named.
Many of us rush into the local post office on business on a daily basis, but never look up to see the art work displayed high on the wall near the service counter. I must admit that I am guilty also, but one day as I waited in line for a purchase, I glanced around and noticed the beautiful mural on the wall. To my dismay, the mural was showing signs of deterioration which time will only accelerate. What is the story behind this mural, I asked myself, and started my quest to find out more about it.
During President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, a provision was made in the Works Progress Administration, the WPA as it was known, to establish a program for artists, musicians, and writers during the Great Depression. Between 1933 and 1943, the government employed and commissioned over 10,000 artists who were in desperate financial need to create works of art in various public and government locations. Most of these were young and unknown artists trying to succeed with their creative talent, and some were able to gain fame as a result of this program.
During this period, 109 works of art were commissioned for post offices and other government buildings. Sixty-nine of these murals found their location in Texas. The murals ranged in size from four to six feet in height and ten to twelve feet in width. They were all painted on canvas and were to depict Texas of long ago. Many showed cowboys getting mail, a Texas farm scene, a Pony Express scene, or something with the Texas Rangers. All totaled, over 1,300 murals were commissioned throughout the United States, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico for post offices and government buildings before the program was discontinues. In 1949, the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act transferred all functions of the Federal Works Agency which included works of art produced under the WPA to the General Services Administration. The United States Postal System maintains ownership and control over Post Office art work. All of these murals were to be specifically hung over the door of the postmaster’s office.
In our immediate area, six murals can be found. One is in the Burleson County Courthouse in Caldwell. Post offices in our area with such murals are Elgin, Giddings, La Grange, Lockhart, and Smithville. The La Grange mural, entitled “Horses”, depicts cattle and horses in a rural pasture which was typical of the life-style in that day. It was painted by artist Tom E. Lewis in 1939.
Under this program, thousands of artists worked at their craft for little money, but with great pride which still inspires us today. Although many of these works of art have unfortunately been destroyed or stolen, those that remain must be preserved. They stand as a reminder of a time in our country’s history when dreams were not allowed to be destroyed by economic disaster.
Next time you enter the La Grange Post Office, stop and enjoy the mural!
By Carolyn Heinsohn
Judge R.E.B. Baylor, a Mason since 1825, the author of Baylor University’s charter, a member of its faculty and Board of Trustees and a district judge of Fayette County during the Republic and later during statehood, opened a school in La Grange in the mid-19th century. Another early school, the La Grange Female Academy, was supposed to have been located in a proposed two-story wooden building situated where the Senior Citizen Center is presently located. The structure was not erected for some reason, so classes were held in rented quarters under the supervision of Mrs. Virginia Mayo. It closed its doors before 1850.
From 1850 to 1870, different teachers came to La Grange, taught awhile and left. One teacher, “Judge” B.B. Hudnall, taught elementary subjects for over 20 years from 1852 until approximately 1876. He also served as county treasurer for two terms during his tenure as a teacher.
The most outstanding early school was the La Grange Collegiate Institute, which was established by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The La Fayette Masonic Lodge No. 34 loaned the church $500.00 to assist with the building of the structure, which was situated on the corner of South Jefferson and Walnut Streets. The first session was held in 1848. The upper story of the Institute was used as a lodge room for the Masons. The school was incorporated in 1852 by the State Legislature, but then it closed that same year, possibly due to jealousy and rivalry on the part of various religious denominations in La Grange. Between 1853 to1857, the building was used by various teachers for private schools.
In 1857, the Institute was reorganized, and a school opened under the supervision of R.P. Decherd until 1860. Additional equipment, paint for the building and necessary repairs were provided by local Masons who solicited funds for these necessities. In 1860, an act of the State Legislature changed the Institute’s name to Ewing College. There were 55 students and five faculty members in 1861. The Civil War cut short the prosperity of the school; it again became a private school with various teachers. After the war, it became the Ewing Female College. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church sold the property in 1870, ending the career of one of the most successful early educational institutions in Fayette County. Martha Graves bought the property for $500.00. It subsequently was sold several times, eventually to A.F. Weber. The building, known as the Weber house, was occupied by Roland Froehlich in the 1950s. In 1962, the 114-year old building was dismantled, and Dr. and Mrs. E.L. Fitzpatrick purchased the site for their new home.
Downtown La Grange is situated on land, which was part of a half league of land granted to Col. John H. Moore on May 17, 1831, by the Mexican Government. Moore previously had a half league grant as a single man, but was entitled to an additional half league upon his marriage to Eliza Cummins. This land was located on the east bank of the Colorado River, beginning at a point where the La Bahia Road crossed the river. Col. Moore was already established in the area in 1828, when he built a cedar log home and a two-story twin blockhouse, which became known as Moore's Fort. A granite marker erected in 1936 designated its first location on North Main Street. The founder of La Grange, Col. Moore was the commander of the Texas troops at the Battle of Gonzales in October 1835. A well-known Indian fighter, Moore led several expeditions against the Indians, which started from this little fort.
A description of Moore's Fort has been found in My Eighty Years in Texas by Physick Zuber. Excerpts from that description state: "There was a double log cabin with the ground for the first floor—a height of eight feet. A round of strong logs jutted out on each side and end, and probably 20 inches beyond the wall below. On these were placed two rounds of logs, one immediately above the wall below and the other six or eight inches farther out, making an opening through which a man could shoot down upon an enemy approaching the wall—a puncheon floor (broad, roughly dressed timbers extended about three feet inward from the side and all around the house. This served as a platform upon which a defender could stand or walk from point to point—A second story was built upon the outer round of logs and was finished as other log cabins—portholes were made in the walls, through which a defender could shoot at an enemy—"
Because of floods repeatedly inundating his home and fort, Col. Moore relocated his family to a farm north of La Grange in 1838. At an unknown time, the blockhouse was dismantled, the logs were numbered, moved and reassembled with the second floor to a new location eventually owned by the Schott family, approximately three miles east of La Grange on SH 159 close to the La Bahia Road. Over the years the old blockhouse was refurbished and covered with siding. The Schott descendants continued to live there until the mid 1970s. Realizing the historical significance of the original structure, the family donated it to the Pioneer Arts Foundation of Round Top, Texas in 1977.
The blockhouse was moved farther from its original site in La Grange, The remaining bottom half of Moore's Fort, one of the oldest existing structures in Fayette County, can be found in a well-maintained setting on the west side of Round Top, surrounded by ancient live oak trees, old wells, and several vintage building. If its walls could talk, the old twin blockhouse would have a remarkable story to tell about its journey.
by Sherie Knape
There were many music societies in Fayette County in the early 20th century. Some of these societies were the Cedar Mannerchor, the Die Froesch, the Edelweiss, the O'Quinn Gemischter Chor, the Fayetteville Gemischter Chor, the Liederkranz, the La Grange Concert Band and the La Grange Handel Club.
The La Grange Handel Club organized on September 25, 1905 in "response to a long felt need among the musically minded of La Grange." The club, under the musical direction of George Lenert, had about 20 charter members. They met weekly for practice at different member's homes and performed monthly for audiences. Eventually the group practiced and performed at the Handel Hall.
The first event was held November 9, 1905 at the music room of Miss Martha Meerscheidt. The Handel choir performed well and a tear was brought to the eye when Fannie Haidusek performed a solo of "Angels Serenade".
Many well-known La Grange residents were members and qualifications for membership were quite strict. Only persons of high character were considered. A by-law in the constitution stated that if you were a resident of La Grange for three or more years and received a unanimous vote of the members you could be admitted. However, if you did not reside in La Grange for at least three years, a secret committee of Handel Club members would be appointed to investigate the character of the applicant. After a thorough and exhaustive investigation the committee would submit a written report, without signatures, to the president of the club. If the report was unfavorable the applicant was denied membership. If the report was favorable the applicant was treated as if they had resided in La Grange for at least three years and a vote was taken.
The club provided frequent recitals for the entertainment of its members, their families and non-resident guests. They also responded to requests for musical performances on many special occasions. Membership in the Handel Club grew to as many as 70 members who either performed in the choir or worked in the Handel Club library. The library consisted of sheet music and other music items that the club had bought and collected over the years.
In May 1938 the charter members of the club met and voted to disband the club and dispose of the assets including all of its property with the exception of the large repertoire of octavo music and books and the Chickering Grand Piano. They also voted to donate their treasury of $500 to the Perpetual Fund of the Ladies Cemetery Association.
by Donna Green
On Friday, March 27, 1931 a very special celebration took place in the city of La Grange. This event underscored and fulfilled a long cherished wish of many of the citizens of the city. It was a celebration held in recognition that natural gas had become available for use by the public. Average citizens and business owners sighed with relief at the thought that fuel would now be so readily available in their homes and businesses with just the touch of a simple switch. Today the use of gas for fuel is pretty much taken for granted. However in 1931 it was a luxury. Therefore, local officials and members of civic clubs planned a memorable celebration to acknowledge the occasion. The celebration was planned to demonstrate the overwhelming enthusiasm that the local citizens felt for the new utility. The program was to be carried out under the large oak on the courthouse lawn about 7:30 p.m. Community singing was to be led by George E. Lenert. After which the La Grange High School Orchestra would entertain the crowd by playing several selections. Representatives of both the Lions Club and the Chamber of Commerce scheduled speeches. After those speeches a short talk was to be given by officials of United Gas Public Service Company. This company would be the local provider and custodian of the natural gas. After the program, an official of the Gas Company would ask the public to accompany him to the southeast end of the courthouse lawn. At that location a torch had been erected. There the crowd would witness Fayette County history as the local official of the United Gas Public Service Company ceremoniously ignited the torch for the first time.
Unfortunately the weather turned against the revelers and much of the celebration had to be postponed. But this did not dampen the spirits of the residents of La Grange as a boisterous crowd still gathered in the inclement conditions. Likewise, the gas company officials were determined to prove that gas really was available. So they did manage to light the torch to the immense joy of the sparse but vocal crowd that had gathered at the courthouse.
As of the first official day of available natural gas sixty-one permits had been issued. However, plumbers and gas employees were all kept extremely busy installing service lines and lying pipes in private residences.
by Donna Green
In 1881 the county established a "poor house" in La Grange. It was located about two miles east of the town on Cedar Creek.
Mr. John Rankin was awarded the contract for taking care of the paupers who wished to go to the house. Any person who applied for assistance from the county was ordered there. Mr. Rankin was paid $11.50 per month for the care and feeding of up to ten persons. If there were more than ten people in residence he was paid an extra $8.00. Rankin was also allowed $9.00 for each one that he buried.
The house was a one-story building containing eight rooms for the residents. The house was arranged so that the blacks were separated from the whites and the men were separated from the women. The first group of residents to arrive at the poor house was two white women, three black women and two black men. Many of the residents were in the closing years of their lives, enfeebled with age and unable to sustain themselves. Most of the residents had suffered lives of toil and struggle and were now dependent upon the kindness of strangers for their welfare.
Mr. Rankin hired Mrs. Drennon and her daughter to attend to the house and make sure that it was kept clean. The ladies also did all the cooking and tended to the residents when they were ill. After the editor of the La Grange Journal toured the new facility he stated in the paper " we were very much gratified to find that the house was as clean as a new pin and the beds looked clean and comfortable. Mrs. Drennon and Mr. Rankin are evidently doing their duty by the unfortunate persons who have been placed in their charge."
Two and a half acres of ground enclosed the area around the house. In this space the residents grew many vegetables including tomatoes, onions, beans, peas, corn and Irish potatoes. The county furnished the residents with all the bacon they could eat plus some molasses and biscuits at least once a week.
The editor of the Journal concluded his article in this way; " We could not but congratulate ourselves and the community upon the good appearance presented by this institution of charity in our midst and feel impressed with the results of an enlightened and christianized world."
by Lilliemae Brightwell
Fayette County Poor Farm - pre-1940
In Texas, days before Social Security, a husband said to an extravagant wife in a joking way, “You’re going to put us in the poor house!” Such places did exist.
An excerpt from a U S Government report summarized the various state poor laws in 1904 – “TEXAS: The county commissioners have the duty to provide for the support of paupers, residents of their counties, who are unable to take care of themselves, to send indigent sick to county hospitals where such are established, and to bury the pauper dead. The commissioners may, by contract, bind a county in any reasonable sum for pauper support, and are authorized to employ physicians to the poor, etc. The almshouses are under the management of the county commissioners. Except for these general provisions, there are no special statutes governing in detail poor relief and the management of almshouses.” An almshouse was an institution operated by a town or city. A poor house was a county institution.
Donna Green researched and wrote an interesting article in 2003 for “Footprints of Fayette” entitled “Fayette County Poor House”. In 1881, the “house” was surrounded by 2 ½ acres, and John Rankin won the contract to take care of the farm. The smaller building was the superintendent’s home. The barracks and dining hall, pest house for contagious diseases (small pox), and cells for prison labor were possibly added later.
Fayette County Poor Farm Superintendent's Home - pre-1940
In 1920, the farm was known as the Fayette County Poor House Hospital and Asylum. Arnold Prause was the manager. He lived there with his wife, Annie, and three children. At the time of the census in January, there were 22 inmates, which is the name they called them: 11 white men; 6 white women; 2 black men and 3 black women. In 1930, the manager was Alvy T. Bardin; his wife Lenora was the matron; a 23 year old son, who was a truck driver for the highway dept., and 10 year old son were living there also. At the time of the census in April, there were 12 white inmates and 4 blacks. One white male inmate had committed suicide the month before. At that time, it was listed as the County Hospital and Poor Farm. In 1940, there were only five inmates, and Albert T. Bardin (Alvy) was still the manager for the County Hospital and Poor Farm.
In actuality, it was more like a nursing home/assistive living facility than a hospital for the elderly and feeble, and a boarding house for those who were able-bodied and homeless. There were no skilled medical workers taking care of the sick. More than likely, if they needed medical care, the county medical officer (physician) was asked to tend to them.
Near the city limits of La Grange on Mode Lane just before the entrance to White Rock Park, is “The Fayette County Pauper’s Cemetery”, also known as the “La Grange Pauper’s Cemetery”. The county poor farm was situated nearby. The cemetery reminds us of the lonely ones of our past, the ones who never “quite made it” on the frontier or elsewhere. Five graves were surveyed in 1987. More names were added from a ledger entitled “Record of Inmates in Fayette County Poor-House, Hospital & Asylum, La Grange, Texas 1902-1924”. The book was kept up to date for a while with names etc. Some reasons for discharge were: moved to Terrell, Austin, and San Antonio asylums; sick; cured; sent to father; lunatic; infant; discharged for misbehaving; turned over to husband; died; buried in the cemetery, etc. One entry for a burial stated, “Found in river –dead - buried in cemetery”. Today the cemetery covers 1.18 acres of land and is owned by the city. Undoubtedly, there are numerous unmarked graves with unrecorded burials, because there are no records for the period prior to 1902.
Present-day appearance of the abandoned Poor Farm living quarters built after the 1940 fire
The original poor farm inmate buildings burned in a fire in 1940. A new building was constructed with large yellow bricks and is located off S. Reynolds St. This property now belongs to the La Grange Economic Development Corporation.
There was no standard practice about poor house record keeping; therefore, it is difficult to find many records in Texas. To get a better idea of what happened at the time, it helps to see what went on in other counties.
In 1939, a lawyer at the age of 82, a resident of the Colorado County poor farm was buried at the Columbus City Cemetery. He had lived in Columbus for 80 years. Colorado County records of 1912 show twenty-seven at its poor farm, and for economic reasons the farm was rented out, and the county convicts, who had been housed at the poor farm, were moved to work on roads.
Often the poor house was situated on the grounds of a poor farm on which able-bodied residents were required to work. Most were working farms that produced at least some of the produce, grain, and livestock they consumed. Residents were expected to provide labor to the extent that their health allowed, both in the fields and in providing housekeeping and care for other residents. Rules were strict and accommodations minimal. In Parker County, a superintendent was reprimanded and then replaced when the commissioners’ court learned he had punished an inmate – probably a jail trustee, not a pauper—too severely.
Rules at the Anderson County farm were formalized and posted.
At sound of the bell, make beds and sweep out
Scrub commodes and lavatory
Do not wash clothes under shower
Flush commode immediately after use
Take a shower each Wednesday night
Help keep this place clean and this means YOU
To be allowed to move to the county farm, a person had to appear before the commissioner’s court and take a pauper’s oath. This required declaring to the county judge and commissioners, “I am a pauper,” and that humiliating experience often produced feelings of guilt and shame that remained with the unfortunates for the remainder of their lives. One Texas inmate was discovered to have $1,000 in cash hidden in his room. The man had resources to support himself, but preferred to live off charity. He was promptly evicted from the poor farm.
Sometimes the county farm also was used as a place to keep short-term prisoners. Those arrested for such offenses as dice playing or fighting were sent to the farm to work out their sentences. The use of jail labor greatly aided farm productivity. Counties occasionally viewed the farms as handy places for holding criminal-related events, such as hangings. Colorado County hung several condemned criminals at its poor farm, drawing crowds to watch.
In addition to furnishing all necessities of life, the commissioners of some Texas counties supplied the inmates with a coffin, payment for the digging of a grave, funeral service, music, and an officiating minister. Preachers came regularly to most farms to hold services; doctors came when called.
In the 1900s, laws were enacted in various states forbidding the care of children in almshouses, and hardly any children were kept on Texas poor farms.
In Cass County Texas, a wealthy bachelor who lost his money through bad investments showed interest in a blind widow on the poor farm. He explained to the superintendent that he was engaged to the widow when she was eighteen and he was twenty-one. Their families had forbidden them to marry. He wanted permission to marry and to continue living on the farm after their marriage. After appearing before the commissioners’ court in that county, the county would not allow the two to marry after they had taken the pauper’s oath, if they planned to live on county property after their marriage. A short time after this, the widow’s daughter came and took the woman home with her. The bachelor received a letter from his old sweetheart in which she told him brokenheartedly that it evidently wasn’t meant for them to be married, and that she had requested upon her death a white rose be placed on her shroud to symbolize the love they had for each other which had lasted throughout a lifeline. She added that she hoped to meet him in heaven.
It was easy to fall into poverty in the 1800s. People fell upon hard times, became widowed, orphaned, elderly and destitute, old and alone, ill, disabled, unemployed, or had their homes destroyed by fire or natural causes. There were no safety nets. Periodically over the years the Social Security Act was amended to include everyone. Yet the act strictly forbade providing financial aid to anyone in a public institution. The poor farm practice declined with the establishment of federal relief during the Great Depression.
Today we have Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SSI, FEMA, Food Stamps, retirement plans, Workmen’s Comp Insurance, CHIPS, unemployment compensation, IRAs, OSHA, private corporations and churches that help, area food banks, Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Community Chest. But are we covered? As Texas and the government continue to struggle in their care of the massive poor, there are poignant reminders of our progress, or lack thereof, in welfare since the days when “winding up on the poor farm” was more than just an idle phrase.
by Kathy Carter
The original La Grange Colored High School building was a large two-story frame structure located on East Guadalupe Street. Professor G. A. Randolph became principal of the school in 1910. At that time the faculty consisted of the principal and three or four teachers. This lack of available instructors meant that each teacher was required to teach as many as three grades. There was no specialized instruction in any subject nor were there coaches for any sport. These challenges did not seem to bother Professor Randolph and he answered them in many creative ways. Since there was no agriculture teacher he planted a garden and had the students tend it.
Students would practice all sports together under the direction of one or two teachers. Even with this handicap the school still produced outstanding athletes who outclassed many city high schools in tournaments held at Prairie View College. Schools were not classified by size as they are today. All schools participated in "may the best man win" events. The students from La Grange always took home their fair share of the prize-winning banners in academic as well as athletic competitions.
Under the leadership of Professor Randolph and his staff the school did its best to serve the community. The school made long-lasting progress under Randolph. The first piano was bought for the school with the help of the Parent-Teacher Association. New library books, tools for classes and a sewing machine were also acquired for the student's use.
In 1934, the La Grange School Board generously decided to help construct a new school. This brick building was built on Pearl Street where it still stands today. Professor Randolph retired in 1941 and died in 1945. The next year the La Grange School Board named the new school in his honor. Randolph High School continued to prosper and to succeed with great leadership from principals such as W. M. Collins, Lee Doree Jolly, William Farris and Shellia Hatch.
In the late 1940's many rural schools were consolidated and closed and the students were bussed to Randolph from all over the county. As attendance grew more teachers were added and in 1949 an elementary principal was hired.
The Randolph School was very active until the mid-1960's when integration closed its doors. The La Grange Independent School district still utilizes part of the building today.
by Carolyn Heinsohn
One old house in La Grange that met its demise around 50 years ago had an interesting history, as well as a unique architectural design. The Studemann-Duncan House, was located at 250 S. Main Street at the present-day site of Sanford and Mannie Schmid’s home. Edward Studemann, the original owner, had a place of business in the recently-restored Heintze Building located on the east side of the square. Studemann’s home was later purchased by J.T. Duncan, a former mayor of La Grange from 1878-82 and descendant of an old family of Washington County.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Mr. Duncan studied law after graduating from the first Baylor University at Independence. He was elected mayor in the same year that he was admitted to the bar. During his term as mayor, he married Genelle Harris of Bellville; they had three children: Josephine, Frankie and Douglas. After his term as mayor, Mr. Duncan was involved in two law partnerships in La Grange and served as an attorney for the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway.
The Studemann-Duncan House had three stories with a mansard-type roof, dormer windows and 12” thick walls built of bricks made on the banks of the Colorado River. There were four fireplaces with one located in the kitchen. Even in the heat of summer, the interior was comfortable because of the thickness of the walls and the cross-ventilation provided by the large windows all around the house. The bottom floor was built partially in the ground with half windows at the top of the rooms. At one time, Miss Frankie Duncan rented the four “basement” rooms to boarders. Wide steps led to a porch and the second floor, which also had four rooms – a parlor, dining room, kitchen and a library-music room that had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on one wall. The other walls were covered in wallpaper with bright red roses. The room was furnished with red wicker furniture and a grand piano, which was very ornate décor compared to most homes in La Grange during that era. The third floor had four spacious bedrooms.
Never married, Miss Frankie was quite a character, even somewhat eccentric. She usually wore a wide-brimmed hat and gloves when she went to town and was known to carry a hammer inside of a basket for self-protection when she walked to the post office every evening. She died in 1956, and the house stood vacant for several years. After her brother passed away, his second wife sold the home to Mr.& Mrs. Werner Tramp, who had it demolished in 1960 in order to build a new modern home. Unfortunately, there are no known pictures of the interior of the old home, so one just has to imagine how it must have looked with its beautiful woodwork, antique furniture and hundreds of books.
The razing of the house ended the source for countless stories about the “haunted house” that many youngsters in the community delighted in repeating. Nor could they any longer dare one another to crawl through the vines that had grown around the house and look through the window under the front porch, where they were sure that they saw a “coffin” among the stored items inside a front room on the first floor. There never were any “sightings” of apparitions or validations of a “coffin”, but that didn’t curb the imaginations of those youngsters who were brave enough to venture onto the property and peek into the windows while feeling an adrenalin rush—“Maybe, just maybe, we’ll see something this time!”
By Carolyn Heinsohn
According to an article printed in The Fayette County Record on August 26, 1949, there was a building boom in La Grange, which included a new building called “Teenville”, which was constructed in the City Park from materials obtained from Camp Swift north of Bastrop, Texas. By the summer of 1950, “Teenville”, which was located near the corner of Franklin and Live Oak Streets, was the venue for junior-high school students of La Grange, who organized their own dance club with the help of their parents who wanted to provide a place for their teens to gather together socially in a chaperoned environment. By the mid-50s, the local teens were adopting the newly-emerging teen pop culture, which was spreading like wildfire around the U.S.
Although “Teenville” was austere in design with no interior décor, the participating teens were happy to have a place to call their own and didn’t seem to notice that their “hangout” lacked ambiance. Every Friday evening during the summer, the regular attendees gathered together for a preliminary meeting, followed by dancing to the latest tunes of the era – “Chances Are” by Johnny Mathis, “Wake Up Little Susie” by the Everley Brothers, “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets, “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino, and dozens of other popular 50s and early 60s tunes that are now considered the “oldies”.
The “Stroll” became a favorite “ice breaker” group dance that was popular on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand”, a nationally-televised show that aired every weekday afternoon at 4 p.m., beginning in 1956. This iconic show, not only introduced new performers such as Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon and Fabian, but was also the trendsetter for new dances, hairstyles and clothing fads. The teens from Philadelphia, who were the “stars” of “American Bandstand” until it moved to Los Angeles in 1963, had a profound effect on their peers nationwide; the show was the beginning of the media influence on teens that has escalated with every successive generation.
The music at “Teenville” was provided by a portable record player with one small speaker, which was considered a blessing by the nearby residents, since all of the windows in the building were wide open – air conditioning was unheard of in those days.
The girls in the 50s “sashayed” around the dance floor with their pony tails, full skirts and crinoline petticoats, wide elastic cinch belts, blouses with “Peter Pan” collars, scatter pins, and bobby socks and loafers. The guys “sported” crew cuts or slick-backed hairstyles with “duck tails”, cuffed blue jeans or black chino pants, striped or plaid tucked-in shirts, white socks and loafers. In the early 60s, the attire evolved to simpler tailored styles before the psychedelic “hippie” clothing fads became the craze.
Mothers of the club members took turns chaperoning the dances, as well as providing refreshments, usually comprised of sandwiches, chips, Rice Krispies squares, cookies, and 6 ½ oz. bottles of Cokes and Dr. Peppers, iced down in a #3 washtub.
The era of “Teenville” faded away by the mid-60s, as the innocence of the 50s was eventually altered by the radical social changes affecting the entire country. However, during its existence, “Teenville” provided a safe venue for social activities for the young teens of the community before they ventured out to the outlying dancehalls.
Around 1972, the City moved the old “Teenville” building to a new site off of North Vail Street, between Pearl and Upper Line Streets, promising the interested newly-organized local Boy Scout troop that the building would be renovated for their use. A previous Boy Scout troop had held their meetings in a similar barrack-style building behind “Teenville”, but it too was moved to a location off of Highway 77 South as plans were being made to build a new library at the city park. After the renovation was completed by the City, the Boy Scout troop, which had been meeting at the Methodist Church in the interim, moved into its new home in 1975. However, time and deterioration from the weather eventually took their toll on the old building, which had to be totally renovated, circa 2001.
The old “Teenville” building constructed of re-cycled materials that first did their part for the military during WWII, not only housed the local teen dance club for approximately 15 years, but has also provided a home for the Scouts for almost 35 years. It definitely has served the youth of our community well.
by Carolyn Heinsohn
Tent show in Plum, TX, Sept, 1939
Not only can traumatic experiences remain a part of one’s childhood memories, but also very exciting events can leave indelible imprints never to be forgotten. Flashbacks of memories of some of those exciting events for me go back to the late 1940s and early 1950s during a time when opportunities for children to travel or experience anything outside of Fayette County were very limited. These memories are sketchy, because I was very young, so they may vary from those of others who were children during that era, but they were significant enough for me to retain them for all of these years.
Dusting off the cobwebs in the recesses of my mind, I recall attending one or two tent shows that were set up, I believe, next to the old American Legion Hall on North Main Street in La Grange. These traveling entertainment shows were usually in each town for only two or three days. If I remember correctly, admission was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children.
Here in La Grange, a stage was set up on the west end of the tent, and wooden benches filled the remainder of the tent with an aisle down the middle. These tent shows were sometimes called “minstrel shows”, but in actuality, minstrel shows that were popular in the 19th century had declined in popularity by the beginning of the 20th century due to their racial overtones. The name was the only thing that was retained; the content of the shows had definitely changed. The original minstrel shows were based on African-American characters, first played by black actors and later by white actors in black make-up, reminiscent of Al Jolson. The content of the minstrel shows would be considered derogatory by today’s standards. These shows eventually evolved into vaudeville and burlesque.
The tent shows that traveled around Texas during the 1930s – 1950s actually were “Rep” (repertory) shows that revolved around a main act, which was a “repartee” between two characters known as an “interlocutor” and an “endman”. The “interlocutor” usually was a “straight man”, who was well-dressed and who spoke in aristocratic English with a large vocabulary; the “endman” was depicted as ignorant with a poor vocabulary, but who happily shared his stupidity. The humor of their exchanges came from the misunderstandings of the “endman”. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were somewhat of an example of this type of “repartee”. Additional entertainment was provided by clowns or other “buffoon” – type characters, who performed slapstick comedy with practical jokes, using props such as cream pies in faces, fake guns, cannons or fireworks. There were also song and dance routines, magicians, jugglers and a small band made up of a variety of instruments, including a trumpet, fiddle, banjo, drums and spoons, also called “bones”. The “Rep” shows were the forerunners of comedy shows and “sit-coms” that began appearing on television in the 1950s, including “Red Skelton” and “I Love Lucy”, and later the “Carol Burnett Show”.
Shows varied from one “Rep” company to another, depending upon the available performers and their specific talents. Sometimes, ticket purchasers could vote for one of two or three local girls as the “prettiest girl” in the community. This was a gimmick to entice more people to attend, because family and friends wanted to vote for their favorite girl. The winner of the contest was promised a prize, which oftentimes was a “diamond” ring that may have been nothing more than a rhinestone set in an inexpensive metal ring. I recall that at the tent shows that I attended as a child, boxes of wrapped candy, similar to salt water taffy, were sold with the promise that some of the boxes, which cost as much as admission or even more, had coupons inside for prizes that could be claimed later. The prizes were often metal or chalk figurines or other trinkets.
The Plunkett name comes to mind – I believe that was the name of the owners of the tent shows, although they might have also been the owners and producers of the circus that was later held in a large tent at the Fayette County Fairgrounds. Never having had the opportunity to see a large three-ring circus prior to that time, I embraced this smaller circus experience as if the Ringling Brothers and the Flying Walendas had come to La Grange to perform. Hearing the ringmaster and circus orchestra introduce the parade of stars, seeing lions jump through hoops of fire, a trained elephant, acrobatic routines, trapeze artists in their shiny, sequined costumes, as well as performing horses and dogs, along with the humorous clowns all contributed to an exciting experience that has never been forgotten. These performers may have been rather amateur compared to those in the large circuses, but to me they were spectacular!
The Plunketts were a family acrobatic group, originally from Arkansas and Oklahoma, that started out with repertory tent shows that they were still operating in the late 1940s and perhaps the early 1950s, although in 1944, some of them joined the Cole Circus for a year to gain some circus experience. They then became known for their tumbling, acrobatics, aerial acts and a fairly remarkable variety of animal acts. Cleo Plunkett became a vocalist and eventually a ringmaster with the Hubert Castle and Gil Gray Circuses, performing with the latter group in 1962, when they were featured at the State Fair of Texas. His brother, Corky, was first married to Norma Davenport, who was part of a trampoline group, so Corky initially joined that group. However, he later became an elephant trainer, and another family member, Melvin Plunkett, became an animal trainer as well.
I recall that while I was attending Sacred Heart Catholic School in La Grange in the 1950s, Alice Plunkett Swain and her son, Bill, stayed in La Grange for a number of years, so that Bill could attend the Catholic school. Apparently, they chose to remain in La Grange after the Plunketts performed here. Bill’s father was the master of ceremonies in the tent show and also played the trumpet, and his mother was a vocalist. Bill Swain was about four years younger than I was, but I remember him because of his short stature and red hair. Eventually, Alice and Bill moved on, but I learned from doing an internet search that Bill’s relative, Corky Plunkett, was still performing with two elephants in 1996 at the Peoria, Illinois Shrine Circus produced by the Plunkett Family. One of his elephants named June died in 1999. And guess what? The remaining elephant, Jean, was sold to Corky’s cousin, Bill Swain, my schoolmate from approximately 58 years ago. So, apparently, Bill either continued with the family circus tradition or just liked elephants and lived in an area where owning an elephant would not be considered unusual.
Memories from the corners of my mind about these nostalgic childhood experiences just needed the cobwebs dusted off to bring them into focus, so that they could be shared. Undoubtedly, there are many others who have fond memories of those simpler days when getting to see a tent show or circus was a major highlight in the life of a child.
by Connie F. Sneed
On the morning of June 9, 1902 while a flying switch was being made, an empty freight car of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway ran off the end of a short switch track leading to the warehouse of Leo Frede & Co. The warehouse was located in the city. The freight car crossed a 50 foot street and struck the residence of Mrs. Augusta Schmidt. In its course of destruction it first tore down the yard fence, then bent and shattered a tree at least a foot or more in diameter and finally struck the house. It knocked out the entire north end wall and throwing splinters for a distance of a block away. The crash sounded like that of a loud explosion, startling everyone who heard it.
Mrs. Schmidt, the resident of the home who was 65 years of age and the only member of the family who was in the house at the time, was thrown violently to the floor. Mrs. Schmidt was seen immediately by an area doctor. She spoke only in short sentences after the accident due to the fright she was given so suddenly.
The entire home was wrecked and much damage was done to the interior. Many personal articles were smashed and many were irreplaceable. Had it not been for the tree, which not only broke the momentum of the car, but also turned its course somewhat away from the home, the home would have been completely demolished.
The switch had been used years and being near the business portion of the city much freight is unloaded there. The end of the track ran down a gentle incline and there were no butting post to stop the car when it was turned loose. The car was removed by an engine, but no explanation was immediately given of the accident.
submitted by Gary E. McKee
From the LaGrange Journal verbatim: “The LaGrange base ball nine and the Smithville nine played two games last week; one here and one at Smithville resulting in victory for the LaGrange boys. A great deal of interest was manifested by our young people in the last game, many of them going to Smithville to witness it. The Smithville club were confident of winning the last game. It is said a professional player was imported from Galveston as an expense of $25, and expense in order to insure victory, but it was all of no avail. THE JOURNAL learns that all the Lagrange boys acquitted themselves handsomely; the John White and Shaw Rives are deserving of special mention. It is said considerable money changed hands on the result.” The score was 9 to 8. Playing for the LaGrange team was Shaw Rives, Will McKinney, H. Zauder, John White, Josh Billingley, Leon Baker, Walton Moore, Frank Rosenthal, __ Chapman.
The following week the Journal printed that: “The Smithville Times claims that THE JOURNAL, in referring to the match game of base ball at that place between the nine of that town and the nine of this city, did the former injustice in saying that they imported a professional from Galveston to help them; that the “Smithville team” was composed solely of local players, and that THE JOURNAL was willfully informed, &c. THE JOURNAL does not know anything more than what it heard in regard to the game, nor has it made any further inquiry, but is inclined to think that the LaGrange boys will adhere to their statement.” There was no report of the the outcome of the game played in LaGrange.
By Carolyn Heinsohn
The older we get, the more nostalgic we become. Readers over the age of 65 will more than likely recollect the following practices, places, things and events, mostly in La Grange. Those who are younger may have to ask someone who is older to provide more details.
The old two-story La Grange Hospital with screened porches, an outside fire escape slide and a wash house out back? Room rates in the early 1960s were $9.00 - $12.00.
The Corner Drug Store in the old Lester Hotel, a favorite destination after seeing a movie? It had marble top tables and a soda fountain that served phosphate sodas, cherry cokes and 7-ups, ice cream sundaes, floats and milk shakes.
Four theaters – the Cozy Theater, lost in the Lester Hotel fire; the Cozy, Jr.; Sky-Hi Drive-In, built in 1948 and blown down by Hurricane Carla; and the Parvan Theater across from the old auction barn? A Saturday afternoon matinee at the Cozy in 1950 cost 15 cents; candy bars, a soft drink and popcorn were a nickel each.
Three Dairy Marts – the first one on Travis Street across from the La Grange High School - it only had walk-up service; the second one on the corner of Jefferson and Crockett Streets that had car-hops and indoor service; and the third one on Travis Street with indoor service at the site of the present-day HEB parking lot?
Two live oak trees in the middle of Travis Street in front of the Temple Lumber Company?
The old Hwy 77 Bridge and winding Bluff Drive with rock walls on both sides? The short spur road to Monument Hill State Park, which originally was only the size enclosed by the existing rock wall? When there was no barricading fence preventing one from walking right up to the edge of the bluff? Being able to hike beneath the bluff wall on the old road from the Kreische Brewery to the old ferry crossing? The rifle range where the Frisch Auf Country Club swimming pool is now located? The old swimming hole and waterfalls south of the rifle range? The springs that fed that stream and swimming hole no longer exist.
The old rock observation tower on the edge of the bluff between the Fair Pavilion and the VFW Hall at the Fayette County Fair Grounds?
The Albarez Mexican Café on Horton Street; Roitsch’s Camp and Crayton’s Photography Studio in the old Meyenburg home on Main Street?
The Bargain Center in the building where the Le Petite Gourmet Shoppe is now located? Marked-down, fire-damaged and other unsold items from the Lautersteins’ clothing store were sold there in the late 1940s.
The Famous Store owned by Leo Feigenbaum, the Larry Klein and Sons clothing store, and the New York Store, all on Washington Street?
The pneumatic tube used to transfer money to an upstairs clerk in lieu of a cash register at the Von Rosenberg Store?
The Bluebonnet Beauty Shop owned by Glenn Hattermann on the second floor of the old two-story wooden building on Washington Street close to the MKT depot; the Cinderella Beauty Shop owned by Hattie Witt located above the Bargain Center; and the Meinen Beauty Shop, owned by Annie Meinen, located upstairs in the Hunger Building on the corner of Travis and Washington Streets?
The three five and dime stores – Elkins, Perry Brothers and Ben Franklin? Buying bulk pieces of candy that were weighed and put into small brown paper bags? Thumbing through the comic books that were next to the candy case?
The grocery stores on the courthouse square – A&P, Schulze’s, Janak’s Cash and Carry, Dipple’s, as well as several others through the years? The Western Auto and White’s Auto Stores?
Children’s Parade on Nov. 11, 1949. Carolyn Sumbera and Clarence Faldyn dressed as a miniature bride and groom
Courtesy of Carolyn Heinsohn
Frank’s Place, the old Bon Ton Restaurant and Schneider’s Café on Colorado Street, the Recreation Club, the Pastime Club and the Hole?
The Kneip’s Furniture and Hardware and Mohrhusen Schmidt Furniture and Hardware stores?
Weikel’s Shoe Shop and the old August Streithoff Tin Shop next to Lautersteins on the north side of the square? The tin shop was demolished in 1969; the Heritage Hallmark Store is now located at the site.
The Hermes, Meyenburg (Schroeder), Dyers and La Grange Drug Stores? The Kerrville Bus Station and soda shop at Dyers?
The Old Library, Teenville, the Boy Scout Hut and the American Legion Hall? The old bowling alley with pin boys before automation?
The portable skating rink with open sides that was located across from the high school in the early to mid-1960s? Owned by an Oklahoma oilman, it was moved from town to town in our area, including Yoakum, Shiner, Giddings, Victoria and New Braunfels.
Veterans’ Day and children parades, when children dressed in costumes and decorated their tricycles, bicycles and wagons to ride around the courthouse square?
The old beautiful two-story homes in La Grange that were razed, many during the demolition craze of the1960s – the C.J. von Rosenberg home on N. Main, the Studemann-Duncan home on S. Main, the Alexander home on S. Washington, and the Carl Amberg home on the corner of E. Travis and N. Madison? Many old homes were moved, altered or totally eliminated to be replaced with more modern-style homes, places of business or simply nothing.
Ice cream socials and live nativities at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church? Christmas plays in the auditorium of the old Sacred Heart School? Christmas caroling at the old hospital, for shut-ins, and at the Janda and Wunderlich “Old Folks’ Homes”, followed by donuts and hot chocolate?
When you started on one side of town and walked to the other side unaccompanied by an adult on Halloween night with a huge grocery sack and filled your bag to the top with goodies? When some people invited you inside their homes on Halloween for snacks and drinks?
When the pool at Camp Lone Star was open to the public? When the public swimming pool opened in La Grange on Colorado Street, thanks to a generous contribution by the Kruschel sisters?
Sock hops and proms in the old La Grange High School gym? When the themed prom decorations were made by the junior class?
Leopardettes marching on Colorado Street in Veterans’ Day Parade, circa 1960
Courtesy of Carolyn Heinsohn
Fish Day (freshmen orientation), FHA Powder Puff football games, the Leopardettes, three-day senior trips, Halloween Carnivals, high school plays and talent shows; football banquets; the Hi-Standard (school newspaper) and school-sponsored student trips to see the Shrine Circus at the Houston Coliseum?
Typing classes with manual Underwood typewriters, mimeograph machines, adding machines, slide rules, shorthand classes, driving classes, covering books with brown paper bags and ink pens with real ink?
When the automobile dealers covered their windows before they revealed the newest car models every September? When the FHA girls were allowed to leave school to serve coffee and donuts to the visitors at the various dealer showrooms for that event?
“Come as You Are Parties”; “Chinese Fire Drills”, “Spin the Bottle”, the “Stroll” and cruising? Pin curls, scatter pins, neck scarves, Peter Pan collars, poodle skirts, crinolines, shirt loops and swimming caps? Nylon hosiery with seams and later with rhinestone designs?
Butch wax, Brill Cream, Toni and Lilt home permanents, pink foam and juice can hair rollers, curler caps, bonnet hair driers, Lifebuoy and Lava soaps, Woodbury and Lustre Creme Shampoos, Cashmere Bouquet Lotion and Noxzema Cleansing Cream?
Campho-phenique, mercurochrome, Rosebud Salve, castor oil and Creomulsion cough syrup?
Playing cards attached to bicycle tire spokes with clothespins, homemade stilts, mud pies, “Old Maids”, shadow tag, Chinese checkers, cap guns, “Andy Over”, hop scotch, jacks, merry-go-rounds and decoder rings?
Buster Brown and Poll Parrot shoes? Penny loafers, saddle oxfords and Mary Jane’s?
Making lanyards, keychains and covering coat hangers with plastic cording? Covering plastic fruit with sequins and beads?
Pineapple, chocolate, cream, orange and strawberry Nehi sodas, Squirts and Grapettes? Homemade root beer, Tang, Kool-Aid by the gallons and Ovaltine?
The RC Cola plant next to the Green Lantern Café in La Grange? Peanuts poured into RC colas?
Walking to the Green Lantern Café from the high school to eat lunch? When hamburgers were 25 cents and Lukas Bakery made hamburger buns? Juke boxes and remote wall boxes allowing you to make musical selections from a booth?
TV antennas controlled by a Channel Master Rotor dial? Three TV channels? Hurrying home after school to watch American Bandstand? When Howdy Doody, Uncle Jay, Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Rogers, The Little Rascals, Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger were your favorite television shows?
Movies featuring Ma and Pa Kettle, Abbott and Costello, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Judy Canova? When Sci-Fi movies were popular – “The Mole People”, “Creature from the Black Lagoon”, “The Blob”, “The Fly”? When news reels and cartoons preceded the main feature?
Wrestling on Friday nights with Paul Bosch broadcasting live on television from the Houston Coliseum? The Arthur Godfrey Show, Groucho Marx, Truth or Consequences, The Honeymooners, Jack Benny, George Gobel, Red Buttons and Red Skelton, Dragnet, Superman, Alfred Hitchcock and The Twilight Zone? When cigarette commercials were allowed on TV – Chesterfield, Camel, Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, Old Gold and Marlboro?
Mellorine, Jiffy Pop, the first TV dinners, bubble gum with baseball cards and Cracker Jacks with metal toys?
Duz Detergent with dish towels and cereal with toys? Cooked starch, sprinkler bottles, pants stretchers and Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing? Plaid and S& H Green Savings Stamps redeemed for a chosen item out of their catalogs?
When aluminum (tin) foil was first introduced – the next best thing to sliced bread?
When Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedias were sold one at a time for 98 cents each at the A&P Grocery Store after the first book could be purchased for 49 cents?
And of course…. The Swiss Alp Dance Hall, where many area teens spent their Saturday nights, and some met their life partners. Parents could sit in a screened-off area in one corner of the hall without having to pay admission, much to the chagrin of their children.
As Dean Martin crooned in 1956….”Memories are Made of This”.
By Carolyn Heinsohn
Since a previous article on my recollections received such a positive response, this is another walk down memory lane for older folks and a history lesson for the younger generations. Do you remember these tidbits of history associated with people, places, things and events in and around La Grange?
The fire siren tower that sat on the corner of the City Hall property? The siren went off every day notifying the townspeople that it was exactly 12 noon.
When John Steinbrook had a filling station situated diagonally at the front corner of the Brasher Motor Company at the intersection of Hwy 77 N. and W. Colorado Street?
When there were party lines with a designated series of short and long ringtones for each household with a phone? Anyone on the party line could listen in.
When telephone numbers were three numbers and a letter, such as 241J? When you had to ask an operator to connect you with another party? When dial phones were introduced?
When the old Southern Pacific depot sat at the location of the present-day Farmers Lumber Company retail store? Originally, a turntable was located behind the depot, along with a well that provided water for the train boilers. Later the depot building was purchased by Wesley Steinmann for his Lone Star Beer distributorship, and then was re-located to Round Top, Texas, where it was an antique venue and is now a restaurant. [see correction below]
When Northpoint Park was known as Jaycee Park? There was a boat ramp there at one time.
When the Consolidated Food Locker was located at the triangular intersection of E. Colorado Street and present-day Business 71? There was a statue of a bull out front.
When there were stores in La Grange with the names of Winn’s, Bilroy’s Grocery Store, Shoe World, Harris and Gaertner Dress Shop, Gindler’s Department Store, Willmann’s Jewelry, Mike’s Fabric Store, Tobias Furniture, White’s Auto and Marian’s Apparel?
When the Old Jail still had prisoners housed inside? When the Sheriff’s office was located inside of the courthouse?
The old Schumacher warehouse that sat alongside the railroad track at N. Main and W. Lafayette Streets?
Hank’s Place once located about three miles east of town on Hwy 71 past the old railroad overpass?
The Legler Dance Hall in Plum, Tschiedel’s Hall in Park, Zapp’s Hall in Warrenton, Hostyn Hall, Freyburg Hall, the hexagon KJT Hall and Baca’s Hall in Fayetteville, TX? Sliding across the dance floor during intermission – a favorite activity for kids? Collecting empty bottles at feasts and dances when returned bottles were paid for?
Blue Hole on High Hill Creek – a favorite place to go swimming or picnicking? There were multiple ledges and small waterfalls that added to its scenic beauty. It is now on private property and not accessible to the public.
Metal skates that clipped onto your shoes and were tightened with skate keys? Pedal cars and fire engines? Cushman motor scooters?
When clothing made of flour and feed sacks with colorful designs was sewn on treadle sewing machines? When scraps of fabric and old clothing were recycled into quilts?
Jawbreakers, Slow Pokes, Red Hots, Necco Wafers, Sugar Daddies, marshmallow “ice cream cones”, Root Beer Barrels, BB Bats, Chick-O-Sticks, candy cigarettes, Teaberry, Black Jack, Clove and Beeman’s Chewing Gum?
Pickled herring packed in small wooden buckets that were sold at Schulze’s Grocery on Colorado Street?
Coffee, Spam, canned ham and sardine can “keys”? A key that was attached to the bottom of the can was placed on a “finger” of a scored metal strip which was then wound around the can to remove the lid.
Little gelatin capsules of chicken fat in Mrs. Grass’ Chicken Noodle Soup Mix and lemon oil in lemon pie filling mix that both melted with added liquid and heat?
When cake mixes were first introduced? When the first TV dinners with small pieces of fried chicken, pasty mashed potatoes and corn came on the market?
When the only frozen fish was cod that came in paper-covered waxed rectangular boxes?
When there was one kind of oatmeal and only seven or eight types of dry cereal? When there was a cereal beverage called Postum that became popular during WWII when coffee was rationed? When there were no cooking oils – only lard and shortening? When people saved bacon grease?
When people ate clabbered milk with bread or crackers, made homemade butter, cottage cheese and Koch Kase (cooked cheese), drank buttermilk, baked homemade bread almost daily and canned all of their vegetables, including pickled beets, bread and butter pickles and chow-chow? When head and liver sausage were served for breakfast with cornbread and molasses?
In addition to the Green Lantern Café, when Schulze’s Café, Seibert’s Café, Edna and Millie’s Café and Harry and Lynn’s all served home style meals?
Being given cards in school that had slots for dimes that were collected for the March of Dimes Foundation campaign for polio patient aid and research? Standing in line in the Hermes Elementary School cafeteria in the 1950s to receive a polio vaccination? When everyone received a smallpox vaccination that left a telltale scar?
When a photographer set up his camera and a backdrop in a corner of the New York Store in the late 1940s and early 1950s to take photographs of pre-school children that were then published in local newspapers?
Nostalgia is like good wine and cheese – it just gets better with age.
Crime and Punishment
Footprints of Fayette Index
La Grange 1 2 3 4 5