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ANTIQUING THE TEXAS HILL COUNTRY
by Bob Brooke

 

A silver plate coffee service in an antique shop in Fredricksburg. TexasHigh above the heated plains of San Antonio lies Fredericksburg at the heart of the Texas Hill Country, home to LBJ and hundreds of other people of German heritage. Here I found not only wonderful antiquing but a colorful and cultural blend of architecture, art, music, and cuisine, all mixed with down-home Texas hospitality.

Located just 20 miles from Interstate 10, Fredericksburg is an ideal place to settle in before exploring the Texas Hill Country. For those whose feet ache after a long day of antiquing, the town boasts several luxurious day spas and several dozen bed and breakfasts.

After dropping my bags at Camp David, my cozy bed and breakfast complex on the west side of town, I set out to explore this historic town, where the locals celebrate their German heritage in grand style with all sorts of festivals and festivities. Being in Fredericksburg is like being in a part of the Old World, but with all the trappings of the new.

Town History
German farmers, under the leadership of John O. Meusebach, settled the area in 1846. The settlement was on the Commanche frontier, but the Meusebach-Commanche treaty of the following year established lasting peace.

Meusebach gave each family a plot of land to farm as well as a small plot in town. After building their permanent homes, families began constructing "Sunday" houses on their town plots. These 19th century one-room-and-loft structures, special to the town of Fredericksburg, provided ranchers and farmers a place to stay when they traveled to town for shopping and Sunday church services. Many remain as originally constructed, since restoration and preservation are evident everywhere in Fredericksburg, considered to one of the most attractive small towns in Texas.

While it doesn't look it on the outside, Fredericksburg is a town that cherishes its old customs–song fests (Saengerfests), marksmanship tournaments (Schuetzenfests), and Easter fires. The latter supposedly began when a pioneer woman, to quiet the fears of her children one evening, composed a delightful story of the Easter Rabbit who lit fires on the town's hillside to boil the children's eggs. In reality, the first of these fires were those of Indians watching the new settlement. Now hillside fires glow each year on Easter Eve.

Antique Shops
All this history has provided fodder for the more than 40 antique shops which line Hauptstrasse or Main Street and side thoroughfares, specializing in everything from German antiquities and collectibles to vintage linens, 18th century toys, and antique stained glass.

The first shop I wandered into was Schwettmann's Emporium. This charming mix of antiques, decorator accessories and oddities, offered everything from shot glasses for $2-4 to a worn old jelly cupboard for $795. The most unique item I saw was a Hopf's Jebelkange, a type of German lap harp, selling for $395. And I knew the Computer Age was finally here when I spied an old Underwood Typewriter for $165. I made a note to get mine down from my attic when I returned home!

No shop along Main Street caters to women more than Ambeance, Antiques, Etc. run by Betty Bass. Antiques are scattered throughout the country ambiance of this shop, brimming over with 1930s furniture, accessories and lots of dried and silk flower arrangements. A bust of Moses by the door was priced at $79. An Victorian oak washstand hidden in a corner filled with linens was selling for $375. A handsome East Lake dresser, at $995, with new gray and white marble and a matching washstand, at $495 were topped with large spindles for $3 and a Bakelite dresser set, with $19 powder, $12 brush, $34 mirror. Bass has devoted one part of the shop to old kitchen accessories. An old pine kitchen table with its original green paint, was tagged at $495.

Next door to Ambeance, Antiques, Etc, stood Bloomer's, a new shop specializing in antique fabrics and lingerie. Though there wasn't too much in the shop as yet, I did notice an old bathtub with claw feet surrounded by delicate Victorian lingerie. Out in the front hall, a handsome carved, walnut settle from Mississippi featured a carved lion's head and eagles on its front and was priced at $3,875. A 3x5-foot, black and gold mirror was selling for $850.

Across the street, at the Gallery at Promise Creek, I found a varied collection of 19th and 20th century fine American and European furniture, glass and related decorative arts. The owner is an expert in Victorian furniture and likes to share his reference library of more than 2,000 books about antiques, art auctions and more with his guests. A pair 1920s crystal lamps with long lead crystals and wide bases was priced at $650. Nearby was a French 19th century marquetry desk for $2,000, topped by two silver candelabra lamps with crystal holders for small candles and a repose shade. One of the best pieces here was a German walnut armoire, carved on top, with rich paneled doors for $6,500.

The most German of all the shops was Showcase Antiques, run by Ron and Jane Woellhoff. Established in 1970, this shop specializes in sterling silver flatware–especially discontinued patterns and American brilliant cut glass from 1875 to 1915, as well as fine Boehm porcelains and furniture. One of the most unique pieces was a German immigrant chest, c.1822, with painted German starts for $3,400. Woellhoff also had a set of eight Bavarian chargers with gold rims, with flowered rose and wildflower center design, c.1890, for $895, and a full service for 12 of Haviland "Eden" china, with serving dishes, for $2,950. I fell in love with a German walnut sideboard, with hand-carved wild boar and fruit, c. 1870s, with gray granite top. Showcases brimming with cut and blown glass, held a beautiful set of eight, cut glass Belgian wine goblets, c. 1905-08, signed Val St. Lambert, priced at $1,800.

Just off Main Street on Llano Street is Wild Goose Chase Antiques And!, a cooperative in business for seven years. Its 10 dealers offer a large selection of items ranging from furniture, collectibles, memorabilia, clocks, jewelry, books and vintage linens to knives, tools, western items, railroad items, toys, architectural and garden accents, as well as Roseville, McCoy, and Hull pottery, and much more. Owners Maggie and Larry Payne named their cozy shop jammed full of collectible goodies Wild Goose Chase because they felt they had been on a wild goose chase for antiques all these years. Larry is a retired private investigater and Maggie, his wife, a former interior designer with Ethan Allen. They fell in love with Fredericksburg, bought an old Sunday house, and the rest, as they say, is history. This is a fun shop full of surprises. Here, I found bobbins for $3.75, a Limoge child's tea set for $56, an old photo of the Rothenberg Gate for $58, high-button shoes for $85, Fiesta Ware, even old cookbooks. Unfortunately, I didn't have room in my bags for all the items I wanted to buy.

Next door stands the Antique Haus, a coop with four dealers. Eight large rooms are filled with a little bit of everything with a wide and varied selection of antiques, books and collectibles from the past. A $225 jardinere, with green and brown glazed pot caught my eye, as did a display of old silver dollars, selling for $15-90, and an old leather-covered trunk with brass studs for $495. Mostly, this shop offered a mix of early and 1920-1930s pieces. My favorite was an EastLake cylinder front desk, with panels of burl veneer, c. 1870-1900, priced at $2,225.

By far, the finest collection of antique furniture in Fredericksburg can be found at Bolton and Bolton Antiques, one block off Main Street on East San Antonio Street. Part of the Homestead family of stores, this warehouse-like shop features only European antiques, unlike the others which offer a variety of antiques mixed with decorative items. Owners Tim and Carol Bolton specialize in large European and American pieces such as iron and wood antique beds, armoires and buffets. But their other Homestead shops compliment this one with an assortment of accessories and new furniture. The armoires here were magnificent. A 19th-century, French one in walnut was priced at $3,450, while one constructed of Russian pine was $1,750. A fine sleigh bed, redesigned for the Boltons, was $3,950.

On my way to visit the LBJ Ranch in Johnson City, I stopped at the Home Collection at Rocky Hill, a farm with a large windmill along Route 290. This fine antique showroom specializes in large European pine antiques and hand-crafted reproduction pieces such as beds, dressers, armoires, entertainment centers and tables. It also carries decorative accessories for the home.

There are enough antique shops here to fill two full days, and that's not counting the ones over in Johnson City, about a half hour east. But besides antiques, Fredericksburg is known for its B & Bs. Gastehaus Schmidt, the local booking agency, can also arrange stays in self-contained cottages built specifically for guests. But after a day of antiquing, a soak in my Jacuzzi tub sure felt good.

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