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Texas’ Painted Churches

Day tripping to Schulenburg

Annie
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Painted Churches

LEGACIES OF IMMIGRANTS The beautiful 19th-century "Painted Churches" (including St. Mary’s Church of the Assumption in Flatonia, pictured), date to the 19th century and are toured daily by visitors from all over. (Photo: Christina Pereyda)

If there’s something Texans are good at, it’s rebuilding their communities after a storm. That’s been happening long before the wrath of Harvey.

In July 1909, in the first Czech settlement of Texas, called Dubina, a big storm made landfall, destroying buildings in the community. Included in the destruction was a church built by settlers in 1877. The community raised over $5,500 to build a new church.

That church and around 20 more, built in the 19th century, are still standing today near Schulenburg in Fayette County, between Houston and Austin off Highway 290. From the outside, they look like plain wooden churches, but they are filled with spectacular and unexpected painted interiors. They are called the “Painted Churches.” Bright colors, inscriptions, symbols and stories are splashed across the ceilings, walls, pillars and pews, depicting the heritage of these early Texas settlers. Thousands of travelers visit them each year.

Among them, recently, was Buzz resident Joan Ounanian, who organized a guided tour of the churches for around 25 of her friends.

The native New Orleanian recruited friends through email, and then organized a bus and driver, for $48 each. “I called the Chamber of Commerce in Schulenburg. They were super nice and they got a tour guide for us. They also recommended places for lunch,” said Joan.

She made a lunch reservation at Ina’s Kitchen in Schulenburg and had menus printed up ahead of time. She passed them out on the bus so everyone could order.

Joan said she is in awe that the churches have endured the tough Texas climate and storms since the 1800s. “When you walk in these churches, they are just beautiful, old wooden churches. What strikes you is the fact that they have survived. The other thing that struck all of us was what a hard time these settlers had getting there and setting up a community.”

The conditions of the area were unforgiving at the time the settlers were establishing their towns. Many made the grueling journey to Texas, often in freezing rain, in wagons pulled by oxen. To see the beauty they left behind with these churches is inspiring. Joan and her friends gazed at the vibrant paint and gilded gold details of vines, oak leaves and angels. Inscriptions are in German and Czech.

Joan had estimated the group would arrive back in Houston around 3 p.m. after the day trip. They didn’t get home until closer to 7. “I didn’t have one person complain,” said Joan. “Really it was just a girls’ day out. We could have gone to see grass grow. We were laughing all day.”

Kitty Rohde, a mother whose hobbies include cookie baking, cycling and running, also enjoys traveling. She took the tour with her parents, Bob and Dorothy Silco, two years ago.

They turned it into a long weekend, spanning three days. They stayed at a friend’s house in nearby Smithville. In addition to the Painted Churches tour, they ate at The Garden Co. Marketplace Cafe and tested beer at the Spoetzl Brewery, where Shiner Bock beer is made.

Kitty said they reserved a private tour guide through the Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce, as opposed to venturing out with a map on a self-guided tour, which many opt to do (anyone can purchase a $5 map at the Chamber as a tool). “The cost [of a private tour guide] is a little bit more but well worth it,” said Kitty. “I drove my own car and picked up our tour guide in Schulenburg. It was great to have him in our car, and we could hear him perfectly and ask as many questions as we wanted.”

They visited Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina, Nativity of Mary Blessed Virgin Catholic Church in Schulenburg, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Schulenburg, and St. Mary's Church of the Assumption in Flatonia, picking up nuggets of information from their tour guide along the way.

“The men [settlers] sat in the front pews,” said Kitty. “The women [sat] in the ones behind, and they had a hat clip at the pew for the men to put their hats on when at church.” 

She and Joan say that if you’re driving from Houston to the Hill Country, carve out some time to check out these Texas gems.

To set up a tour or for more information, contact the Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce at 979-743-4514 or schulenburgchamber.org.

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