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Looking back at:

A Pine Forest in
the Hill Country

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

If you've ever wondered about the quiet stand of lanky pine trees behind Fischer and Wieser's Das Peach Haus and Dietz Distillery on US Highway 87 South, you're not alone. It's another strange and wonderful oddity that makes the Texas Hill Country such a fascinating place.

J. B. Wieser planted those trees. Born in Germany in 1888, he grew up on the edge of the Black Forest. At age 26, tired of having to report for the Kaiser's military maneuvers, he immigrated to America.

Fredericksburg TX - Pine tees on on US Highway 87 South
Pine trees behind Fischer and Wieser's Das Peach Haus and Dietz Distillery on US Highway 87 South
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, October 2022

He wasn't a typical immigrant. He was an educated man. He was proud and dignified. He stepped off the boat in Galveston wearing a frock coat and a silk top hat, determined to make his mark in the world.

He went to work at a flour mill in Hamilton County owned by a relative, but he had bigger plans. He quickly mastered English, studied law and received his law degree, one month before the U.S. entered WWI.

After passing the bar he hung his shingle in Hamilton, Texas, but anti-German feelings there were quite strong when WWI began. So he moved to a friendlier atmosphere in Fredericksburg and settled into the life of a lawyer, businessman, county judge and unconventional farmer.

In 1928 J. B. Wieser planted a peach orchard on the family farm south of Fredericksburg. He is one of Gillespie County's peach pioneers. Later he planted apple trees, pear trees and thousands of pine trees.

Fruit trees made sense, but why plant a field of useless pine trees? I wondered if he was motivated by memories of his home near the Black Forest.

"I doubt it," his son Mark Wieser told me. "He never spoke of the Black Forest. He just liked trees."

Fredericksburg TX - Fischer and Wieser's Das Peach Haus and Dietz Distillery
Fischer and Wieser's Das Peach Haus and Dietz Distillery among pine trees
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, October 2022

"He bought pine trees from Texas A&M. The school offered bundles of pine trees for $5 in the late 40s. I was told he planted 4,000 pine trees out on Goehmann Lane, but they all died."

Then in 1948 J. B. Wieser planted 2,000 pine trees in a sandy field on a rise above the farmhouse 2 miles south of Fredericksburg. Most of them died. The trees that lived are the ones we see today.

"He hired a Mr. Fritz to plant them," Mark explained. "Mr. Fritz used a sharpshooter and simply thrust it into the ground (all sand), shoved it forward a bit and slipped a seedling behind the shovel. He planted the whole field that way."

"A lot of the trees died for lack of water and even more died in the years that followed. Those in the deeper sands left by the dust storms did best. My dad died in 1960, but by then there was the beginning of quite a forest."

"So many seedlings sprouted that we gave away thousands to those who asked. Other people came to gather pine cones for Christmas decorations."

Fredericksburg TX - Pine forest and lake in the Hill Country
A pine forest by the lake in the Hill Country
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, October 2022

J. B. Wieser's motivation for planting a pine forest in the Hill Country was something of a mystery even to his family. "My mother often wondered why he planted them in that field since it cut off the prevailing southern winds that drove our windmill," Mark Wieser added. "It was our only source of water until submersible pumps came along."

The pine trees are beautiful but vulnerable. "Today we have no seedlings," Mark explained, "and the big trees are in stress. The drought is taking its toll. I counted 5 trees behind Dietz Distillery that will need to be cut down. To conserve water in droughts pine trees loose needles. We are in a drought now. Some trees may not make it."

Whether by design or by accident, that stand of trees has become one of the more alluring spots in the Hill Country - a great place to stroll along the lake (yes there really is a small lake back there) or park your keister in a chair and watch the clouds float by. I hope it survives.

Just imagine what we would have missed if J. B. Wieser hadn't planted those useless pine trees.

I think he knew what he was doing all along.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" November 15, 2022 Column

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