Fredericksburg was founded on May 8, 1846 by German immigrants under the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas. John O. Meusebach chose the location for the second of the Society’s colonies four miles north of the Pedernales River between two creeks. He named the settlement Friedrichsburg (later changed to Fredericksburg) to honor Prince Frederick of Prussia. Settlers received lots in town with an additional 10 acre lot outside of town. The colonists planted corn, built storehouses to protect their provisions and trade goods, and prepared for the arrival of more immigrants, who came throughout the summer. By 1850, census records stated that the town had 754 residents, and Gillespie County had 1,235 residents.
On March 1, 1847, Meusebach met with several tribes of Comanche Indians unarmed to negotiate a treaty between the Tribes and the town of Fredericksburg. Meusebach asked that the townsfolk be allowed to farm the land along the Llano in return for the Comanche being allowed in town at any time. He furthered the offer by promising that in times of hunger, the town would provide the Tribes with grain in return for game, honey, and bear fat. The Peace Treaty was made and the peace piped smoked.
The first few years of the town saw great growth. Within two years of establishing the town, the first road from Fredericksburg to Austin was laid out. J.L Ransleben opened the first privately owned store, and the Nimitz family opened their hotel, which quickly became the most famous hotel in Central Texas. The nearby Mormon settlement of Zodiac became an important resource for learning to live and farm in the new area.
Fort Martin Scott was established by the US government in 1848 to provide protection from the Native Americans, as well as opportunities for work. The UC Census of 1850 states that the Fort housed 100 men, four officer’s wives, and seven children. The Fort closed in 1853 without any record of negative encounters with Native Americans.
Religion was an integral component of life for the German settlers of Gillespie County. Residents attended services at the Vereins-Kirche, which served as the local church, school, and meeting hall. Devout farmers drove as much as twenty miles into town for religious services and built Fredericksburg's characteristic Sunday houses for use on weekends and religious holidays. The first public school and the first official Catholic school in Fredericksburg were established in 1856. The first newspaper in the county was the German-language Fredericksburg Wochenblatt, established in 1877.
As the town grew in its German population, its insular community opened to outside visitors and companies. The first Gillespie County Fair was held in 1881 at Fort Martin Scott and moved to Fredericksburg in 1889. The town got its first electric-light company in 1896 and its first ice factory in 1907. The Northern Railway came to Fredericksburg on November 17, 1913. The railroad was reorganized as the Fredericksburg and Northern in 1917 and remained in operation until July 1942. The 1930 United States census, the first in which Fredericksburg was included, gave the town's population as 2,416. The population steadily grew, and by 1980 was 6,412. The 2013 census lists the population at 10,829.
Fredericksburg became, and still is, the principal manufacturing center of Gillespie County. Over the years, the city has been home to numerous a metal and iron works, a furniture factory, a cement plant, a poultry dressing plant, granite and limestone quarries, a mattress factory, a peanut-oil plant, a sewing factory, and a tannery.
In the 1850’s, Fredericksburg had already become a popular layover city for those traveling further west. The modern tourism industry began in the early nineteen hundreds and is a thriving industry today. The Gillespie County Historical Society preserves and promotes the history of the town through its museum, community events, and community outreach. The Nimitz hotel is now the National Museum of the Pacific War and draws over 150,000 visitors annually. The town has many annual events, many of which reflect Fredericksburg’s history, that draw locals, Texans, and visitors from around the world. The Gillespie County Fair is held in Fredericksburg on the third weekend in August. The fairgrounds are also the site of racing meets in the summer and a hunter-jumper horse show in June. In October, the annual Oktoberfest and Food and Wine Festivals draw locals and visitors alike for fun and fellowship.
Edwards, Walter F. (1969). The Story of Fredericksburg [Booklet]. Fredericksburg, TX: Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce.
Estill, Julia. (n.d.) Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country [Booklet]. Fredericksburg, TX: Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce.
Kohout, Martin D. “Fredericksburg, TX.” The Handbook of Texas. Texas State Historical Association, accessed July 21, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hff03.
Rese, Beate. Texas: Goal of German Emigration in the 19th Century. San Marcos: Smartworks, Inc., 1996.