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History of Fredericksburg, Texas

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Fredericksburg, the county seat of Gillespie County, was one of a projected series of German settlements from the Texas coast to the land north of the Llano River, originally the ultimate destination of the German immigrants sent to Texas by the Adelsverein. In August 1845 John O. Meusebach left New Braunfels with a surveying party to select a site for a second settlement en route to the Fisher-Miller Land Grant. He eventually chose a tract of land sixty miles northwest of New Braunfels, where two streams met four miles above the Pedernales River; the streams were later named Barons Creek, in Meusebach's honor, and Town Creek. Meusebach was impressed by the abundance of water, stone, and timber and upon his return to New Braunfels arranged to buy 10,000 acres on credit. The first wagontrain of 120 settlers arrived from New Braunfels on May 8, 1846, after a sixteen-day journey, accompanied by an eight-man military escort provided by the Adelsverein. Surveyor Hermann Wilke laid out the town, which Meusebach named Fredericksburg after Prince Frederick of Prussia, an influential member of the Adelsverein. Each settler received one town lot and ten acres of farmland nearby. The town was laid out like the German villages along the Rhine, from which many of the colonists had come, with one long, wide main street roughly paralleling Town Creek. The earliest houses in Fredericksburg were built simply, of post oak logs stuck upright in the ground. These were soon replaced by Fachwerk houses, built of upright timbers with the spaces between filled with rocks and then plastered or whitewashed over.

The colonists planted corn, built storehouses to protect their provisions and trade goods, and prepared for the arrival of more immigrant trains, which came throughout the summer. Within two years Fredericksburg had grown into a thriving town of almost 1,000, despite an epidemic that spread from Indianola and New Braunfels and killed between 100 and 150 residents in the summer and fall of 1846. The first two years also saw the opening of a wagon road between Fredericksburg and Austin; the signing of the Meusebach-Comanche Treaty, which effectively eliminated the threat of Indian attack; the opening of the first privately owned store, by J. L. Ransleben; the construction of the Vereins-Kirche, which served for fifty years as a church, school, fortress, and meeting hall; the formal organization of Gillespie County by the Texas legislature, which made Fredericksburg the county seat; the founding of Zodiac, a nearby settlement, by a group of Mormons under Lyman Wight; the construction of the Nimitz Hotel; and the establishment by the United States Army of Fort Martin Scott, which became an important market for the merchants and laborers of Fredericksburg, two miles east of town. After the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1849, Fredericksburg also benefited from its situation as the last town before El Paso on the Emigrant or Upper El Paso Road.

Religion played an important part in the lives of the German settlers of Gillespie County. Devout farmers drove as much as twenty miles into town for religious services and built Fredericksburg's characteristic Sunday houses for use on weekends and religious holidays. Though most of the original colonists were members of the Evangelical Protestant Church, there were also Lutherans, Methodists, and Catholics. Initially, all communions held services in the Vereins-Kirche, but in 1848 the Catholics built their own church, which was supplanted in 1860 by the Marienkirche (old St. Mary's Church). Also in 1848 the German missionary Father Menzel erected a large wooden cross on Cross Mountain just north of Fredericksburg. The Methodists withdrew from the Vereins-Kirche around the same time, and another group left the Evangelical Protestants in 1852 and formed Zion's Evangelical Lutheran Church under Rev. Philip F. Zizelman. Their church building, completed the following year, was the first Lutheran church in the Hill Country.

The German settlers were also passionate believers in the importance of education. The first school in Fredericksburg was established under Johann Leyendecker, in whose home Catholic services were held immediately after the town's founding. Leyendecker was succeeded as teacher a year later by Jacob Brodbeck, who was in turn succeeded by Rev. Gottlieb Burchard Dangers. In 1852 Heinrich Ochs replaced Dangers; Ochs remained an important figure in the community until his death in 1897. The first public school, with August Siemering as teacher, and the first official Catholic school in Fredericksburg were established in 1856.

Fredericksburg, like many of the German communities in south central Texas, generally supported the Union in the Civil War. Still, despite widespread opposition to slavery and secession on philosophical grounds, a number of Fredericksburg residents supported the Confederacy. Charles H. Nimitz organized the Gillespie Rifles for the Confederate Army and was later appointed enrolling officer for the frontier district. The Fredericksburg Southern Aid Society subscribed more than $5,000 in food and clothing for Confederate soldiers in 1861. In general, however, the people of Fredericksburg and Gillespie County suffered under Confederate martial law, imposed in 1862, and from the depredations of such outlaws as James P. Waldrip. Waldrip, the leader of a notorious gang, was shot by an unknown assassin beneath a live oak tree outside the Nimitz Hotel in 1867.

The bitter experience of the Civil War strengthened the traditional German determination not to get involved in state and national affairs. The Germans tried to maintain their independence by steadfastly refusing to learn or use English. The first newspaper in the county was the German-language Fredericksburg Wochenblatt, established in 1877, and a teamster who drove freight from Austin to Fredericksburg in the 1880s claimed that the local sheriff, who spoke German and broken English, was the only person in Fredericksburg who could act as an interpreter for him. The most authoritative history of early Fredericksburg was Fest-Ausgabe zum fuenfzig-jaehrigen Jubilaeum der deutschen Kolonie Friedrichsburg, written by Robert G. Penniger for the town's fiftieth-anniversary celebration in 1896. Not until after 1900 were the first purely English-speaking teachers employed in Fredericksburg's public schools.

As the town grew in size and importance, however, its self-imposed isolation was beginning to break down. The first Gillespie County Fair was held in 1881 at Fort Martin Scott and moved to Fredericksburg in 1889. The fair, celebrated as the first in Texas, soon attracted relatively large numbers of visitors to Fredericksburg. The town got its first electric-light company in 1896 and its first ice factory in 1907; by 1904 the estimated population had risen to 1,632. Another factor in Fredericksburg's decreasing insularity was the construction of the San Antonio, Fredericksburg and Northern Railway, the first train of which rolled into Fredericksburg on November 17, 1913, and was greeted with a three-day celebration. The railroad was reorganized as the Fredericksburg and Northern in 1917 and remained in operation until July 25, 1942, when it died, a victim of improved roads and automobiles.

By World War I a number of residents of Fredericksburg considered Penniger's editorial newspaper too pro-German. Another symbol of change was the spring 1928 vote to incorporate, a move the people of Fredericksburg had resisted for eighty-two years because they preferred to use the county as the unit of local government: why, they reasoned, pay two sets of public officials when one would suffice? At the time of the vote Fredericksburg was the largest unincorporated town in the United States, and the increasing size and complexity of both the town and the county made a change necessary. The 1930 United States census, the first in which Fredericksburg was included, gave the town's population as 2,416. Thereafter the population grew slowly but steadily, reaching 3,544 in 1940, 3,847 in 1950, 4,629 in 1960, 5,326 in 1970, and 6,412 in 1980. As Fredericksburg grew it became the principal manufacturing center of Gillespie County. At various times it has had a furniture factory, a cement plant, a poultry-dressing plant, granite and limestone quarries, a mattress factory, a peanut-oil plant, a sewing factory, a metal and iron works, and a tannery. As early as 1930, however, the town was also becoming known as a resort center, with a tourist camp and hunting and fishing opportunities; a significant part of the town's economy continues to depend upon its ability to attract the tourist trade. One of the organizations that has helped make Fredericksburg an important tourist center is the Gillespie County Historical Society, founded in 1934 to preserve local history and traditions. Its immediate goal was the completion, with the help of the Civil Works Administration, of a replica of the Vereins-Kirche, which had been torn down in 1897. When it was completed in 1936 for the Texas Centennial celebration, the structure became the home of the Pioneer Museum. After the museum was moved in 1955 the new Vereins-Kirche became the home of the Gillespie County archives. Another local structure of some historical significance is the Admiral Nimitz Center in the old Nimitz Hotel, commemorating native son Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, a hero of World War II

In the 1980s Fredericksburg had thirty-eight restaurants, thirteen motels, a resort farm, a campground, three art galleries, and twenty antique stores. In addition, the town was the site of a number of annual events, many of which recall Fredericksburg's German pioneer past, which attracted visitors from throughout the state. Among these events were the Wild Game Dinner (for men only) in March and the Damenfest (for women only) in October, both of which benefit the Fredericksburg Heritage Foundation; the Easter Fires Pageant; the Founders Day celebration, on the Saturday nearest May 8, which benefits the Gillespie County Historical Society; A Night in Old Fredericksburg, in July; Oktoberfest; and the Kristkindl Market and Candlelight Homes Tour, both in December. The Gillespie County Fair is held in Fredericksburg on the third weekend in August; the fairgrounds are also the site of racing meets on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July and a hunter-jumper horse show in June. In 1990 the population was 6,934, and in 2000 the community had 8,911 inhabitants and 910 businesses.
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19th Century

Fredericksburg (German: Friedrichsburg) was founded in 1846 by Baron Otfried Hans von Meusebach, new Commissioner General of the "Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas", also known as the "Noblemen's Society" (in German: Mainzer Adelsverein). The emigration was in part the liberal, educated Germans fleeing the social, political and economic conditions that later resulted in the Revolution of 1848, and in part working-class Germans. Baron von Meusebach renounced his noble title and became known in Texas as John O. Meusebach. The area's Barons Creek was named in Meusebach's honor.

Meusebach-Comanche Treaty

The reddish-blonde haired John O. Meusebach was named El Sol Colorado (The Red Sun) by Penateka Comanche Chief Ketemoczy (Katemcy), who had encountered Meusebach and his group in the area of present-day Mason. Meusebach, accompanied by geologist Ferdinand von Roemer, Special Agent Robert Neighbors, F. Shubbert, Jean Jacques von Coll, trader John F. Torrey and interpreter Anton Felix Hans Hellmuth von Blücher (aka Felix A. von Blücher), brokered the 1847 Treaty Between the Comanche and the German Immigration Company. The treaty was unique in that it did not take away the rights of the Penateka Comanche, but was an agreement that the Comanche and settlers would mutually share the land, co-existing in peace and friendship. Meusebach paid the Penateka Comanches $3,000, slightly less than $70,000 in today's money, in food, gifts and other commodities for their participation in the signing of the agreement. The native American signers of the treaty were only from the Penateka band. It is one of the very few treaties with native American tribes that was never broken.

Easter Fires

The Easter Fires pageant in Fredericksburg draws from two beginnings. In Germany and the Catholic Church, there have been variations on the custom of lighting hilltop evening bonfires in close proximity of Easter to celebrate the coming of spring.

The Fredericksburg variation is a living history event that celebrates the signing of the 1847 Meusebach-Comanche Treaty. While the Treaty was signed after Easter, the final negotiations were completed on March 1 and 2, with Easter of 1847 occurring on April 3. The Fredericksburg Easter Fires legend has it that Penateka Comanches signaled each other about the progress of the treaty negotiations by lighting huge fires on the hills. Settler mothers calmed their children by giving a twist on the traditional German story of Easter fires, and telling children the fires on the hills were lit by bunnies who were boiling water to make eggs for Easter morning. In some versions of the story, the Comanches lit the fires to celebrate the signing of the treaty, and the bunnies were boiling Texas wildflowers to make the colors for the eggs.

The pageant is held traditionally the Saturday before Easter and recreates the signing of the treaty with bunny-dressed participants of all ages lighting the fires on surrounding hillsides. The show has been a big tourist draw since 1946. The pageant was suspended in recent years due to cost and logistics, but a group of citizens is trying to revive it.

Town founding

In 1845, Meusebach set out from New Braunfels, traveling 60 miles (97 km) northwest to select the second settlement of the Fisher-Miller Land Grant. He opted for a valley situated between two creeks, which are now known as Barons Creek and Town Creek, and surrounded by seven hills. He named it in honor of Prince Frederick of Prussia, the highest ranking member of the Mainzer Adelsverein and nephew of King Frederick William III of Prussia. For the settlement, he purchased 10,000 acres (40 km2) on credit, for an allotment per settler of one town lot, plus 10 acres (40,000 m2) of farmland.

In December 1845, on orders from Meusebach, Lieutenant Louis (Ludwig) Bene, along with lead surveyor Johann Jacob Groos and crew, constructed a road from New Braunfels to the site of Fredericksburg. The town was laid out by surveyor Herman Wilke. On April 23, 1846, the first wagon train of settlers left New Braunfels, encountering friendly Delaware Indians en route, and arrived at the Fredericksburg site on May 8, 1846. The first colonists immediately set about to plant a garden and build a storehouse out of logs, and a stockade and a blockhouse.

The settlers soon received via courier a belated message from Governor James Pinckney Henderson advising them that uncertain movements by the government of Mexico made it unclear whether Texas could offer protection to the settlers. Governor Henderson advised against moving into the area at that time. The settlers refused to return to New Braunfels.

Meusebach designated Dr. Friedrich A. Schubbert, aka Friedrich Armand Strubberg, as director of the new colony, to lead a second expedition into Fredericksburg in June 1846. Schubbert designed the Vereins Kirche, the first public building in Fredericksburg. Without authorization from Meusebach, in 1846 Schubbert led an armed group of colonists into Comanche territory. Shawnee scouts reported seeing 40,000 to 60,000 Kickapoo at the Llano River, and Schubbert's group retreated to Fredericksburg. Meusebach decided to enter Comanche territory himself, resulting in the treaty with the Penateka.

For more details on this topic, see Friedrich Armand Strubberg.

Ferdinand von Roemer arrived in Fredericksburg in January 1847, and described what he estimated to be a settlement of six hundred people:

“ The main street, however, did not consist of a continuous row of houses, but of about fifty houses and huts, spaced long distances apart on both sides of the street. Most of the houses were log houses for which the straight trunks of the oak trees growing round about furnished excellent building material. Most of the settlers, however, were not in possession of such homes, since they required so much labor, but they lived in huts, consisting of poles rammed into the ground. The crevices between the poles were filled with clay and moss, while the roof was covered with dry grass. Some even lived in linen tents that proved very inadequate during these winter months. ”

Roemer described a diet of bear meat, corn and coffee. He reported that dysentery was a common ailment. He also noted the disease of "stomachache" that engulfed the lungs and throat, was treated with citric acid, but still caused daily fatalities.

Schubbert instigated a failed coup d'état against Meusebach. Ninety-five colonists signed a petition urging Meusebach to remain as Commissioner-General. On July 12, 1847, Meusebach sent Schubbert a letter of dismissal from his position as director of Fredericksburg. Jean Jacques von Coll was appointed his successor. Coll was a retired First Lieutenant of the Duchy of Nassau who had been appointed by Prince Solms as the first financial officer of New Braunfels. Coll was later elected mayor of New Braunfels in 1852.

On December 15, 1847, a petition was submitted to create Gillespie County. In 1848, the legislature formed Gillespie County from Bexar and Travis counties.

For more details on this topic, see List of Petitioners to Create Gillespie County, Texas.

While the signers were overwhelmingly German immigrants, names also on the petition were Castillo, Pena, Munos, and a handful of non-German Anglo names.

First sheriff of the county was Louis (Ludwig) Martin, who emigrated from Erndtebrück North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany with the first Adelsverein group aboard the Johann Detthard in 1844, and moved with the original settlers to Fredericksburg. He was one of the 1847 signers of the petition to create Gillespie County. He became District Clerk in 1850.

Wilhelm Victor Keidel, who emigrated from Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, Germany, became the area's first doctor and the first elected Chief Justice in 1848.

Theodore Specht became the first Postmaster of Fredericksburg on December 7, 1848. Specht was from Braunschweig, Germany and emigrated to Fredericksburg with his wife Maria Berger in 1846. The Spechts operated a store out of their home that was frequented by Penateka Comanches. Local Penateka chief Santa Anna brought one of his wives to the store during a cold winter for her to give birth to a son.

Pioneer Flour Mills was founded in Fredericksburg in 1851 by Carl Hilmar Guenther, an immigrant from Weissenfels, Germany. He served as Justice of the Peace in 1856. In 1859, after two years of drought, the Guenther family moved the mills to San Antonio.

Fort Martin Scott

For more details on this topic, see Fort Martin Scott.

also
For more details on this topic, see Fort Martin Scott Treaty.

On July 1, 1850 an angry mob of fifty Fort Martin Scott soldiers burned down the store-courthouse in Fredericksburg, in a clash with store owner and County Clerk John M. Hunter over refusal to sell whiskey to a soldier. Soldiers also prevented townspeople from saving the county records.

Civil War and Reconstruction

Fredericksburg was primarily part of the Pro-Union Texas resistance during the Civil War, but a portion of the population remained loyal to the Confederacy. While many Germans saw slavery as an evil, the 1860 census showed thirty-three slaves in Gillespie County. Matthew Gaines was a runaway slave from a Robertson County plantation and had been captured in 1863 by the Texas Rangers at Menard. He was taken to Fredericksburg where he was forced to work for the duration of the war. Upon gaining his freedom, he moved to Burton where he was eventually elected as a member of the Texas Senate. In 1877, the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church served both as a house of worship and as a school for black families in the area.

The citizenry dealt with the spread of lawlessness during and after the war years. School teacher Louis Scheutze was kidnapped from his home and hanged, an act suspected to have been carried out by James P. Waldrip in response to Scheutze's vocal opposition to Confederate rule. Waldrip was alleged to have been part of the notorious Die Haengebande (Hanging Band) that handed out vigilante justice in the Hill Country. He was also a convicted thief and generally feared and disliked by people of the area. In 1867, Waldrip was shot by an unknown person outside the Nimitz Hotel. He was buried in secret, so as to prevent desecration of his grave.

20th and 21st Centuries

Estimated Fredericksburg population for 1904 was 1,632. Frank Stein built the town's first ice factory in 1907. From 1913 to 1942, the Fredericksburg and Northern Railway connected Fredericksburg to Waring. Fredericksburg was incorporated as a city in 1928.

During the first half of the 20th Century, Fredericksburg remained much like other Texas Hill County farm and ranch communities of German heritage, isolated from the commercialization of their culture. The most notable influx of outsiders were sporadic visitors during events like the Easter Fires, the county fair, and hunting season. But the population and its growth remained anchored to its roots.

Things began to change when Lyndon B. Johnson became Vice President of the United States. Possibly the most momentous event in modern Fredericksburg happened on Sunday, April 16, 1961, when Johnson, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and the first Chancellor of West Germany Konrad Adenauer helicoptered in to the Fredericksburg fairgrounds racetrack for a reception. They were joined onstage by U.S. Congressman O. C. Fisher and John O. Meusebach's only surviving offspring, 95-year-old Mrs. Ernest Marschall of Llano. Crowd estimates were between 7,000 and 10,000. The 1960 population of Fredericksburg was only 4,629. Accompanying the dignitaries was an entourage of family members, German state officials, multiple security forces, and the national media. Speeches were in English (Nimitz, LBJ), and in German (everyone else) with no translation needed. The Austin Recording Company was on hand to tape the saengerfest segment of the program. The fest featured the Marychorale Choir of St. Mary's Catholic Church and Felix Pehl directing the Arlon Männerchor. Chancellor Adenauer sang along with the Kinderchor portion of the fest, which was directed by Erna Dietel Heinan. The Fredericksburg High School Band entertained and appeared the following day at an Austin parade honoring the Chancellor. The Fredericksburg event was capped by a 10-car caravan tour of Fredericksburg, while Nimitz instead visited his relatives.

On November 22, 1963 when Lyndon Johnson became President of the United States, global attention focused upon the Texas White House at nearby Stonewall. The Nimitz Hotel served as headquarters for the media who intertwined their favorable impressions of the area with their reporting on the President. The Johnsons attended church in Fredericksburg. Dignitaries and were escorted around Fredericksburg by the President. West Germany Chancellor Ludwig Erhard visited Fredericksburg in 1963 and was greeted with "Herzlich Wilkommen" and heard a sermon in German at Bethany Lutheran Church. Throughout LBJ's vice presidency and presidency, Fredericksburg prospered from the tourism trade, and it changed from an isolated community into one catering to the tourist dollar.

Fredericksburg has profited from spill-over tourism of nearby Luckenbach ever since a couple of events propelled the little town with a population of three to global fame. Jerry Jeff Walker recorded his landmark 1973 Viva Terlingua album at the Luckenbach dance hall. In 1977, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson recorded their hit Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love). Additionally, the National Museum of the Pacific War has become a big draw to military history buffs. Fredericksburg has become attractive to retirees and people looking to relocate to a simpler way of life. Real estate became a prime business as prices rose. The city has become a weekend destination for people in Central Texas, specifically those from Austin and San Antonio.

Fredericksburg in the 21st Century is in a state of flux. As each generation of descendants of the original settlers dies away, or moves to new horizons, the authenticity of the rural German farm culture of the Texas Hill Country communities also dies away. It is gradually blending with the customs of newcomers and being replaced by tourist-oriented concepts of both German heritage and the Texas cowboy culture. In 1934, the Gillespie County Historical Society was formed and now houses over 300,000 artifacts. Along with like-minded individuals and organizations, the historical society is dedicated to preserving artifacts, architecture and the history of Fredericksburg.
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History of Gillespie County

Gillespie County is located in west central Texas. Fredericksburg, the county's largest town and county seat, is seventy miles west of Austin and sixty-five miles northwest of San Antonio. The center point of the county is at 30°18' north latitude and 98°55' west longitude, about two miles west of Fredericksburg.

Gillespie County comprises 1,061 square miles. Most of the county is on the Edwards Plateau, except for the northeastern corner, which is in the Llano River basin. The primary soils are generally shallow and clayey and not particularly suited to intensive agriculture. The soils in the bottomlands along the Pedernales River and some major creeks are deeper and loamier and better for crops, while the soils in northeastern Gillespie County are generally shallow and loamy. The terrain features plateaus and limestone hills broken by the Pedernales River, with an elevation ranging from 1,100 to 2,250 feet above sea level and averaging 1,747 feet above sea level. The soils on Gillespie County's limestone hills support growths of live oak, shin oak, and other browse plants, as well as grasses and forbs well-suited for grazing. The deeper soils in the valleys and plains produce a true prairie of medium and tall grasses mixed with forbs and woody plants. Some 573,000 acres (85 percent of the agricultural land in the county) is rangeland, which constitutes the county's major renewable resource. The recent trend in Gillespie County has been to convert land previously used for raising crops to improved pasture and hay culture. Cattle and sheep are raised throughout Gillespie County, and Angora goats primarily in the southwest part of the county. Among the numerous wild animals are white-tailed deer, turkeys, quail, doves, foxes, ringtail cats, bobcats, coyotes, ducks, and geese. Many farm and ranch tanks are stocked with channel catfish, black bass, and sunfish. The county's principal water source is the Pedernales River, which flows from west to east across the width of southern Gillespie County. Other major water sources include Threadgill Creek in the northwest, North Grape Creek in the east, and Crabapple Creek in the north central part of the county. Mineral resources include limestone, talc, gypsum, and metallic minerals. Temperatures range from an average high of 95° F in July to an average low of 36° in January; rainfall averages 27.45 inches a year, and the growing season lasts 219 days.

The first known residents of Gillespie County were the Tonkawa Indians. By the nineteenth century, Comanches and Kiowas had also moved into the area. The future county was first settled by Europeans in 1846, when John O. Meusebach led a group of 120 Germans sponsored by the Adelsverein to the site of Fredericksburg, which became one in a series of German communities between the Texas coast and the Fisher-Miller Land Grant, originally the immigrants' ultimate destination. Fredericksburg and the surrounding rural areas grew quickly, and on December 15, 1847, 150 settlers petitioned the Texas legislature to establish a new county, which they suggested be named either "Pierdenales" or Germania.

The legislature formally marked the new county off from Bexar and Travis counties on February 23, 1848, named it after Capt. Robert A. Gillespie, a hero of the recent Mexican War, and made Fredericksburg the county seat. Gillespie County originally included areas that today are parts of Blanco, Burnet, Llano, and Mason counties. It underwent the first of five boundary changes in 1858, when the legislature formed Mason and Blanco counties, changed the Llano County boundary and established the present northern and eastern boundaries of Gillespie County. The last change came in 1883, when the county's boundaries were redefined and its present limits set.

In 1850, 913 of the 1,235 whites in Gillespie County were of foreign extraction, almost all of them German. Because Gillespie County was not well suited to cotton cultivation, slaveholding was never an important part of the local economy. There were only five slaves in Gillespie County in 1850, ninety in 1858, and thirty-three in 1860. In 1860 the citizens of Gillespie County rejected secession by a vote of 400 to seventeen. Despite the county's generally pro-Union sentiment, however, some residents fought for the South. By March 1862 fifty-four Gillespie County men had joined the Confederate Army, and a total of some 300 men eventually volunteered for service in six home-defense units to avoid conscription. But Gillespie County was still regarded with suspicion and distrust by its pro-Confederate neighbors. On May 30, 1862, Gen. Philemon T. Herbert imposed martial law on Central Texas, and the notorious Confederate irregular James Duff was put in charge of Gillespie and Kerr counties. A number of Union loyalists chose to flee to Mexico rather than swear allegiance to the Confederacy, but Duff and his men caught up with them early in the morning of August 10, 1862, in Kinney County. The cruelty of Duff's men in the ensuing battle of the Nueces (they killed thirty-five of the sixty-one fleeing Germans) shocked the people of Gillespie County, a number of whom-some 2,000 in all-took to the hills to escape Duff's reign of terror.

Unfortunately, a number of others, either Southern sympathizers who had not been commissioned by the Confederacy or opportunists who were taking advantage of wartime disruption, became outlaws, and during the Civil War Gillespie County was swept by a wave of robberies and murders. Because of their bitter experience during the war most Gillespie County residents offered little objection to Reconstruction measures. The county has traditionally been a Republican stronghold in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. From 1880 to 1992 the county has only voted for Democratic presidential candidates in 1888, 1892, 1932, and 1964. Gillespie County voted against a prohibition measure in 1887 by a margin of 1,186 to 59.

A sense of community and social responsibility was very important to the Germans of Gillespie County, who placed great emphasis on the traditional values of church and school. Fredericksburg's characteristic Sunday houses reflect the diligence with which the farmers practiced their religion, and the Zion Lutheran Church in Fredericksburg, built in 1853, was the first in the Hill Country. But the Germans also had a tradition of religious tolerance that persuaded the renegade Mormon leader Lyman Wight to found the Zodiac settlement near Fredericksburg in 1847. By 1945 there were nine Lutheran, three Catholic, and four Methodist churches in Gillespie County. In 1984 there were twenty-two churches in the county, and the Lutherans were still the largest communion. The Germans also valued education highly. Gillespie County's public and parochial schools were among the best in the state in the nineteenth century. The earliest was established by the Adelsverein in Fredericksburg almost immediately after the town's founding, and in 1854 a mass meeting of Germans held in San Antonio demanded that the state establish tuitionless public schools without military training or sectarianism and a tax-supported state university.

When the state school law was passed later that year the Gillespie County Commissioners Court divided the county into five school districts, and by the end of 1858 there were five free public schools in Gillespie County with a total enrollment of 250. In 1875 there were 1,496 white and 26 black students in Gillespie County; the county's one organized public school for blacks was still operating seventy years later. In the 1980s Gillespie County had three school districts with four elementary, one middle, and two high schools. The average daily attendance in 1981–82 was 2,173. There was also one private elementary school, with 163 pupils.

Along with their emphasis on religion and education the settlers of Gillespie County brought with them a strong interest in social progress. In the latter half of the nineteenth century residents formed a number of athletic clubs, reform clubs, reading societies, farmers' associations, political unions, and fraternal organizations. These clubs and societies played an important role in the social life of the county, especially in the farming and ranching communities, where other forms of entertainment and cultural activity were often unavailable. A number of such communities were founded in Gillespie County in the late nineteenth century. Most of these were centers for either processing or transporting agricultural products. Grapetown, in southern Gillespie County, was founded around 1850 on the old Fredericksburg-San Antonio road and settled by freight drivers who carried produce from Fredericksburg to San Antonio and on to Indianola.

Much later, after State Highway 87 was rerouted through Comfort in 1932, Grapetown began to decline in size and importance. Doss and Lange's Mill, in northwestern Gillespie County, grew up around saw and grist mills. Albert, founded in the late 1870s in southeastern Gillespie County, and Harper, in western Gillespie County, both owed their growth to ranchers seeking new rangeland on which to graze their cattle; the latter community, established in 1863, has usually ranked second only to Fredericksburg in size and business activity among Gillespie County towns. Later, after the Fredericksburg and Northern Railway was built into Gillespie County in 1913, railroad towns such as Bankersmith and Cain City enjoyed brief periods of prosperity. After 1917, however, when state and federal funds added to the county funds hastened highway development, the truck and automobile doomed this railroad to failure and the railroad towns to obscurity. The Fredericksburg and Northern finally folded in 1942.

Gillespie County has remained primarily a rural, agricultural area. By 1850 county farms were producing more than 15,000 bushels of Indian corn annually; in another ten years the production of wheat climbed from eighty bushels to 18,136. Agricultural production increased dramatically in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with the corn crop reaching 476,168 bushels in 1920 and the production of oats 634,163 bushels in 1959. The number of farms in the county nearly tripled between 1860 and 1890, from 327 to 930, and has remained fairly stable throughout the twentieth century, with a low of 1,153 in 1900 and a high of 1,444 in 1930. In 1982 there were 1,285 farms in Gillespie County, with land and buildings valued at $443,203, and agriculture provided about $30 million in annual income to the county-90 percent from livestock. Gillespie County ranked first in the state in production of peaches (more than two million pounds in 1982), second in turkeys, sixth in hogs, ninth in oats, and tenth in Angora goats and mohair production. According to the 1982 census, the 13,532 human beings in Gillespie County were outnumbered about three to one by goats, six to one by sheep, and four to one by cattle; there were also about 250 more hogs than people.

Fredericksburg remained unchallenged as the most important center of population and commerce. The original settlers had been yeoman farmers, and the terms of their agreement with the Adelsverein specified that each was to receive both a town lot and a ten-acre parcel of nearby land to farm. But Fredericksburg became more than simply a farming community, due to the establishment in 1848 of nearby Fort Martin Scott, which provided a market for labor and services. Fredericksburg was also the last town before El Paso on the Emigrant or Upper El Paso Road and therefore an important retail supply center. A number of businesses, including the Nimitz Hotel, grew up in Fredericksburg to serve and supply travelers bound for the West. Fredericksburg grew steadily throughout the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth, although its citizens did not vote to incorporate the town until 1928; previously they had reasoned that the county government could administer the town as well. Today Gillespie County still attracts travelers, tourists, and hunters from across the state and caters to them with a number of historic buildings, museums, antique stores, bakeries, and restaurants. Among the notable tourist attractions in Gillespie County are the Admiral Limits State Historical Park and the Pioneer Museum, housed in a replica of the old Vereins-Kirche, both in Fredericksburg; the Lyndon B. Johnson State Historic Park and Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, in eastern Gillespie County; and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, on the Gillespie-Llano county line.

Despite its reliance on agriculture and tourism, however, Gillespie County has not been without other industries. At various times Fredericksburg has been the site of a granite works, a cement plant, a poultry-dressing plant, a sewing factory, a tannery, a mattress factory, a peanut and peanut-oil processing plant, a women's handbag factory and, most recently, a metal and iron works, a custom trailer manufacturer, and a saddlery. In 1986 Gillespie County had three weekly newspapers: the Fredericksburg Standard, established in 1888, and Radio Post, established in 1922, and the Harper Herald, also established in 1922.

The people of Gillespie County have always been proud of their German heritage and pioneer history. In 1896 Robert G. Penniger, a newspaper publisher who later acquired the Standard, wrote a book in German entitled Fest-Ausgabe zum 50-jaehrigen Jubilaeum der gruendung der stadt Friedrichsburg, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Fredericksburg and, with it, Gillespie County. The people of Gillespie County marked this occasion with a gala celebration at which the fifty-five surviving original settlers were honored. The Gillespie County Historical Society, based in Fredericksburg, was founded in 1934 to help preserve local customs and history, and today a number of annual events commemorate the past. Gillespie County also lays claim to the first county fair in Texas, held at the site of Fort Martin Scott from 1881 to 1889, when it was moved to new grounds in Fredericksburg. The population of the county grew steadily from 1,240 in 1850 to 10,015 in 1920. Between 1920 and 1970 it remained fairly stable, reaching a high of 11,020 in 1930 and a low of 10,048 in 1960. The number of residents was 13,532 in 1980 and 17,204, an all-time high, in 1990. Of these, 16,325 were white, 2,246 were Hispanic, and 34 were black.