This morning I was up a lot earlier than usual because I had to meet our tour bus by 8:30. Since I’m still getting used to different departure times and routes from Lone Star to various destinations, I thought I’d better allow extra time. I made it with plenty of time. We were on our way by nine o’clock. My seat mate was Dianne Taylor. We had a good visit.
La Grange is billed as the “Cradle of Czech Immigration to Texas” because there was such a large influx of immigrants to that area in the mid-1800s from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire (including Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Slovakia). Their ethnic influence is still evident, especially at the many annual Czech festivals and cultural events around Texas.
Our first stop in La Grange was at the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center for their annual Heritage Fest & Muziky. The main building has a contemporary glass entrance that represents the beacon of light that attracted the early settlers to Texas. It includes a library, exhibits hall, multi-purpose room with kitchen, a conference room and a gift shop. On the grounds were a number of booths with foods, jewelry, clothing, household items and other things for sale. There were several vintage cars and tractors on display. We saw demonstrations of wood cutting and corn grinding and listened to some Czech polka music. Some of the other activities would have been interesting but we were there for only a short time.
The Zapalač Sawmill was built in 1895. Donna Zapalač Mueller donated it to the TCHCC. Restoration was completed in 2015 and it is now maintained by the South Texas Wheel Spinners & Crank Twisters Antique Farm Equipment Club. (Phew! What a name!) The tractor that operated by belt is huge.
One thing that particularly interested me was the Wallachian Bell and Belfry. In 1995, the Czech Republic participated in the annual Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. Materials were transported from Roznov, Czech Republic to erect the belfry at the festival site. The bell was cast in Halenkov, Czech Republic especially for this occasion by Josef Tkadlec. The strong friendship between Victor Peter of Houston, a trustee of the Czech Heritage Society of Texas (CHS), and Dr. Jaroslav Stika, Director of the Wallachian Open Air Museum in Roznov pod Radhostem, led to the Czech Republic's decision to give the bell and belfry to the heritage society. The CHS then donated the belfry to TCHCC, and the belfry was placed on the grounds in 2003. In 2014, the bell was removed from the tower, cleaned and placed in a showcase in the TCHCC Melnar Library for viewing. A replica bell was then hung in the tower.
I also enjoyed the Hoelscher Haus, which was open for the festival. It was built in 1880 by Anton and Elizabeth Bruese Hoelscher and was donated by descendants and moved to the TCHCC to serve as the Polka Lovers’ Club of Texas Museum. There were some old polka musical instruments on display, as well as many awards received by club members.
We had lunch at the historic Holman Valley Steakhouse, which is housed in the original early 1900s Holman General Merchandise building with a dance hall in the back. The food was very good. They were short-handed because one of their members had lost her husband two nights before. After lunch we took a few minutes to view the dancehall, which is being restored. It is in very bad condition, so this restoration project will be a long one. Our DAR chapter contributed $500 to the project.
Our next stop was at the Monument Hill State Historic Site, situated on a high sandstone bluff above the Colorado River overlooking La Grange. The remains of 17 men who died in the struggle for Texas independence are entombed here. They had been part of over 300 soldiers who had marched south to Ciudad Mier and attacked it. Mexican forces captured 250 of them but 181 escaped. Harsh desert conditions forced 176 of them to surrender. Santa Anna ordered their execution but diplomatic efforts from the United States and Great Britain led to the Mexican government’s compromise – the Black Bean Death Lottery. The captives drew beans from a pot containing 159 white beans and 17 black beans. Those who drew black beans were executed and the others were sent to Perote Prison.
From Monument Hill we went to the Texas Quilt Museum for the new Texas-Made Quilt Show. It is housed in a 19th-century building and an adjacent building, which gives them over 10,000 square feet in three galleries. The exhibits change every three months. “Quilts…History in the Making” is a 13x85-foot mural on the outside features 15 colorful quilts. Grandmother’s Flower Garden, adjacent to the museum, is a period town garden typical of the area between 1892 and 1930. The quilts are amazing works of art; they look almost like oil paintings. Sadly, they don’t allow photographs except in the permanent exhibit room with quilts by Susan Shie.
After our visit to the quilt museum we had time to walk around the square at our own pace. Then we gathered at the veterans’ memorial on the court house square to wait for the tour bus.
On the way home, we submitted our Scavenger Hunt papers to our “teacher” to be graded. If we got all ten answers right, we were given rewards. I got all of mine right and received a little ceramic piece with our eagle symbol and the year 1776 on it. The objects we had to find were of buildings or other things related to La Grange.
We arrived back in Austin around 6:00 o’clock.