Another gem we stumbled upon without a lot of effort. We were headed to Round Top,
Texas to see
the "Junk Gypsies'" new store. As we were scanning the map we noticed
La Grange and decided to take a detour. Best moved we have made in a long time.
I grew up in a small town in Alabama with a county courthouse as the center of the town. I thought that was the normal thing. I have noticed during my travels that these towns start showing wear as time passes and the economy suffers. But, I was excited to see have vibrant La Grange was.
La Grange is a city in Fayette County, Texas, near the Colorado River. It is located about halfway between Houston and Austin on Highway 71. The 2010 census estimated the city had a population of 4,923. La Grange is the county seat of Fayette County.
La Grange was the site of an early crossing of the Colorado River along La Bahía Road during the Mexican period. The earliest residents (evidence dates them back to 1527) were Tonkawa and Comanche Indians who pursued the great herds of buffalo.
The earliest white settlers in the area were Aylett C. Buckner and Peter Powell, who lived slightly to the west. The first settlement on the city's present location was by Stephen F. Austin's band of colonists in 1822. Colonel John Henry Moore built a blockhouse in 1828 as protection from the Comanche. It is known today as Moore's Fort. (The fort is currently found in nearby Round Top, having been moved there for restoration.)
When the Congress of the Republic of Texas established Fayette County the same year, La Grange became its seat of government. Fayette County is named after the Marquis de Lafayette, a Revolutionary War hero. The City of La Grange takes its name from his chateau to which he retired.
La Grange-area citizens were instrumental in the fight for Texas independence. In 1838, the Texas Congress passed a bill intended to place the capital of the Republic of Texas on a site contiguous with La Grange; however, it was vetoed by Sam Houston, first president of the Republic of Texas.
The La Grange Post Office was established in 1838. During the 1840s and 1850s German and Czechs immigrants began arriving in Fayette County and set down roots as they settled on farms and set up businesses in town. Their influence resulted in first a county vote against succession. However, economics influenced many citizens to support the Confederacy and the town organized a number of militia companies. Though La Grange was untouched by Civil War fighting, during Reconstruction the town was torn by conflict and disorder. La Grange was occupied by federal troops in 1866 and an agency of the Freedmen's Bureau was established.
La Grange is the site from which the party in the Black Bean Episode left, after gathering around a historic oak tree that is a local landmark. Located on the northeast corner of the square, this ancient oak has been a witness to history. Military recruits from six conflicts, beginning with the struggle for Texas independence from Mexico have mustered at this historic oak tree. It stands as a memorial to the many soldiers who gathered under its branches to go off to war. This tree is recognized in Famous Trees of Texas.
On September 18, 1848, the remains of Texans killed in the 1842 Dawson Massacre and the Black Bean Death Lottery (Black Bean Episode), which had been retrieved from their original burial sites, were reinterred in a common tomb with a sandstone vault at the location now known as Monument Hill. Over 1,000 people came for the ceremony, including Sam Houston.
On January 17, 1849, Heinrich Ludwig Kreische, a recent German immigrant, purchased 172 acres of land which included the tomb. He built a three-story house and, in 1860, began building a brewery. By 1879, it was the third-largest brewing operation in Texas, with its flagship product being "Kreische's Bluff Beer." Kreische maintained the tomb for the rest of his life, but the tomb and Kreische Brewery began to deteriorate after his death in 1882. The brewery closed in 1884.
The Kreische family asked the city to remove the tomb from their property, as it was frequently vandalized. On April 15, 1905, a new law passed by the Texas Legislature authorized acquisition, by purchase or condemnation, of the 0.36 acres of land occupied by the tomb. The state acquired the land by condemnation on June 24, 1907. In 1933, the State Highway Commission fenced the 0.36 acres and agreed to maintain it as a state park. In the same year, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas purchased a new granite vault for the tomb. For the 1936 Texas Centennial, the Texas Centennial Commission erected a 48-foot shellstone monument with an art deco mural to prominently mark the mass grave.
In 1949 authority for the site was transferred to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. In 1956, the citizens of Fayette County purchased 3.54 acres around Monument Hill and deeded the land to the state for parkland. Another 36 acres, including the Kreische Brewery and the Kreische Home, were added in 1977. The complete site, called Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites, opened to the public in 1983, after archaeological studies were completed.
Probably the best known chapter in recent La Grange history is the legend of the Chicken Ranch, a brothel made famous by a stage play, movie and the lyrics of a popular song. While the house of ill repute thrived for decades in the Fayette County countryside, it was officially closed in 1973. The ladies who worked there moved on and the plain white, one-story home was eventually hauled to Dallas. All that's left today is the legend.
In 1974, a little league team from La Grange won the Texas state championship.
The Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center is located at 250 Fair Grounds Road in La Grange. The center constructed a new archives building, aided by a seed donation in 2007 by the estate of Adolph R. Hanslik of Lubbock. Hanslik was known as the "dean of West Texas cotton producers" and was a native of Hallettsville in Lavaca County.
The Fayette County Courthouse, completed in 1891, is a three-story building and a prime example of the Romanesque Revival style of architecture. Beautiful structure!