Arriving in Fredericksburg, there are two things that immediately stand out: first, Main Street’s extreme width – designed to enable a turning circumference for a team of oxen pulling a wagon, and second, the pleasant cream-coloured limestone used in many of the one and two story buildings. The combined effect is charming and welcoming.

Pioneer Style

Fredericksburg

The Peace Treaty Statue in the Marktplatz
Photo: Rawls

In 1846, 120 German immigrants settled in Fredericksburg. These first pioneers were given a 100×200 foot town lot and a 10 acre farm further afield. A year later, their leader John O. Meusebach signed a peace treaty with the Penateka Comanche Tribe. Commemorated with life-size statues in the Marktplatz, at the center of town, this rare treaty remains unbroken.

Fredericksburg

Built in the 1880’s, the Walton-Smith Log Cabin is on the grounds of the Pioneer Museum
Photo: Julie Kalan

Visiting the Pioneer Museum, on the West end of Main Street, I tour several authentic 19th century buildings: a one-room schoolhouse (with German and English words on the blackboard), a small, two-room log cabin,  the 1849 Kammlah homestead and barn, a barbershop/bathhouse, and a Sunday House. Sunday houses, a signature feature of Fredericksburg, are tiny, one room homes the original settlers built on their town plot. They would arrive into town on Saturday, spend the night, go to church Sunday morning and travel back to their farms afterward. The museum’s short video presentation explains the trials faced by these early settlers.

Thirteen miles east of town, the Sauer-Beckman Living History Farmstead shows you what it was like on a real working farm during the early 1900’s. Dressed in period clothing, interpreters depict day-to-day life with animal care, cooking and blacksmith demonstrations. This place is a real eye-opener for children who learn to appreciate the obstacles of living without electricity and running water.

Local Boy Becomes President

Across the Pedernales River is the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. Here you can view the 36th President’s first school, a recreation of his boyhood home, and the family cemetery. A stroll through the LBJ Ranch Show Barn brings me face-to-face with some docile Hereford cattle. The airplane known as “Air Force One-Half” is on display, as are a few of LBJ’s cars: a 1934 red Ford Phaeton with custom wet bar, a white Lincoln Continental convertible and a 1962 lagoon blue Amphicar. Apparently LBJ relished the shock and surprise of unsuspecting riders when he drove the amphibious vehicle into the water. Although his “Texas White House” is currently closed to the public, you can take a guided tour of the grounds. The unpretentious house, overlooking the river, has a lovely curved swimming pool. Ranger Interpreter, Cynthia Dorminey explains that LBJ had three televisions, so he was able to monitor all three stations at once! That phrase clearly dates his presidency.

World-Class Museum

Many of us, thought certainly not experts, are well aware of World War II’s European theatre. From the London blitz, the massacre of the Dieppe raid, and the monumental D-Day landings, we have been introduced to these events either at school or through TV and movies. But between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, I for one, knew nothing about the battle for the Pacific. Now here, in Fredericksburg, Texas – nowhere near the Pacific Ocean – I am about to visit The National Museum of the Pacific War.

To begin with, the museum is here because Fredericksburg is the hometown of Navy Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander‐in‐chief of the Pacific during WW II. This local boy commanded more than two million men and women, 5000 ships and 20 000 planes.

Fredericksburg

The upper part of a heavy metal door from the
USS Arizona.
Photo: Leo Aguirre

Spanning more than 6 acres, this Smithsonian-caliber museum complex includes the Admiral Nimitz Museum (closed for renovations until spring 2020), the Pacific Combat Zone, and the 33 000 square foot George H.W. Bush Gallery. The gallery is laid out chronologically, beginning with the seeds of conflict: an interesting look at the relationships between Japan, China and the US in the hundred years before the war. Throughout the gallery you will see interactive displays, clothing, photos, a B-25 bomber, an atomic bomb casing, a rare Japanese Rex float plane and one of the five Japanese two-man submarines involved in the attack of Pearl Harbor. Sections are devoted to the battle of Midway, the Guadalcanal, the Marshall Islands, POW’s, and the Japanese Americans that were placed in internment camps. One panel is devoted to George H.W. Bush’s September 2, 1944 bombing mission on Chi Chi Jima that saw his plane hit by antiaircraft fire. Forced to bail out over water, Bush, the sole survivor, awaited rescue in an inflatable yellow raft. A small piece of the raft is on display. Another memorable display is the upper part of a heavy metal door from the USS Arizona. The door carries a wide dark line across it from fuel oil floating on the water after the Pearl Harbor attack. Above the oil line there is a small hole cut by divers looking to see if there were any survivors inside.

Fredericksburg National Museum of the Pacific War

The National Museum of the Pacific War
Photo: M. Bennett

A short walk down the street brings you to the Pacific Combat Zone. Here, laid in the pavement is a to-scale map of the Pacific Theatre. Take a few moments to walk the map and fully appreciate the stunningly vast distances involved. The exhibits in this section of the complex include a PT 309 Boat, a Mark XIII aerial torpedo and a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber aircraft. On select weekends throughout the year, weapon demonstrations and live battle re-enactments are held in an outdoor amphitheater.

Tickets to the National Museum of the Pacific War are good for 48 hours, allowing visitors to come and go as they please while offering ample time to take in all the exhibits. This is a must see for anyone visiting Fredericksburg.

More than Wine

Fredericksburg

Bluebonnet wildflowers growing in between rows of grape vines, at a local vineyard.
Photo: Julie Kalan

Fredericksburg is located in the epicenter of the Hill Country Wine Region, the second most visited wine region in the United States, after Napa Valley. The area has more than 40 wineries and tasting rooms. But if wine is not your cup of tea, there are still plenty of adult beverages to quench your thirst. The Altstadt Brewery produces premium German-style beers using old world brewing practices and modern technology. Enjoy free brewery tours, an on-site restaurant, live entertainment and great tasting beers. I recommend the lager. Looking for something stronger? Drop into the Elk Store Winery & Distillery, on Main Street, where Gemma and Jet mix craft cocktails using small batch distilled moonshine, gin and rum.

Shopping

Fredericksburg is filled with candy shops, clothing boutiques, and art galleries. Within 2 blocks of Main Street you can find new and vintage home décor items at Gathered & Good. Blackchalk Home and Laundry, housed in a former commercial laundry, offers an eclectic mix of rugs, throws, light fixtures, candles, and jewelry. Fischer & Wieser is an award winning specialty food producer with over 170 sauces, jams and jellies on offer. They have an outlet on Main Street, but I prefer their Lincoln Street Das Peach Haus location – the company began here as a roadside fruit stand in 1969. Drop by and sample some preserves, or their Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce (the number one specialty condiment sold in Texas), do a wine tasting or even take a cooking class. Like what you taste? They ship to Canada. Afterwards, head out back and enjoy the scenery of the serene pond and peach orchard. Back on Main Street, Raven + Lily is a fair trade fashion brand that has empowered over 1500 female artisans from Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Malaysia, Morocco, Peru and Mexico. Specializing in leather goods (dyed with 100% natural vegetable dye) and jewelry, their pieces will have you looking stylish and feeling good. After shopping, I suggest heading over to Clear River Ice Cream & Bakery and indulging in a couple of scoops of their peach sherbet – a true delight!

Get Out of Town

Fredericksburg

The Enchanted Rock and surrounding land, viewed from halfway up
Photo: Julie Kalan

Nature lover’s should place a visit to Enchanted Rock on the top of their to do list. Seventeen miles north of town, Enchanted Rock is the second largest granite dome in the US. The summit is only 425 feet above the park base elevation, but the half mile trail is extremely steep and offers no shade. The State Park website likens it to climbing the stairs of a 30 or 40 story building! If you want to experience something less strenuous, there are other trails that loop around the dome – they are longer but more easy-going. To learn more about the geology and ecology of the dome take a weekend-morning guided hike up the summit trail. My best advice is to go in the morning, to avoid the hottest part of the day, bring lots of water with you and enjoy the view.

Another out of town place that should be on everyone’s list is Luckenbach, Texas. The entire town, consisting of a bar, store and dance hall, was made famous by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings with their 1977 ode to the place. The sign on the drive into town reads “Population 3”, but you can always find a “picker’s circle” playing to an appreciative audience. With their slogan “everybody’s somebody in Luckenbach”, it’s the kind of place to rest awhile and enjoy a cold beer, some good music and a corny joke.

Fredericksburg

Sunday House Cottages at the
Fredericksburg Herb Farm
Photo: Julie Kalan

Where to Stay

Four blocks from Main Street, at the Fredericksburg Herb Farm guests can stay in replica Sunday House Cottages. These 14 Sunday House’s, equipped with king sized beds, modern amenities, porch swings and rocking chairs, also benefit from an on-site spa and the Farm Haus Bistro. Along with multiple motel and hotel options, there are literally hundreds of B&B/guesthouses to choose from. Gästehaus Schmidt is a reservation service that can help you sort through these options.

When to Visit

The end of March and beginning of April see Texas Hill Country adorned with beautiful wildflowers, especially bluebonnets and the vibrant orange Indian paintbrush. Mid May through mid August draws visitors for peach season. Thanks to Fredericksburg’s proud German heritage Oktoberfest is a serious celebration and good time.

Travel Planner

Fredericksburg is located about an hour northwest of San Antonio.

www.visitfredericksburgtx.com

Pioneer Museum:  www.pioneermuseum.com

Sauer-Beckman Living History Farmstead:  www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/lyndon-b-johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park:  www.nps.gov/lyjo

National Museum of the Pacific War:  www.PacificWarMuseum.org

Altstadt Brewery:  www.altstadtbeer.com

Elk Store Winery & Distillery:  http://elkstore1895.com

Gathered & Good:  www.gatheredandgood.com

Blackchalk Home and Laundry:  www.blackchalkhome.com

Fischer & Wieser:  www.jelly.com

Raven + Lilly: www.ravenandlily.com

Clear River Ice Cream & Bakery:  www.icecreamandfun.com

Enchanted Rock: www.tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/enchanted-rock

Lunckenbach: www.luckenbachtexas.com

Gästehaus Schmidt: www.fbglodging.com

Fredericksburg Herb Farm: www.fredericksburgherbfarm.com