Nestled in the Hill Country region of central Texas, Fredericksburg’s townscape remains decorated with reminders from the German settlers of the mid-1800s who developed the area. In a state famous for everything being bigger, one may be pleasantly surprised to discover small family homes, aptly called Sunday Houses, that offer a glimpse of what it was like for churchgoing German immigrants of the day.
Following the Texas Revolution, land agents from the state traveled to Germany to entice farmers to move with their families to fill the vast acreage, hoping to develop a prosperous economy. Upon arrival, families received 10-acre parcels of land to farm, along with a lot located in town to build a house.
Unfortunately, the farmland given to German settlers was located too far out of the center of town — some 20 miles — to make the daily journey out to the farms. So settlers established their main residences out on the land they tended to during the week. But the lack of churches posed an issue for devout families. As such, each weekend farmers and their loved ones would make the journey from the isolated farmland into town to attend Sunday church service. The journey would be too tedious to travel to and from the city in a single day, so traveling families faced an issue they needed to resolve.
The solution to their predicament was to build small dwellings on the lots given to them when they immigrated to the area. After the work week, families would come to town, stay in the small houses and attend church. After service on Sunday, families and friends would gather in the houses to have a traditional dinner then return back to the farmland for the work week. The small dwellings became known, appropriately, as Sunday Houses.
The custom of building and maintaining Sunday Houses survived until the 1920s, when roadways became improved, making travel to the city from the countryside much easier for families. Some houses have since been demolished or expanded upon; but a number of them still remain and have been restored to their original state. Many houses are still lived in by family members of the original settlers.
With their quintessential front porches and simple design, the Sunday Houses remain a major draw for visitors to Fredericksburg. Many Sunday houses are located in the historic district, within walking distance from downtown. The majority of the houses are now Bed & Breakfast establishments that one can rent for a small getaway.
A one-and-one-half hour drive west of Austin, Fredericksburg showcases the deeply rooted German heritage of the Hill Country region. Ingenuity and devotion to faith brought Sunday Houses into existence, while pride and dedication keep many of the original structures alive today for people from all around to visit and enjoy.