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December 9, 2013

Best of the Lone Star State

VALDOSTA — Texas is special.

If you don’t believe it, just ask one of its residents, especially someone born and raised there. The Lone Star State offers a rich history, Gulf beaches, rugged mountains, historic forts, great Tex-Mex food, straight roads, and some of the most unusual individuals you will run across. It’s no wonder television producers chose Texas as the state in which to showcase a group of eccentric characters centered on an unscrupulous oil tycoon.

The state is also large. Really large! The borders stretch forever in all directions as a drive from Beaumont to El Paso proves ever so well. Following that seemingly endless trip, try Amarillo to Brownsville and get an even better feel for the distances involved in traveling through this state.

Over the years we have explored much of the Lone Star State including a number of visits to one of our very favorite places, Big Bend National Park. Another interesting and scenic area in the western part of the state encompasses the Davis Mountains north of the town of Alpine. Nearby the mysterious Marfa lights sometimes hover over the night sky. Padre Island National Seashore on the Gulf Coast near Corpus Christi is another great place to visit.

 

The Hill Country

While Texas is home to all these wonderful places, our favorite part of the state is its famed Hill Country that former U.S. President Lyndon Johnson loved so much. This region in east-central Texas comprises approximately 15,000 square miles and covers most of 19 counties. San Antonio and Austin, two of the state’s larger cities, sit on the region’s extremities, but small towns such as Kerrville, Johnson City, Dripping Springs, Comfort, and Blanco are its soul.

One of these smaller towns, Fredericksburg, is considered by many as the heart of the Hill Country. It is also our favorite Texas town. Fredericksburg is home to an outstanding military museum, a downtown historic district that includes a collection of 19th century structures, and a series of quaint shops bordering Main Street. Fredericksburg reeks of Texas, the real Texas. Gillespie County, where Fredericksburg is located, is peach country, wine country, and cattle country. 

 

Fredericksburg’s German Heritage

The Hill Country of Texas was settled in the mid-1800s by German immigrants who wished to escape the political and economic turmoil of their home country. Promised transportation and land by a German society that eventually went bankrupt, the settlers faced a number of hardships including disease and conflicts with the Comanche.

Soon after the 1845 establishment of the first settlement in New Braunfels, the group’s leader commenced a search for a second site, resulting in the founding of Fredericksburg the following year. Named for Prince Frederick of Prussia, the town’s population increased to 966 within a year during which 15 retail establishments opened. That same year saw the group’s leader successfully negotiate a treaty with the Comanche.

With Fredericksburg’s German settlers came their food, music, social groups, and, of course, their beer. Particularly interesting are Sunday houses that German farmers and ranchers living in the outlying areas built in town for a place to stay on the weekends when they would attend church, shop, and visit friends. Many of these German traits have been kept alive by the settlers’ descendants who continue living in the Hill Country of Texas.

 

Fredericksburg Today

For a relatively small town of 12,000 residents, Fredericksburg offers a surprising variety of activities and interesting places for visitors to explore. The town can boast of over 150 locally owned shops, galleries, antique stores, and restaurants. Order some unique western footwear at L.M. Easterling Custom Boots and walk a short distance to enjoy hand-dipped chocolates. Want a glass of local wine or beer and a basket of breaded onion rings? How about a Rueben sandwich followed by a dish of home-made ice cream? No problem except choosing among the local wines or brews and about 40 varieties of ice cream.

The town’s major attraction is the National Museum of the Pacific War that honors persons who served in the Pacific during WWII, especially native son Admiral Chester Nimitz who was appointed Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet. The museum complex includes the George H.W. Bush Gallery that utilizes photos, exhibits,multimedia presentations, and interactive displays to transport visitors through the entirety of the Pacific conflict from Pearl Harbor to the signing of the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri. The Admiral Nimitz Museum, located in the historic Nimitz Hotel where Robert E. Lee was once a guest, tells the story of the Fredericksburg native. The museum complex also includes a Japanese peace garden, a Plaza of Presidents that pays tribute to the 10 American presidents who participated in WWII, and a combat zone where living history demonstrations and reenactments are presented on selected weekends.

The Pioneer Museum complex on Main Street includes 11 historic buildings on 3.5 acres. Structures include a school house, Sunday house, bathhouse, smokehouse, log cabin, barn, and several homes representative of Fredericksburg from the mid-1800s to the 1920s. Several hundred thousand artifacts date back to when Fredericksburg was founded. Themed tours including one offering German food are offered periodically.

In the middle of downtown on Market Square is the community’s best-known structure, the Vereins Kirche. This impressive building was constructed in 1935 to replace a similar 1847 structure the settlers utilized as a church, school, fort, storehouse, and meeting hall. The building now houses historical exhibits relative to Fredericksburg and Gillespie County. It includes a small store where books, postcards, and souvenirs are sold.

 

Festivals and Wineries

Fredericksburg is home to more than 200 festivals and special events each year. Art Walk showcases regional and international art on the first Friday of each month, while

a Theater Company offers presentations throughout the year. The April Wildflower Celebration and Oktoberfest held at the beginning of October are two popular festivals. During Christmas season Main Street buildings are covered with tiny white lights and an outdoor ice skating rink is made available.

One of nine local wineries typically hosts a monthly event such as Pumpkin Chunkin’ at Becker Vineyard this past November. The annual Texas Hill Country Wineries “Wine Lovers Trail” takes place each February and the Hill Country Wine and Music Festival is presented in April. Most of the wineries offer daily wine tasting and tours.     

 

Nearby Attractions

Sixteen miles east of Fredericksburg, Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park and adjacent Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site preserve and interpret the ranch home and other properties associated with our 36th president. A visit to the ranch will make it clear why, following his presidency, LBJ and his wife chose to return to the Hill Country. Plan at least half a day to explore these interesting sites.

Eighteen miles north of Fredericksburg on RR 985, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area protects some of the most beautiful terrain in Texas. Highlighted by a massive pink-colored granite dome, visitors can hike the area’s eight miles of trails including a climb to the dome summit that offers outstanding views of the Hill Country.

Country music fans generally find it difficult to pass up a drive to Luckenbach. Made famous by the Waylon Jennings song “Back to the Basics of Love,” this outpost of music, beer, and dancing is a little more than 10 miles from Fredericksburg. Visitors are likely to discover live music in the bar at nearly any time of day. On weekends, a live band plays in the dance hall, the perfect place to show off your custom cowboy boots.

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