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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Vereins Kirche: The Symbol of Fredericksburg

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Fredericksburg took it hard when workers demolished the original Vereins Kirche in 1897 and almost immediately made plans to build a new one, exactly like the old one, out of the traffic flow, not 200 feet from where the original Vereins Kirche stood in the middle of Main Street.

The present has always mingled with the past in Fredericksburg. The town faced the 20th century with some apprehension. Progress meant change. Wires hummed with electricity. Cars rapidly replaced horse-drawn wagons. Roadsters sped through town right over the spot where the old Vereins Kirche once stood.

Citizens talked frequently about building a replica of the famous coffee mill house, but the cost, reportedly in the $5,000 range, was too high for serious consideration. Then the Great Depression hit making the rebuilding project even more unlikely.

Ironically it was our country's response to the worst financial crisis in history that made the replica of the Vereins Kirche financially possible.

President Franklin Roosevelt took office in March 1933, and almost immediately his New Deal program made money available to cash-strapped local governments in the form of grants and low interest loans. The purpose of the money was to give jobs to the unemployed and to pump dollars into local economies.

Gillespie County seized the opportunity and requested help from the federal government to build a replica of the Vereins Kirche. The plan called for the city and county to supply materials and the Civil Works Administration (CWA) in Washington to pay the labor costs.

The state CWA agreed to help with the project provided there was a local organization to sponsor it. For that purpose citizens of Gillespie County met in January 1934 to organize the Gillespie County Historical Society. The Historical Society and the Vereins Kirche have been closely linked ever since.

Over 100 enthusiastic citizens gathered at the courthouse on December 10, 1933 to view plans for the new Vereins Kirche drawn by Lee Kiehne, a recent graduate of the University of Texas School of Architecture. Estimated cost was $6,200. The New Deal would donate the cost of the labor. The balance, about $1,700, would have to be raised locally. Even that amount would be a struggle during those hard times.

In hindsight what seemed a fortune during the Great Depression turned out to be the deal of a lifetime. The Vereins Kirche generated more publicity than anyone could have imagined.

Plans called for a ceremony to lay 2 cornerstones for the building: a new one of red granite and the original1847 cornerstone, provided it could be located. Someone found it in a barnyard - a watering trough for chickens.

On January 6, 1934 city officials laid the 2 cornerstones. A copper box placed in the new cornerstone contained a history of the Vereins Kirche, the latest copies of the Fredericksburg Standard and Fredericksburg Radio-Post, the Concordia Singing Club Jubilee Booklet, a program of the 46th Saengerfest, some Chamber of Commerce literature, a photo of the city commission, a photo of John Meusebach and some coins.

Work on the building continued throughout 1934. Citizens from all over the county brought in interesting and unusual rock specimens for the flagstone floor which is itself a work of art. Workers completed the building in time for the 1935 Founder's Day celebration.

Frederickburg TX - Vereins Kirche
"Vereins Kirche" in Fredricksburg
Click on image to enlarge

Feb. 2019 photo © Michael Barr

In no time at all a bond developed between Fredericksburg and the little coffee mill house in the middle of Marketplatz. Beginning in 1938 Fredericksburg used the building as a library until the McDermott Building replaced it. Children who grew up in Fredericksburg in the 1950s and 60s have fond memories of summers spent playing baseball, swimming at the city pool and sitting with Mrs. Phillips for story time at the Vereins Kirche.

To the descendants of the German settlers, the building is a connection to their ancestors. To the rest of the world the Vereins Kirche symbolizes Fredericksburg. It is the backdrop for festivals and the most photographed place in town. Its simple design and unique shape make it one of the most recognizable small town symbols in the country.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" August 1, 2020 Column

Sources:
"Vereins Kirche - Fredericksburg's Most Famous Landmark," Fredericksburg Standard, June 30, 1976.


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