Mount Eliza: A German “Latin” Community in the Texas Countryside
This springtime tour will visit a remarkable hidden treasure in the heart of bluebonnet country. On a bluff with scenic views, a half-timbered house built in 1847 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places anchors a cluster of historic buildings sheltered by giant oaks.
Georg Carl Willrich, original owner of Mount Eliza, was prominent among a group of intelligent, educated German settlers who came to Fayette County in the 1840s. Inspired by ideals of democracy and political freedom, they founded a community known as the Latin Settlement. These “Latins” were proud of their culture, but life in their new rural surroundings proved difficult for them; they were often less practical and industrious than other settlers who had left the Old Country for economic reasons. Willrich’s wife Elise dealt with privations and hardships with grace, as her charming letters (now published) show. The large Saal of the Willrich home became the locus of community events and meetings of the “Prairieblume,” a literary society founded by Johannes Romberg, Texas’ foremost German poet. These gatherings featured readings of original poetry and prose compositions, theatrical and musical performances, games, and lively discussions.
Twenty years ago the Willrich house was in complete disrepair and slated for demolition. It was rescued by a Houston family devoted to hands-on historic preservation. Today, restored stone by stone and beam by beam, it is a visual feast inside and out as well as a working museum of architecture.
Our visit will begin in the comfortable Saal, where the owner, a writer as well as amateur historian and archaeologist, will bring the house’s history to life. We will hear excerpts from Elise Willrich’s letters, as well as musical selections from the period played on her square grand piano, brought from Germany. After lunch on the grounds, we will have time to tour the buildings and explore the property. On the return trip we will stop to visit a beautiful “painted” church built by German-speaking Texans.
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