March, 2012. Fredericksburg, Texas – Sunday Houses

Posted on March 3, 2012

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As full-time winter travelers, finding something “new” is our hobby.

We’re always looking for something different, something unusual, something interesting.

And, as history is one of our interests, we are always in “detective mode” as we drive around. We look at things from one side and then the other, try to figure out the “why”, and then (usually) discover a little gem of a fact or explanation or bit of information as the answer.

We’ve certainly had that experience in Fredericksburg. While driving up and down the back streets of town during our first days here, we noticed quite a few really tiny houses, some of which had outside staircases leading up to a very small space under the eaves. They were all occupied, and all had obvious add-ons, often an L-shaped addition to the rear of the original structure.

A laptop trip to the very readable Texas Handbook on Line, a Texas Historical Society website, plus a look at the local welcome center’s introductory film soon explained everything.

These buildings were originally Sunday Houses, small town houses built by the early German settlers who lived on farms far out in the sprawling countryside.

As it was impossible to make a quick run to the store whenever you felt like it, spending the weekend in town gave families time to shop and visit on Saturday, and attend church the following day.  Depending on the distance involved, the trip back to the farm was made either Sunday evening or Monday morning.

As these visits were undertaken on a regular basis, and usually involved the entire family, it made sense to have a place to stay of their own, as opposed to staying in the local hotel.

Interior of Sunday House on Fredericksburg Pioneer Village grounds

The typical Sunday House consisted of one room with a half-story above, reached by an outside staircase or ladder providing sleeping room for children. A small barn at the back of the lot for sheltering the horse and buggy or wagon, an outhouse and sometimes a lean-to kitchen completed the part-time homestead.

Sunday Houses came in handy for other purposes, too.  They were a place for older students to stay during the week while attending high school in town, or in cases of illness when the patient needed to be close to a doctor.

Some of the larger ones also made nice retirement homes once a farmer and his wife turned their rural property over to their children.

Sunday House on Fredericksburg Pioneer Village grounds.

According to the Texas Handbook, Sunday Houses were almost exclusively unique to German families living in the Hill Country. They were most popular from about 1880 until the 1920’s, when better roads and automobiles made long distance travel easier.

These houses were an interesting counterpart to what we ran across in Louisiana, where just the opposite arrangement was common. Small cottages were built on rural plantations as a spot for the owner to stay occasionally while checking on plantation activities.  His large, well-appointed family home was located in town, close to shopping, church and school.

Kinda the same thing, only different.

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Posted in: Travel - Texas