Pioneering Self-reliance in Fredericksburg, Texas: Part 1

Reader Contribution by Lisa Kivirist
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Just 124 miles from the Mother Earth News Fair held in Belton, Texas, is Fredericksburg, Texas, an idyllic and bustling small town that serves as a testament to the pioneering spirit of the West and hard-scrabble determination of the German immigrants who originally settled these 2,000 square miles of Texas’ Hill Country.

“Back in 1846, a group of 120 folks first came from Germany to settle this area, buying a package that included passage to Texas and land on which to farm,” explains Ernie Loeffler, President of the Fredericksburg Convention & Visitor Bureau. “What was unique about this organized movement of people here is they had a vision to recreate a traditional German village in the middle of Texas, one in which families farmed on rural acreage and then came into town on weekends to do their shopping and attend church.”

We can draw much inspiration and learning from these early German homesteaders. Despite multiple setbacks along the journey to establishing their new lives in Texas – from the company that sold them this package not following through on expectations to dealing with sickness and adjusting to a new geography — these persevering pioneers forged ahead, eventually creating a thriving community which you can still experience, savor and learn from today.

This is the first of a series of articles covering the back-to-the-land spirit found here and emerging food travel scene not to be missed.

Self-reliance and Pioneering Spirit

Fredericksburg serves up multiple opportunities for diving into and experiencing the rich history of Texas Hill County. Channel the Lone Star State of mind with a visit to Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site, home to our nation’s 36th President and Fredericksburg’s favorite hometown boy. 

“Your first stop here will be the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, a farm where you can step back in time and experience Texas pioneer life one hundred years ago and also get a sense of what President Johnson’s childhood was like growing up here,” shares Iris Neffendorf, the Park Superintendent.  It’s indeed a working farm, where you can interact with the knowledgeable history interpreters as they go about daily farm chores and feel like you took a time travel machine to visit our country’s original homesteaders. For many of us hard-core homesteaders who bake our own bread, put up our vegetables and collect eggs from our free-ranging chickens, it’s wonderfully familiar.

“Every day we do things just like they would have back in the old days,” says Mark Itz, an interpreter on the farm whose family goes back five generations in Hill Country.  “Last year we put up 154 quarts of tomatoes out of the garden and made 250 pounds of sausage. We just didn’t have to take it to town to trade for flour, sugar and salt like they used to,” he laughs.  Soap making, bread baking and animal care are other activities you’ll see at the farmstead, which is operated by Texas Parks and Wildlife. Eye opening, many areas like this one in rural Texas didn’t have electricity until the early 1950s. This final push for national electrification is attributed to then Congressman Johnson’s commitment to rural electrification, as he saw, first-hand growing up, the challenges of living without electricity.

This hardscrabble land of the Texas Hill Country taught the German settlers and others to be independent. “It is impossible to live on this land without being a part of it, without being shaped by its qualities,” wrote Lyndon B. Johnson.  As you leave the Sauer-Beckmann Farm and take a short drive across the Pedernales River, you enter Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, one of only two national parks operating as working ranches. 

Lyndon B. Johnson is the only President where you can see his full life cycle within 14 miles, as you move on to tour what is known as the “Texas White House,” where the President conducted much of his business during his administration.  From the original front doormat with the adage “All the world is welcome here” to the cheery splashes of yellow walls and wallpaper the house, First Lady Ladybird Johnson’s favorite color, you immediately get a sense of why this place is where President truly felt at home and worked best.   From his administrative staff to visiting foreign dignitaries to members of Congress, much work happened here such as forwarding Johnsons’ commitment to education reform and navigating the tumultuous era of the Vietnam War and civil rights reform, all done over cattle tours and BBQ.

Lyndon B. Johnson isn’t the only famous person who called Fredericksburg home.  Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, is another native son who grew up to change the course of American History.  The National Museum of the Pacific War is located in downtown Fredericksburg, an impressive, modern museum experience offering a deeper understanding of the significant struggle between Allied and Japanese forces that took place in the islands of the Pacific.  The newly renovated Pacific Combat Zone recreates a realistic environment of where many of these battles took place and offers regular “live” reenactments and interpretation.

Cottages and Bed & Breakfasts

A century before Airbnb and a more established bed & breakfast industry, this German-immigrant community settling in Texas Hill Country gifted Fredericksburg with what would become a tourism treasure today:  Sunday Houses. Back in the day, these German farming families would travel by horse and buggy on Saturdays to town to do their shopping and attend various social events, spend the night, go to church on Sunday morning and then head back to the farm. The families built these small, quaint wood-framed or stone cottages to stay in on Saturday night, typically just two rooms. 

Today, these Sunday Houses offer a diverse and unique lodging option in Fredericksburg, offering over 1,270 choices, both original cottages and replications. They’re by far the most popular way to spend the night in town. Some cottages are in the Fredericksburg Historic District, based on the original platting of the town, while others are scattered through community or in the countryside. 

Our stay at Honey Hill’s spacious, romantic and luxurious Forget Me Not cottage provided a natural refuge in the quiet countryside on six acres just outside of town. Deer passed through our front yard dotted with cacti and native wildflower and cool evening breezes were enjoyed on wooden rocking chairs on our screened-in front porch.  Our favorite activity, however, after a day of wandering through fields of wildflowers and sampling local wines, was soaking in the hot tub on the front porch while star gazing into the wide Texas night sky, feeling gratitude for the strong German pioneer community that built this thriving community.

Photos by John Ivanko

Lisa Kivirist, with her husband and photographer,John D. Ivanko, have co-authoredRural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winningECOpreneuringandFarmstead Chefcookbook along with operatingInn Serendipity B&Band Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authoredSoil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam and millions of ladybugs.

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