H i s t o r y
Sacred Roots Vestiges of their homeland endure in immigrants’ churches across south central Texas by Anat Geva, Ph.D.
The study of the mid-nineteenth-century European immigration in south central Texas shows that the massive waves of different ethnic groups (including Czechs, Germans, Wends, Swedes, Poles, and French) arrived in Texas directly from Europe.1 They landed in Galveston and then spread into the rural areas of south central Texas.2 They brought with them a deep sense of religion and cultural heritage, and were quick to organize congregations and build their houses and churches in their new location, establishing cohesive communities.3 They built their houses as an imitation of the local Anglo “model,” which accommodated the buildings to the new environmental conditions. However, it seems that their churches did not succumb to the local modification forces, even under harsh climatic conditions such as the hot summers of Texas. They were built as “… architecturally reminiscent of their homelands.”4 Thus, churches represent the type of building in which society is ready to sacrifice comfort in order to maintain the original culture and heritage, and serve as a symbol of faith and form.5 This article examines six rural community churches constructed during the last four decades of that century by craftspeople within the immigrant community, and which have been methodically maintained by their congregations. The description of each church is a summary gleaned from research into multiple records (e.g., drawings, pictures, documents, notes, references, and field trips).
Bethlehem Lutheran Church (1866-67) in Round Top, Fayette County, was built by German immigrants who came from Saxony under the leadership of Pastor J. Adam Neuthrand. The church “shows strong German architectural tendencies and present an unusual old world appearance.”6 The building is a singlestory room (34’-8” x 96’-0”) constructed with stuccoed thick ledge sandstone with a gable roof and a belfry with a pyramidal roof. Its massive stone buttresses were added in 1881-1882.
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Bethlehem Lutheran Church Image Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey, HABS TEX,75-ROUNT,2-5
W esle y Brethren Church (1866 ) in Wesley, Austin County, was built by Czech immigrants under the leadership of Reverend Josef Opcensky. The church is thought as the “Mother Church” of the Brethren in Texas. It is simple in form and plain in detail, reflecting the rural values and straightforward ethic of the Czech immigrants who arrived from the regions of Bohemia and Moravia. Built of wood, the church is a one-story room (38’-11” x 22’-4”) supported by one center oak beam with a gable ridged roof covered with wooden shingles. In 1889-1890, Preacher Bohuslav Amil Laciak painted the interior with decorative architectural symbols. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as among the “painted churches of Texas.”
Wesley Brethren Church
Bethlehem Lutheran Church
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