Round Top, Texas, has long been known as a shoppers haven for antiquers and DIY up-scalers. What if antiquing is not on your “gotta do list?” Never fear because Round Top has a lot more going on than just shopping for antiques.
Although Round Top is small, it is big with historical landmarks that helped forge the area into what it is today. Initially called Townsend, after the Townsend family who migrated from Florida in 1826. The Townsends established a Presbyterian church and a Masonic lodge. John R. Jones, Jr. settled in Townsend in the mid-1800s and became the first postmaster of the small city. Jones built a house with an octagonal tower which later became the post office. Because of the odd-shaped tower, Townsend earned the nickname “Round Top” which stuck, and the rest is history.
Located approximately 2 hours from San Antonio and 1.5 hours from Houston, Round Top has some particularly interesting places to visit.
1. See One Of The Oldest Shooting Societies And Dance Halls In Texas
The Round Top Schützen Verein (shooting society) was formed by the German inhabitants of Round Top in 1873 and is one of the oldest shooting societies and dance halls (1882) in Texas. The Schützen Verein aspired to create the “protective society” that is common in small communities of Germany that would support and encourage innocent outdoor sports such as target and trap shooting, open-air athletics, dancing, and “others of a like character.” In 1921 Round Top Schützen Verein changed its name to Round Top Rifle Association.
The original property layout contained a bowling alley, carousel, saloon, ice cream stand, horse parking (where they would tie the horses), and outhouses. Today, after many modernizations changes, the Rifle Hall, built in 1881, is the site of many community events, such as shooting contests, community parties, and most famously, the Round Top Fourth of July celebration.
2. Explore German And Czech Victorian-Era Architecture
The historical complex of Texas history known as Winedale Historical Center hosts 10 19th-century buildings that display period furnishings, architecture, and textile arts. The buildings and historical artifacts were collected and restored by Houston philanthropist, Miss Ima Hogg, and then later bestowed to the University of Texas — Austin.
In the 1920s, Miss Hogg began collecting and preserving Americana historical memorabilia, focusing on German and Czech Texas settlers of the 19th century. Created to bring awareness and a better understanding of Texas history, this preserved historic village combines amazing architecture and one-of-a-kind furnishings from talented Czech and German cabinet makers before the time of prefab modernization. Two of the buildings display exquisite original folk-life paintings that have withstood time and elements since the mid-1800s. Tours of the homes are by appointment only, but well worth the time.
3. Visit The Texas Quilt Museum
Quilts have long been known to tell stories with their blocks, stitches, and colors. So, it is quite appropriate that the Texas Quilt Museum, located just outside of Round Top, is housed in two historic 1890s buildings that offer a fitting backdrop of high ceilings, multi-toned brick walls, and original hand-hewn hardwood floors highlighting contemporary and antique quilted art.
After 2 years of careful remodeling by a skilled architect renowned for repurposing historical buildings, the museum opened its doors in November 2011. The museum not only houses magnificent examples from artisans throughout Texas but also from around the world. The detail and work that goes into each quilt astonished me. I am not sure if I am ready to step up from making my hot pads to full quilts yet, maybe I will start with quilted placemats first. It was inspiring. Check the website for current exhibits and hours.
4. Tour The Texas Cotton Gin Museum
On the outskirts of Round Top is Burton, a small rural German town with a population of 359 (as of the 2000 census). Burton is home to a restored vintage 16-ton 1925 Bessemer Type IV engine, the only internal combustion engine of its type still operating in America. This one-of-a-kind engine can be viewed at the Texas Cotton Gin Museum in Burton.
The Burton Farmers Gin, just down the road from the museum, is a historical icon. Unlike many historic buildings, this cotton gin still remains on the same site it was built on in 1914. For those of you who don’t know, a cotton gin is not a mixed cocktail drink. “Cotton gin” is an abbreviation for “cotton engine,” a mechanical device that quickly and easily separated the cotton fibers from the seeds.
Each April, Burton hosts a Cotton Gin Festival with parades, events, live music, and tours of the museum. The ol’ Lady B engine is even fired up and a few bales of cotton are rolled out. Tours are available throughout the year as well. Check out its website for current times and fees. Tour fees help to maintain the vintage engine.
5. Eat At Royers Round Top Cafe
Royers Round Top Cafe has been a mainstay in Round Top for over 30 years. It is, most definitely, one of the cornerstones of the culinary scene in Round Top. Cozy, quaint, and personable are words that I would use to describe this cafe that serves incredible comfort food with a contemporary flair. It has amazing lunch and dinner meals, like its overstuffed street-style shrimp tacos or the absolutely to die for steak special with portobello mushrooms and a rosemary red wine sauce.
Itxs gourmet country comfort food is not the only reason to put Royers on your must-do Round Top list. It’s its pies. Their made-from-scratch slices-of-heaven pies. It has so many pies to choose from, it offers a Pie Sampler Plate with four different slices and Texas-made Blue Bell Ice Cream. For those that are unfamiliar with Blue Bell Ice Cream, it is made in Texas and only distributed as far as the trucks can drive without it melting.
6. Track Down Historical Markers For The History Lovers
Round Top was originally settled in the mid-1820s by English settlers and then in the 1840s by German settlers. That is nearly 200 years of history in and around the Round Top area. Here is a list of some of the more notable markers to check out.
7. See Schiege House And Cigar Factory
Due to tariffs being levied on imported cigars, tobacco became an important crop in the mid-1800s. Son of Prussian immigrants, Charles Schiege, Jr. began manufacturing cigars by hand in his one-room, roadside factory in 1882. Using mostly domestic tobacco, Schiege Jr. marketed his cigars under the labels Texas Star, La Rosa Suprema, and Great Sport. In 1932, Schiege Jr. celebrated his 50th birthday by creating a special label “Boss” and then retired, closing the factory.
8. Appreciate The Schueddemagen Home
The Schueddemagen home was built by Carl Siegismunde Bauer in 1852 for his daughter and son-in-law. Bauer was a master stonemason from Germany and built the home in Teutonic (Germanic) style creating a replica of the family home in Wiesa located in the Kingdom of Saxony. The Schueddemagen home is a beautiful example of the artistry of German stonework.
9. Visit Konrad Joh Log Cabin
Built in the mid-1800s, this tiny hand-hewn (meaning the builders used axes to flatten the logs by hand rather than use machinery) cabin built from live oak logs and chinked with straw, mud, and sand was the home of Konrad and Elisa Joh for many years. In 1875, the Johs used oxen to move the cabin 300 feet to a higher elevation from its original location. Looking at the cabin, it is obvious to see the skill it took to make the logs flat and uniform to construct a home.
10. Witness Wandke House
Built by Prussian immigrant Johann Traugott Wandke around 1863, the Wandke house is located in the center of Round Top on the corner of 2nd Street and White Street and is a beautiful display of native stonework. Even though Wandke was a highly skilled cabinet maker, he was known for the exquisitely handcrafted organs he made from native cedar. Three of his seven organs still exist today, one is located in Round Top’s Bethlehem Lutheran Church which is still used in services today.
To Sum It Up
Round Top is a small rural charismatic town that is big on culture and charm. Experience its history. Have a slice of pie. Expect the unexpected as you explore everything that this historic town has to offer, that is not shopping for antiques.
Here are some other Texas small towns to put on your list to explore: