who has walked Fredericksburg's
historic district has noticed a number of homes and commercial buildings
constructed of an unusual building material that looks like cut
stone but is really a prefabricated concrete block known as Basse
Basse block - "Alamo Cement Laid by Basse Brothers"
Photo © Michael
Barr , September 2019
In the first
half of the 20th century local builders used Basse block in some
of the finer buildings in the Hill
Country. Basse block was a less expensive substitute for hewn
limestone used in many upscale homes, businesses and public buildings
at the time.
Brothers Hugo and Henry Basse made Basse block at their cement yard
at 304 North Adams Street in Fredericksburg.
The brothers started their cement, lime and steel business in 1912.
In 1919 the brothers built a fortress-like warehouse. They wanted
it to last, so they built it of Basse block.
Basse Warehouse in Fredericksburg
Photo © Michael
Barr , September 2019
Each Basse block
was individually molded using a mixture of Portland cement, sand
and water, dry mixed and poured into a cast iron mold with 4 collapsible
hinged sides. Each block was about 2 feet wide and 1 foot deep.
A 3-man crew could manufacture 25 to 30 blocks a day.
There was an assembly line that extended from the Basse Brothers
warehouse down the hill to Town Creek. There was a mixing area and
a molding area. After the mix was set in the mold, 2 men using a
2 by 6 would carry the block to the curing area.
The concrete dried quickly. Workers kept the blocks moist for 7
to 10 days to keep them from cracking.
Basse block was tough and durable when fully cured. It required
On the down side each block weighed 120 lbs. and was a hernia waiting
Because the blocks were so heavy and difficult to transport, the
Basse Brothers often made blocks for out of town jobs on the job
on the other side of town, Ed Roos made his own version of a prefabricated
cement block, often mistaken for Basse block. The Roos Cement Yard
was located near the depot at 203 South Lincoln Street, where Rode's
Welding Shop is today. Advertisements in the Fredericksburg Standard
indicate that Roos Cement Yard was in business as early as 1921.
It's easy to distinguish between Roos block and Basse block. Roos
block has a raised mark resembling a "7" or an "L" depending on
which way the block was laid.
Roos block, like Basse block, was popular beyond Gillespie
County. In February 1922 Ed Roos hauled his concrete block molds
to Brady to make
blocks on site for the new Brady school house.
There are examples of concrete block construction in Kerr
County. The old Fawcett Furniture Building at 820 Water Street
and the Rose House, a German-style farmhouse on the Junction Highway,
are made of prefabricated cement blocks apparently molded by a company
architectural styles change like the sky in early morning, and by
1940 Basse block had gone out of fashion. Bricks became the choice
of trendy home builders. Bricks, mass produced by machines, were
cheaper, easier to transport and more user friendly than heavy Basse
When demand dropped the cement yards in Fredericksburg stopped making
concrete blocks and focused on other concrete products.
Hugo Basse took over the cement yard when brother Henry died in
1936. Hugo died at the cement yard on February 2, 1959 while shoveling
gravel to make concrete. The company went out of business shortly
after Hugo's death.
Ed Roos retired in 1954. His son Marvin ran the cement yard until
1964 when he closed the business for health reasons. Marvin had
eczema that flared up every time he worked with cement.
The blocks made by The Basse Brothers and Ed Roos have withstood
a century of Texas weather. They have repelled the rain and stood
firm against the wind.
Concrete blocks, like cockroaches, can survive just about anything.
The blocks themselves are not beautiful, but they have a remarkable
utilitarian quality. They represent the amazing ingenuity of a people
isolated from the rest of the world in the early 20th century.
October 1, 2019 Column
"Rose House Restoration Planned" Kerrville
Daily Times, March 22, 2000.
Cement Plant Owner Succumbs," San
Antonio Express, February 3, 1959.
"Roos Cement Yard Closes Shop After 40 Years Of Business," Harper
Herald, January 10, 1864.