- Historic Sites
Exuberant churches of Gothic vaulting and delicate rococo colors united the two worlds of Czech immigrants who landed on Texas soil
September 1993 | Volume 44, Issue 5
The parish at High Hill also maintains St. John the Baptist, another beautiful church ten miles away at Ammansville, one of the first communities settled by the Czechs in Texas. The present Ammansville church, dating from 1919, is the third to occupy its site. Nowadays the St. John the Baptist church holds services infrequently, but it is still carefully preserved down to its highly decorative stenciling, executed in a delicate pink offset by green and bordered in white trim.
Though the parishes at High Hill, Praha, Wesley, and other Central Texas communities continued to grow throughout the early part of this century, the First World War brought a sudden halt to Czech immigration in Texas. In 1919 the nation of Czechoslovakia was created from fragments of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the rush of emigration eased when it seemed that a viable democracy could rise in the Old World.
Eventually the Czech influence in Texas began to wane. Though many of the churches survived, their schools did not, and by the late 1950s most were empty, the battles over language forgotten. Even the school at Praha could not endure, finally closing its doors in 1972.
The land has changed too. Today the Black Prairie is gone, a victim of the steel plow. Where once stood a sea of waist-high grama grass is now a land of tall corn and Bermuda hay.
As young people leave the land, the churches see far fewer baptisms and marriages. And when the present generation of farmers is gone, much of Texas’s Czech living heritage will be gone too.
Still, that heritage is imprinted on Central Texas. Most churches in the area hold services in German or Czech at least once a month, and radio stations broadcast them. Lee Roy’s “Czech Hour” on La Grange’s KVLG-AM runs three days a week from 12:45 until 2:00 P.M. , offering local news, polka music, and commercials. In Czech, of course.
So the little towns and churches hang on. Where once the railroad ruled, now communities like La Grange and Schulenburg cling to the interstate. Other towns, like Round Top and Winedale, have been “discovered” by urbanités trying to escape the hassle of the city, even if just for the weekend. Bed-and-breakfasts abound. And Mass is still held at seven-thirty each morning in Praha, nine o’clock on Sundays.