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The Winedale Story - The Germans

German colonization in Texas began before Texas independence, with the efforts of Friedrich Ernst in nearby Industry and the later work of the German Emigration Company based at Nassau Farm, next to present-day Winedale. After 1836, hundreds of German families bought farmland in the Fayette County area and established Lutheran churches, educational institutions, and social clubs. During the Civil War, many Germans in this region opposed slavery, secession, and Confederate military service. With the end of the war and of the slave plantations, many more immigrant farmers and artisans poured into the area. Their presence began to alter the cultural landscape. Two key figures in the history of the Wagner farmstead at Winedale were German immigrants Rudolph Melchior and Joseph George Wagner.
 
 
Detelf Dunt, Reise nach Texas (1834).
Texas Collection Library

Reise nach Texas and Ernst Letter

Fredrich Ernst letter to associate in Houston, 1838.
Henry F. Fisher Papers

  Friedrich Ernst was an Austin Colony pioneer and one of the first German immigrants to Texas. He sent letters with glowing descriptions of land and opportunity in Texas back to his native Oldenburg (Lower Saxony). His writings sparked widespread interest in immigration to Texas among farmers and artisans who saw their future limited in Germany, as well as among ambitious German noblemen who sought to promote colonization projects. Reise nach Texas ("Journey to Texas"), published in Bremen in 1834, included Ernst’s commentary on the land and climate. He wrote in similar terms to a colleague in Houston in 1838.

"[The soil] is so rich it never needs manure … The weather hinders the field work only a couple of days in a whole month; it is always fair skies and sunshine. One sees bees and butterflies the whole year through; birds sing in the bushes, which always remain green, in part; and the cattle seek their fodder for themselves in winter as in summer.…"
— Friedrich Ernst

 

Logo of Verin and Portrait of Prince Carlo of Solms-Braunfels, ca. 1840s Portrait of Prince Carlo of Solms-Braunfels, ca. 1840s Logo of Verin, ca. 1840s Logo of Verin, from Glen Lich, The German Texans (1981).
Texas Collection Library

Portrait of Prince Carlo of Solms-Braunfels, ca. 1840s.
Adina de Zavala Paper

In the 1840s, German noblemen formed the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas (Verein zum Schutz deutscher Einwanderer in Texas). Also known as the Adelsverein, the Society had both philanthropic and commercial aims. Its initial base was its showplace 4,000-acre Nassau Plantation just south of Winedale. The Society’s commissioner-general, Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, dashed about the countryside near Round Top with his fellow nobles and hosted lavish parties and horse races. The Society eventually promoted German colonies farther to the west to avoid Anglo-American influences. By the time it went bankrupt in 1848, the Society had brought in more than 7,000 settlers and firmly established Texas as a destination for succeeding generations of German immigrants.

 
Kneip House, Round Top.
Historic American Buildings Survey Photographs
  By 1860, German settlers in the Round Top vicinity owned 129 farms, and Round Top was becoming a largely German community. German immigrants introduced new cultural elements into the area’s predominantly Anglo and African American society. They brought their own language, food, architecture, music and art, and the Lutheran Church. The Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Round Top (f. 1866) houses a hand-carved cedar pipe organ built by Johann Traugott Wandke. The half-timbered Kneip home, now known as the Schueddemagen House, nearby typifies the Texas-German town house of the 1800s.
         
Kneip House   Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Round Top.
Historic Buildings Survey Photographs

View of Round Top, ca. 1860s, possibly by Rudolph Melchior.
Winedale Photograph Collection

  Bethlehem Lutheran Churcn and 1860s View of Round Top
         
         
Portraits of Joseph and Maria Wagner, ca. 1880s

Portraits of Joseph and Maria Wagner, ca. 1880s.
Courtesy of David Dettmer

  Joseph George Wagner, a cobbler from Breslau (Silesia), immigrated to Fayette County in 1853 and settled in Round Top in 1854. Just before the Civil War he had saved enough money to buy land on the Nassau Farm. During the Civil War, Wagner made shoes for the Confederate army. By 1882, ready to add to his holdings, he purchased the fine old house that William Townsend had begun and Samuel Lewis had completed. Wagner’s purchase of Lewis’s house reflected a general pattern in the region after the Civil War: the transformation of large Anglo plantations into smaller, but prosperous, German farms. The elder Wagner lived in the house until his death in 1899, and his descendants lived there until the early 1960s.   Joseph Wagner Family on porch of their home, ca. 1890s.
Winedlae Photograph Collection

Joseph Wagner Family on porch of their home, ca. 1890s

         

Tage BuchTage Buch (Day Book) of Rudolph Melchior, 1853.
Courtesy of Lynwood and Kay Krause

Rudolph Melchior (d. 1868) was one of the many skilled craftsmen and artists who came to the Round Top-Winedale area in the 1850s. He later resided in the community of intellectuals at Latium in nearby Washington County. Melchior applied his decorative artistry to the many fine homes in the region, including the residence at Winedale now known as the Wagner House. In the upstairs parlor of the home, Melchior’s ceiling art depicts the four seasons, with a central wreath of morning glories framing a green parrot, a favorite German motif. The source for his decorative ideas can be seen in Melchior’s Tage Buch, or "Day Book," of sketches made on his journey to Texas in 1853.

         
Wagner House decorative art by Ruldolph Melchior - fruit   Wagner House decorative art by Ruldolph Melchior, ca. 1850s, photograph by Rick Williams.
Winedale Photograph Collection
  Portrait of Rudolph Melchior, ca. 1850s
    Portrait of Rudolph Melchior, ca. 1850s, in R. Henderson Shuffler, Winedale Inn, at Early Texas' Cultural Crossroad (1965).
Texas Collection Library
 
Wagner House decorative art by Ruldolph Melchior - Parrot   Lewis- House decorative art by Ruldolph Melchior, ca. 1850s, photograph by Rick Williams.
Winedale Photograph Collection
 
         

 

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