Immigrants to Texas from central Europe in the 19th century built simple wooden churches in their new communities, then decorated them in exuberant designs of painted flowers, angels, vines, and clever trompe l’oeil effects. These beautiful painted churches are a glorious part of the artistic and ethnographic history of Texas. This past Saturday we took a group of Houstonians on a grand tour of 4 of these churches as our spring heritage tour, Visions of Glory. Special thank you to the tour co-sponosors, Christ Church Cathedral and Friends of Archaeology Houston.
Our tour started in Houston at Christ Church Cathedral (a co-sponsor) where had coffee and breakfasts snacks before boarding our bus.
First stop was United Methodist Church in San Felipe, Texas. We added this church because the second floor (added in 1847) has some Masonic emblems painted on walls and ceiling. A new Masonic Lodge was instituted by the Grand Lodge of Texas in San Felipe on June 14, 1860, making it one of the oldest Masonic Lodges in the state. The group originally met on the second floor above the church before moving to new quarters in Sealy in 1933.
The second floor entrance is accessible by outside entrance, however, due to the condition of the second floor and severe instability issues, access is completely restricted.
Second stop was Sts. Cyril and Methods Catholic Church in Dubina, Texas. Dubina is the oldest Czech town in Texas. It was founded in 1856 by 18 families from Moravia. The first church on this site was built in 1876 then destroyed by a 1909 hurricane. The second structure survived a fire in 1912 that ended up destroying much of the town. The church members restored the interior back to its original paint at time of construction prior to 1912.
Lunch stop was at Sengelmann Hall in Schulenburg. The historic original dance hall was built by the brothers, Charles and Gustav Sengelmann in 1894 and became the cultural hub of this thriving railroad town. It was originally a saloon and a dining hall with a dance floor upstairs. After WWII it closed and became an auto parts store then closed for good in the 1970s. In 2007, it was purchased by a couple who oversaw the complete restoration of the building and it reopened in June 2009.
Built in 1906 and painted in 1912, St. Mary’s Blessed Virgin Catholic Church in High Hill Texas is the most sophisticated and elaborate of the painted churches. High Hill was the largest, most important town in Fayette County, until it refused the railroad. The train was rerouted to Schulenburg and thus High Hill eventually became a ghost town. St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammansville, Texas is the third church on this site rebuilt in 1919. The first church was destroyed by the 1909 hurricane, then the second building was destroyed by fire 8 years later. As like many Texas towns that refused the railroad, Ammansville is no exception. By 1935, the schools were closed and the town died.
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