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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Gray Matter: Savoring small towns everywhere

Monday, April 25, 2005

Last time I wrote in this space about the advantages of living in Small Town America.  At about the same time, Progressive Farmer came out with their list of the 100 Best Places to Live in Rural America.  I believe this  new appreciation for the joys of rural living has come about as people realize they no longer have to live in metropolitan or suburban areas to pursue mainstream careers. 

Through the use of broad-band communications and its accompanying wonders, their work can be conducted from most any place.  I will leave the pros and cons of that list of 100 Best Places, with its many implications,  to others more knowledgeable than I.  For now, I just want to tell you of my delight in finding Gillespie County, Texas, ranked sixth  on the entire list of 100 places.  You see, my husband and I  spent nearly six months of each year,1980 through 1988, in Fredericksburg, the County Seat of Gillespie County, Texas.

Many years before that, my husband had called  my attention to a magazine article, I believe it was in the Rotarian.  This was shortly after we'd returned from our first roots-searching trip to Germany. The piece described the authenticity of the architecture, customs, fests, and the like, in an area west of Austin, TX, which had been settled by German immigrants in the middle of the 19th century.  We agreed it sounded like our kind of place, so I carefully clipped the article and filed it away.  Some years later,  we were planning a trip to visit family in Louisiana.  As we were just beginning to think a bit about retirement, we decided  this might be the time to do some checking.  I retrieved the article and we planned our homeward  route  through that part of the world.

Consequently, one fine winter day found us in Johnson City, TX, edging into the heart of the Hill Country.  We stopped to see Lyndon Johnson's Texas White House, to tour the ranch  and to view  his deeply-moving burial site.  While there, we were advised that the most engaging and authentic "German" town was Fredericksburg, a short drive on Hwy. 290 and also that it  would be a good place to spend the night. 

Following that suggestion, we started on west through a panorama of  breathtaking vistas.  We were surrounded by tiers of low, rolling hills stretching in every direction.  Before long, around a sweeping curve, we  found ourselves in Fredericksburg, driving down a nearly two-mile-long Main Street which also claims to be the widest Main Street in the world.   

Later, we learned how its precise width had been determined. It seems that everything brought into the town in early days had to come by ox-wagon.  An ox is apparently as dumb as it is reputed to be, for no one can teach an ox to back up.  Hence, the width of the street is the exact distance required to make a u-turn with an ox-drawn wagon.  As to that "widest Main Street" claim, I still hope to get someone to take measurements there and in Onawa and settle those conflicting bragging points, once and for all!.

It took only that first trip down Main Street to convince us. The town is not a restoration.  Its buildings  are the originals, crafted from local limestone by those first settlers and maintained meticulously to this day.  They were remarkably like those we had seen in my husband's ancestral Hessian villages.  The church steeples, among the oldest in central Texas, were awe-inspiring.  I could relate more but for now suffice it to say, it was  on that very first evening, on that very first drive, that we knew it was the place for us.  

In recent years friends tell me  we probably lived in Fredericksburg during the town's best years.  They say that, with so many discovering its charms, the town has become a bit "touristy".  Still, much of the area's attraction must remain or it could not  have come out Number 6 in this prestigious national rating.

I will stop for now, but I'm sure there will be additional  Fredericksburg stories as we continue our conversations.  Of course, I realize that could be either a threat or a promise, depending on your point of view, so be sure to let me know if I begin to bore you.