I had heard some word-of-mouth referrals about the Painted Churches built by Czech and German settlers near Schulenburg, Texas over the years. There are roughly twenty of these churches around Texas, but four happen to be close to Schulenburg. These four churches still have active congregations and as the drive from Houston is roughly 85 miles, I decided to investigate their history.
For visitors wanting to tour the Painted Churches, I would start by stopping at the Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce (Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.) located on North Main Street in Schulenburg. For groups, guided tours can be booked a few weeks in advance, but I opted for the self-driving tour. The Chamber of Commerce has a helpful map for sale for $4.00, which includes thorough details of the remote farm roads needed to access the various churches. The Chamber of Commerce will also know if any of the churches have special events during the day. On my visit, I was advised not to visit High Hill until the afternoon as a funeral was being held in the morning.
All the churches (except in Dubina) are left unlocked for visitors to explore at their leisure.
The tiny town of Ammannsville was settled in 1870 by Andrew Ammann and his family. Visitors will see the steeple of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, which was built in 1917, well before they see the town.
Outside the church is a statue with Czech inscriptions and a card in the church window welcomes visitors, asking guests to be sure to shut the door to keep out insects.
I was stunned by the interior of the church, which was completely unexpected, as it is painted in a dusty shade of pink. Nouveau art decorations, which include vines and plants, cover the ceilings and walls. The stained glass adds to the colorful atmosphere, with one side of the church featuring male saints and the other side featuring female saints.
In Ammannsville, most settlers were mainly farmers from Czechoslovakia and Bohemia, with a few from Germany. The current congregation is now comprised of fifty families of mostly senior citizens who are direct descendants of these settlers. Look closely on the back of the pews as there are clips. These are hat clips which were previously used for men to hang their hats. I was surprised to see prayer cards hanging in the pews that were bilingual in both English and Czech.
This church is well-marked and includes some historical information by the entry. Personally, of the four painted churches, St. John the Baptist was one of my favorites.
Dubina, Texas was the first Czech settlement in Texas (1856) and the current population is roughly 200 people. The name Dubina is based on the Czech word “dub” (meaning oak tree) because of the surrounding landscape.
The current sanctuary of Sts. Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church was built between 1911 and 1912, as a hurricane in 1909 destroyed the previous church. Normally, visitors to this church will have to peak through a barrier into a locked sanctuary, but I was lucky to sneak in behind a tour group and see the entire church. Again, the interior is totally unexpected with vivid blue ceilings and gold stars with vibrant frescoes and stenciling throughout the church. The colorful windows add to the effect.
I could only stay a few minutes as the tour group was leaving but was stunned on looking outside to see restrooms labeled in both English and Czech. With the remoteness of the landscape, I felt as if I was really stepping back into another century.
For visitors to Dubina, a short drive from the church is Piano Bridge, which is a rare iron bridge built by the King Iron Bridge Company. I was a little worried that there is a warning sign to drivers that the bridge is weak. I decided to just photograph the bridge and stay on one side.
St. Mary’s Church was built in 1895. Praha is now a small community but in the 1880s and 1890s, this community was sizable. The church itself is built of stone with a copper roof. Inside the church, the ceiling was painted by a Swiss artist living in San Antonio. The ceiling, which has never been repainted, is of a Texas perspective of the Garden of Eden and took roughly two years to complete. I overheard one guide explain that the Texas state flower, the bluebonnet, was left out of the murals as bluebonnets didn’t become the state flower until 1901.
Pictures of various saints line the walls, as well as stained glass windows. Visitors will notice that the church is dark and apparently this is because the breaker box is very old, so lights are left off.
Outside the church are three small chapels, which are dedicated to members of the congregation who died in World War II. These chapels are bilingual as the dedications are in English and Czech.
High Hill, Texas
My last stop on the Painted Churches tour was at St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, which is nicknamed the “Queen of the Painted Churches”. The small community of High Hill was originally settled by Austrian-Moravian immigrants who arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1860. These immigrants made their way to what was then known as Blum Hill (and a growing community), which was renamed High Hill.
The current church was built in 1906 and to me, was more ornate than the other churches. The entry includes vibrant stenciling and inside the sanctuary, the ceiling decorations include crosses, flowers and vines, all beautifully painted.
Visitors will notice that nearer to the front that the pews are narrower as at one stage, more pews had to be added to the church. The altar is elaborate with bright stained glass.
Next door to the church is a souvenir shop and it seemed strange being in an ornate church in such remote countryside (there were even horses grazing next door).
Overall, for history buffs, I would recommend visiting these churches. I did run into some tour groups (especially in Praha) but for the most part, I had the churches practically to myself. The Painted Churches are of another time and era when immigrants were coming to Texas from Europe but trying to keep the culture of their homelands.
Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce
618 North Main Street
Schulenburg, Texas 78956