Today I went with a group of women (and some husbands) of my DAR chapter on a tour of a few historic dance halls in Fayette County and a couple of painted churches. It was led by Deb Fleming, President of Texas Dance Hall Preservation [https://texasdancehall.org/about-us/]. The weather was cloudy all day but the forecasted possible showers didn’t materialize. We had a very nice chartered Road Runner bus, which picked us up at the Barton Creek Square Mall parking lot.
The bus was scheduled to leave at 9:30 sharp but, just as we had finished boarding and were about to leave, a mall security officer told us that we would have to move our cars, despite the fact that we had an oral agreement to park in an area near Abuelo’s Mexican Restaurant. He said that he could not honor the agreement because it was not in writing. Aarrgghh!! We couldn’t even park together but had to move our cars to random areas of the parking lot. The late departure time caused us to have to make up for the lost time by cutting short some of our visits.
Finally, we were on our way about twenty minutes later than planned. Our first stop was in Plum, a tiny village of about 95 people, at the Saints Peter and Paul Church KJT dance hall. ("KJT" stands for "Katolická Jednotá Texaská” which means Catholic Union of Texas in the Czech language.) Maxine Holu, a church elder and hall historian, gave us a tour. The community of Plum began in 1869 but most of its population growth was due to the immigration in 1890 of Czech families from the area of Hovězí, Moravia. Due to the increase of Czech immigration, Catholicism quickly became the predominant religion in Plum.
ROUTE FROM AUSTIN: TX 71 E to Plum => Left on Plum Church Road
Our second stop was at Sengelmann Hall in Schulenburg. First, we had lunch at Momma’s by Chef Garrett Pettit, who manages/leases Sengelmann Hall. Because of a sausage festival being held in front of Sengelmann Hall, we were allowed to enter the restaurant from the rear. The bus stopped in the alley to let us out and then the driver moved the bus to another place. We were welcomed by the band members. Music was provided by the four-piece Pettit Brothers band; Garrett’s brother plays upright bass in the band. We had placed our orders last month so they could have our meal ready for us upon our arrival. The food and music were good. After lunch we had a little time to see the second-floor dance hall, which occupied the entire floor and was quite nice, and to visit the sausage festival. There was live music and a large number of booths where food, tee shirts, etc., were for sale.
ROUTE FROM PLUM: TX 71 E => FM 609 S => FM 2436 => US 77 S => right on LP 222 => left on Lyons Avenue
Third on our itinerary was Dubina Hall and Saints Cyril and Methodius Church (one of the famous painted churches). Dubina, founded in 1856, is considered the first Czech settlement in Texas; its name means "oak grove" – so named because the original settlers had met under a large live oak tree -- the only shelter they had at that time.
This was an especially delightful visit because Fayette County Judge Ed Janecka (pronounced Ya-NECH-ka) talked to us about the local history. He was very entertaining. He has had a “checkered” career. After growing up on the family farm, he became a drama major at Sam Houston State, an actor, an Army man in Vietnam, a stand-up comedian in Las Vegas, a salesman, a farmer and, finally, county judge. He has decided not to run for re-election after having served for over 25 years. He wants to spend more time working with the church.
In 1952, parishioners painted over the brilliant colors and illustrations that covered the walls and ceiling. A few years later, then an altar boy, he noticed that when the sun streamed through the windows at a certain angle, he could see beneath the whitewashed walls what seemed to be colors and designs. He came back to Dubina in the late 1970s and suggested to his fellow parishioners that they restore the original art. The church members did the job themselves. For about six months they set up scaffolding after Sunday mass and carefully removed the two coats of white paint. They restored the robin's-egg blue ceiling, the beautiful stenciling, the hand-painted frescoes of angels and vines and, some years later, the gold stars set against the blue sky.
ROUTE FROM SCHULENBURG: US 77 N => I-10 E => US 90 E => left on FM 1383 => left on Piano Bridge Road
Next on the itinerary was Saint John the Baptist Church in Ammansville, where we had a quick look inside the church. The interior is painted a rosy pink. The present Saint John's is the third church to be built on the property. The first church was destroyed by a hurricane in 1909. The second church burned to the ground eight years later. Parishioners were able to save some of the statues, but the rest of the building was lost to the fire, which was so hot that even the church bells melted. They built the present structure on the concrete footprint of the second church. This church, completed in 1919, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
ROUTE FROM DUBINA: FM 1383 N
The last two halls on our itinerary were Swiss Alp Hall and Round Up Pavilion Hall but we did not get off the bus. Swiss Alp Hall was a commercial hall, not church-related. It is closed and is for sale. From there we drove to the Fayette County Fair Grounds to see the Round Up Pavilion Hall.
ROUTE FROM AMMANSVILLE: FM 1383 N => US 77 S => right on Swiss Alp Hall Road => US 77 N => left on Fayette County Fair Grounds Road
Finally, we were on our way back to Austin via US 77 N and TX 71 W. We are already talking about another day trip!