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Gillespie County TX
Gillespie County

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Fredericksburg Hotels


Gillespie County, Hill Country

30°18'04"N 99°14'36"W (30.301009, -99.243326)

Hwy 290 and FM 783
23 miles W of Fredericksburg the county seat
103 miles W of Austin
85 miles NW of San Antonio via I-10
Population: 1,192 (2010) 1,006 (2000) 383 (1990)

Book Hotel Here › Fredericksburg Hotels

Harper TX Bird's Eye View
Bird's Eye View of Harper ca.1912
Click on image to enlarge

Photo courtesy Dan Whatley Collection

History in a Pecan Shell

This is the site of the McDonald Massacre of 1864. A historic marker is just south of 290 and just west of the park tells the story. This incident involved the Kiowas who kidnapped five family members and killed two. Not a massacre by Hollywood standards, but it was certainly distressing to the McDonald family. The family was reunited after the Kiowas exchanged them near the Oklahoma border.

Harper TX - Site of The McDonald Massacre Historical Marker
McDonald Massacre Historical Marker
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, February 2020

Historical Marker:
from US 290 take RR 783 S approx. 1 mile

McDonald Massacre, Site of

Pioneer preacher Matthew Taylor and the families of his daughter and two sons moved here in 1863 from their homestead on the Llano River. They built a cabin on this site near the source of the Pedernales River. In August 1864, Matthew and his son Jim returned to the Llano for a load of hay, leaving in charge Eli McDonald, husband of Matthew's daughter Caroline.

On August 8, 1864, at a nearby spring, Jim Taylor's wife Gill was surprised by a band of Kiowas and wounded by an arrow. Before she died, she warned the others, who took refuge in the cabin. After a brief fight, the Indians killed Eli McDonald. They captured his wife Caroline and daughters Mahala and Becky Jane; and Alice, James, and Dorcas, children of Matthew's son Zed. Matthew's wife "Aunt Hannah" escaped and hid in a cave in what is now Harper Community Park.

Matthew and Jim Taylor discovered the tragedy the next day and sought help from Eli McDonald's nephew Monroe. The two victims of the massacre were buried near Spring Creek, twelve miles east of Harper. "Aunt Hannah" was found and reunited with her husband. the captives wandered as far north as Oklahoma with the Kiowa tribe before they were located and ransomed by the U.S. Government.
Harper city park with cabin
Harper Community Park
160 Harper Pioneer Park Drive

TE photo

Harper, Texas
Landmarks & Attractions

St. James Lutheran Church in Harper, Texas
St. James Lutheran Church in Harper
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, April 2004

Harper TX -  St. James Lutheran Church Historical Marker
St. James Lutheran Church Historical Marker
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, February 2020

Historical Marker: NE corner of US 290 and 4th St.

St. James Lutheran Church

In 1908, the first Lutheran missionary to the area, Rev. C. Stadler, came to Harper. In April 1910, he confirmed the first class of Lutheran young people. When there was no missionary assigned to the area, Lutheran pastors from neighboring congregations came to serve. The worship services were held at the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian church buildings or homes and the Harper Hotel when none of these were available.

The first Lutheran congregation officially organized on Mar. 9, 1913, led by Rev. B. Schliefer. Mrs. Sophie Klein donated half of her lot on Main Street, at the corner of what is now 4th Street, for the building of a church. The name St. James was decided on at a meeting on Jan. 11, 1914. The church was built in the shape of a cross and its steeple was in the form of traditional German churches. At the time, it was Harper's largest church building. The dedication service was on Jul. 26, 1914. Until 1918, the German language was used exclusively in the church. Over time, additional land has been purchased, annexes built, and remodeling done. In 1943, the constitution was revised and the church became affiliated with the American Lutheran Church. The congregation later adopted a new constitution, which eventually became a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

The church has been a leading part of the community. It has organized a Women's Society, Young People's Group, Vacation Bible School and Sunday School. It has also hosted a revival-type event called Brush Arbor Days and raised funds for the community help center. The church has hosted many celebrations from baptisms, confirmations, weddings and burials, to the ordination of pastors, holding of reunions and school functions.

175 Years of Texas Independence * 1836-2011

Historical Marker: IS Hwy. 280 and FM 783

Harper Presbyterian Church

Organized in 1881 as the Barnett Spring Presbyterian Church, this congregation originally met in a schoolhouse. The fellowship moved to Harper in 1901 and erected this frame church on land donated by Arch Austin. Sale of property given by R. W. Crosley helped finance the construction. In 1903 a bell was purchased for the belfry. This structure housed the Harper School in 1906 and again in the 1940s. It also served as a worship site for other denominations.
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1976

Historical Marker: intersection of FM 783 (Doss Rd.) and US 290

First Baptist Church of Harper

Organized in 1887 with nine members, the First Baptist Church congregation initially met in the local school building and a brush arbor. A wooden sanctuary and parsonage were built in 1897. The congregation has been involved in community activities and mission work for many years. Harper High school held classes in the church building in 1921 and 1941-42. A native stone structure was erected in 1944, consisting of a sanctuary and Sunday School rooms. A fellowship hall annex was added in 1971. This church has been part of Harper history for over one hundred years.

Historical Marker: 163 N 3rd St.

St. Anthony Catholic Parish

The community of Harper, named after George Franklin Harper, grew in the 1880s when pioneers from surrounding settlements moved to the area. Prior to the establishment of a Catholic church, families drove horses and wagons twenty-five miles to the Catholic church in Fredericksburg. Because of this exigency, the Catholic Diocese of San Antonio assigned Father Frederick Fassbender to say mass here in 1908. The first mass in Harper was held at the home of Jacob Fielder on St. Patrick’s day in 1908.

Father Fassbender, the trustees, and parishioners sacrificed time and money to build the St. Anthony Catholic Church, dedicated on August 10, 1909. The generosity of the church members and the community contributed to many of the integral pieces of the church, including the altar, bell, cross, crucifix, statues, and a tapestry dated 1887.

St. Anthony Catholic Parish added to their campus over the years with a cemetery in 1911, a rectory in 1920 and 1970, a parish hall in 1933 and 2007, and a new church in 1958. The parish hall has operated for many years as a location for social activities such as weddings, games, bazaars, parties, and events for the community. Many of St. Anthony’s parishioners proudly served their country in the armed forces, including World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and Desert Storm. The parishioners also contributed to their community through the church choir, vacation bible school, or with youth activities, events, or community projects for the people of Harper and Gillespie County. For more than a century, St. Anthony’s Catholic Parish served, and continues to serve, the church, community, state, and nation.

 Harper Texas - First Methodist Church
First Methodist Church
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, April 2004

Historical Marker: 2312 W. Hwy 290

Harper Independent School District

In 1884, Frank Harper, J.A. Rogers, E.C. Hopf, and W.P. Bowers met to organize a school for the growing Harper community. Mary and J. A. Rogers, Jr. sold two and a half acres to school trustees, and in 1885 a one-room frame school was built with donated labor and materials.

In 1906, voters established the Harper Independent School District and a new limestone school building was completed. By 1908, Harper began absorbing other local schools, with the first being Pocket School District No. 34, and continued to be the leader in education in the area. Between 1908 and 1912, trustees continually faced monetary shortfalls and the school year was shortened several times due to lack of funds. However, through creative management, determination and community donations, Harper schools always reopened to serve the community.

Mary D. Rogers sold additional acreage for school expansion in 1930. Several schools consolidated with Harper in 1940, and additions to the school, completed by 1942, were built through the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). In 1943 five acres purchased from Ed Kensing allowed expanded student activities. The school introduced a number of new activities in the 1940s, including six man football played on cleared pasture land or in the rodeo arena of the community park.

At several times throughout its history, the school district was asked to join the Kerrville or Fredericksburg districts, but all requests were denied. Harper Independent School District was once one of dozens of rural schools in Gillespie County. Today, it is now one of three remaining school districts in Gillespie County, serving also portions of adjoining Kerr, Kimble and Mason Counties.


"Bones" An East Texan in The Hill Country
home made ice cream sign
Signs Too
TE photo

Harper, Texas Chronicles
  • Healthy Harper by Michael Barr

    Located on the high divide in far western Gillespie County, Harper, Texas is out there on the edge; connected to the German Hill Country in some ways and separated from it in others.

    Harper is famous for its healthy climate. more

  • The Magic of Radio by Michael Barr

    "On September 20, 1922 a newspaper called the Fredericksburg Radio-Post hit newsstands for the first time.

    That same month, in a garage in Harper, Gordon Harper built what may have been the first wireless receiver in Gillespie County.

    People came considerable distances just to see Harper's contraption and watch the tubes light up. They stood as still as tombstones, heads tilted toward the receiver, until music from a thousand miles away broke through the static.

    The science was too much to comprehend, but the wonder of the moment was unforgettable." more

  • Take a Road Trip

    Texas Hill Country

    Harper, Texas Area Towns:
    Fredericksburg the county seat
    Austin | Johnson City | Comfort | Kerrville

    See Gillespie County

    Book Hotel Here:
    Fredericksburg Hotels | More Hotels
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