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Texas | Columns

"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Celebrating
the Vereins Kirche

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

While Fredericksburg, Texas is well known for its celebrations and festivals, the town has yet to top the wingding held on the day workers laid the cornerstone for the original Vereins Kirche.

After spending their first year on Baron's Creek getting settled, the Germans of Fredericksburg began constructing a public building in the spring of 1847. They called it Vereins Kirche, an indication of its dual purpose as a social hall and a church. Its design and central location were reminiscent of distinctive municipal buildings that often stood in public squares back in Germany.

Vereins Kirche or society's church
Replica of "Vereins Kirche" in Fredricksburg
Photo courtesy of Sandy Fiedler

That spring was a busy time in Fredericksburg. John Meusebach had just negotiated the famous peace treaty with the Native Americans. For the formal signing the Comanche Chiefs appeared in Fredericksburg on March 9, 1847. Apparently by coincidence that was also the day of the laying of the cornerstone of the Vereins Kirche.

A 1976 article in the Fredericksburg Standard described the scene from historical documents. The Comanches, "led by their chiefs, Ketemoczy and Santana, and some of their tribe arrived in the village. They were arrayed in beaded buckskin attire and feathered headdresses. The Indians brought with them tanned hides, bear fat and deer skins filled with wild honey."

Not long after the Comanches arrived, the festivities surrounding the laying of the Vereins Kirche cornerstone began with a procession down Main Street. "First came the minister, the teacher and officers of the Adelsverein, followed by Vereins soldiers on horseback and the small Vereins cannon drawn by 4 horses, with the citizens bringing up the end of the procession."

"After much oration and ceremony the cornerstone was laid in the opening left in the wall." Soldiers fired the cannon. Then the fun began.

The Comanches performed ceremonial dances in the street. Then everyone "drifted toward a dancing green that had been prepared under the tees."

"Near it was a platform for the newly organized orchestra and all around it were benches for the ladies. Just as the White settlers wondered in amazement at the Indian dances, so the Indians stood by in wonderment as the Germans swirled through their schottisches, waltzes and gallops."

When completed later that year the original Vereins Kirche sat in the middle of Main Street between the old courthouse and Marketplatz. The town meetings and other activities within its walls soon became the heartbeat of community life. Children went to school there. Churches worshipped there. Couples walked for miles to be married there. The grand wedding processions marched up San Saba Street (now Main Street) followed by family and friends in the European custom.

The building had 2 doors. The men's door faced southeast, and the women's door faced northwest. In the fashion of the day seating was segregated. Men sat on the right side of the aisle; women on the left.

The walls of the original Vereins Kiche were made of wood, but after a few years workers replaced the weatherboarding on the walls with limestone rock. At the same time workers closed in the 2 doors and built a single door facing the courthouse.

The inside of the original structure was open to the belfry, but workers added a ceiling after bats got in and dive-bombed members of the congregation disrupting evening worship.

When a bolt of lightning knocked the weathercock off the top of the building in 1862, officials replaced it with a cross.

Then over time the different churches in town built churches of their own. Town meetings moved elsewhere. By the mid-1890s the old Vereins Kirche had fallen into a state of disrepair.

When Fredericksburg celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 1896 workers removed the limestone blocks from the walls of the Vereins Kirche to build a pavilion. Within the year the village tore down skeleton of the old building so that Main Street, now the main thoroughfare between San Antonio and Mason could run straight through town.

The destruction of the Vereins Kirche left an ache in the heart of Fredericksburg. The community grieved until workers built a new one in time for Founder's Day 1935.

What a party that was.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" July 15, 2020 Column

Sources:
"Vereins Kirche - Fredericksburg's Most Famous Landmark," Fredericksburg Standard, June 30, 1976.



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