Czexans, or Czech Texans, settled Texas as early as the 1820s. Josef Lidumil Lesikar helped colonize the state, bringing two groups of about 160 Czechs to Texas in 1851 and 1853 through the port of Galveston. Known as the Father of Czech Immigration to Texas, Reverend Josef Arosy Bergman settled in Texas then wrote letters to Moravian families encouraging them to travel and make their home in Texas. Over 12,800 Texans still speak the Czech language today, characterized by the Moravian dialects, since most Texas immigrants came from Moravia, rather than Bohemian dialects spoken by other Czech-Americans. Today, Texas hosts the largest Czech American population in the U.S. with 155,855.
Czech heritage is still evident today with the infamous Painted Churches, cemeteries with Czech inscriptions, Czech newspapers, heritage museums, polka festivals, and foods like kolaches, sausage, sauerkraut, and more. The 85th Texas Legislature in 2017 designated September 30 as Czech Heritage Day. Here’s my pick of the top Czech towns in Texas in no particular order.
About 70 miles south of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex on Interstate 35, West, The Czech Heritage Capital of Texas, is a must-stop for kolaches at the Czech Stop when headed to Austin or San Antonio. I love ham and cheese kolaches, sausage, and many types of fruit kolaches like raspberry, strawberry, apricot, blueberry, and cream cheese. It’s hard to pass up the pecan rolls, cinnamon rolls, brownies, turnovers, lemon bars, or the vast selection of cookies. Take home a homemade pie like pecan, pumpkin, apple, peach, or chocolate. You’ll find a large selection of yeast bread, focaccia bread, sourdough bread, and dinner rolls. I can’t leave without a half dozen kolaches, jalapeno cheese bread, and the green peanut brittle flavored with jalapeno.
Since 1976, Westfest, held annually over Labor Day Weekend, celebrates the rich Czech heritage featuring family-oriented activities, entertainment, and authentic Czech food and music. Westfest and its local volunteers have raised over $986,000 for the community, including youth athletic facilities, senior citizens activities, a community center, library, and other cultural and civic programs.
Enjoy traditional cuisine like cabbage rolls, sausage, kraut, or dumplings at Picha’s Czech-American Restaurant, a rustic, down-to-earth diner in the West.
Slovacek’s West is a meat market and deli serving sandwiches, wraps, breakfast burritos, sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits. The Kissing Pig Café serves barbecue, smoked turkey, ham, pulled pork, or brisket sandwiches, sausage on a stick, and daily soups with sides of potato salad, coleslaw, or sauerkraut.
2. La Grange
The Original 300 Austin Colonists settled La Grange in 1837; German immigrants came in the 1840s. Czech and Moravian immigrants settled in Fayette County in the 1850s. La Grange is home to the Texas Czech Heritage & Cultural Center. Czech settlers established the first SPJST (Slovanska Podporujici Jednota Statu Texas) lodge in 1896 at the La Grange Courthouse.
Interesting fact: In 2021, over 40,000 members in 104 SPJST lodges across Texas help people care for their families and extend family values to the communities.
Today, La Grange is home to festivals, museums, concerts, antiques, air shows, feasts, and the annual county fair. Visit the 14th yearly Schmeckfest 2021, a wassail tasting, and a Christmas extravaganza on Thursday, December 2. This family-friendly event hosts kids’ activities, wassail tasting, band performances, a Santa visit, and more holiday fun.
See the grand Romanesque Revival influenced Fayette County Courthouse on the square. Can you find the gargoyles? Learn the story about the Texas Chicken Ranch when you read the book and see the Dolly Parton production, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The song “La Grange” by Texas’ ZZ Top is famous in the town. Enjoy movie nights on the courthouse lawn during the summer, and don’t miss the farmer’s market every Saturday featuring local fare.
Discover live entertainment, holiday refreshments, visits with Santa, living history programs, and family activities at the Trail of Lights at the Kreische Brewery & Monument Hill Historic Sites on weekends in December.
Pro Tip: Rosemary’s Vineyard is Fayette County’s first little winery, family-owned and operated.
Located 65 miles north of Austin on Interstate 35, Temple is home to the Czech Heritage Museum and Genealogy Center and SPJST Lodge Number 24, hosting the library, archives, and museum dedicated to preserving the Czech culture.
See the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in the historic Santa Fe Depot. Dress the kids in their Christmas pajamas and enjoy a magical evening with Santa at the depot. Marvel at the dazzling lights on the plaza and enjoy Christmas music while you sip hot chocolate.
Pro Tip: 3 West Alehouse & Grill in Temple offers wings and gourmet burgers with craft beer and cocktails.
Home to the National Polka Festival every Memorial Day Weekend in May, Ennis hosts the polka parade with street dancing, colorful costumes, delicious Czech food, desserts, and over 13 traditional Polka bands. Ennis is home to many Czech-owned businesses selling Czech merchandise and features Kolache Christmas every December. The Ennis Market and Sausage Factory sells traditional Czech meats. The Ennis SOKOL organization started in 1909, with the Sokol Activity Center housing the Ennis and Southern District Sokol Museum providing fitness and community for families.
Visit Ennis each spring for the “Official Bluebonnet City and Trail of Texas.” April is busy with the Ennis Garden Club detailing the best wildflower viewing areas.
Pro Tip: Sugar Ridge Winery in Ennis offers over 20 wines and a bistro menu for great pairings.
A popular stop along the drive from Houston to San Antonio, Schulenburg is best known for the Czech World-Famous Painted Churches, the infamous jewels of the Fayette County area in the communities of Praha, Ammannsville, Dubina, and High Hill. Call to book a tour and get more information.
The Schulenburg Sausagefest celebrated each spring features a sausage cookoff and live polka music highlighting the area’s rich Czech and German heritage. Enjoy three fun-filled days of family entertainment at the annual Schulenburg Festival on the first weekend of August. See rodeo action, music festivals, arts and crafts, chili cookoff, fun run, golf tournament, pageants, and sports competitions. The Schulenburg Historical Museum boasts early Czech and German life in the community.
Pro Tip: Oakridge Smokehouse Restaurant is famous for old-fashioned country-style breakfast, lunch, and dinner with some of the best fried catfish and chicken fried steak around.
6. High Hill
High Hill, 3 miles northwest of Schulenburg, features St. Mary Catholic Church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one Painted Church with some of the best examples of faux-finish woodwork and stained glass.
Dubina hosts the Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church, one of the Painted Churches included in the tour, adorned with extensive decorative interior painting, located 7 miles northeast of Schulenburg. Dubina is the Czech word for Oak Grove, founded in 1856 by a group of Czech-Moravian immigrants. The town is almost a ghost town, never recovering after a 1909 storm and a 1912 fire.
St. John The Baptist Catholic Church stands in Ammannsville as part of the Painted Churches tour. Today the small community consists of the church, the KJT Hall (Katolicka Jednota Texaska, a community hall or Catholic Union of Texas), an old cotton gin, and a few residences.
Praha, sometimes called Maticka Praha, Mother Prague, is called the Czech Capital of Texas. The town’s most notable feature is the St. Mary’s Church of the Assumption, one of the painted churches on tour. Completed in 1892, the church is the center of the annual Feast of the Assumption, a homecoming festival celebrated on August 15 since 1855. The Praha Picnic draws over 5,000 visitors to kolaches and Czech polka music.
The county seat, situated on the Lavaca River, Hallettsville became the agricultural center when settled by the Czechs. The city has two festivals, the South Texas Polka and Sausage Festival in March and the Hallettsville Kolache Fest in September. A state marker highlights the town’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church and St. Mary’s Parish, located two miles west on FM 340. The Vsetin Cemetery is 6 miles northeast of Hallettsville on FM 2314. The weekly Czech newspaper Novy Domoy dates to 1894.
Pro Tip: Join the 5th Annual Christmas In A Small Town Wine Walk, 2-8 p.m. on December 11, with the social from 8-10 p.m.
Called initially New Half Moon, the town changed its name to Shiner in 1888, honoring Henry B Shiner. The SS. Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church, built in 1891, boasts the red brick Romanesque Revival style featuring a stately altar, beautiful statues, painted murals, and majestic stained-glass windows imported from Bavaria. St. Ludmila’s Academy Catholic school opened in 1897. The Spoetzl Brewery, which still operates today, was founded in 1909 by the Shiner Brewing Association.
See Christmas in the Park and Jingle Jog on December 5, Green Dickson Park with Christmas music concerts, a visit from Santa Claus who arrives riding in a Shiner fire truck.
Pro Tip: Stay at the Old Kasper House Victorian Inn constructed in 1906, a stroll from downtown Shiner and the Spietzl Brewery. Choose from nine bedrooms in the Kasper House or Derrich Domov or four private cottages.