Research of the Winedale School building, presently located at the Winedale Historical Complex in Round Top, Texas, brings us back to three of the original pioneer families who settled in the Winedale community. They are the John Burkhardt family, brothers Heinrich and Martin Mayer, and the Peter Stork family.
In 1846, the Mayer brothers, Burkhardt family, and Stork family left their homes in Germany and made their way together to Texas. The Mayers and Burkhardts intended to settle in New Braunfels, but instead travelled to Winedale where settlers had greater freedom.
The three families arrived in November and bought a 198-acre tract of land on December 28, 1896. The following year, the land was divided into three, with the Storks receiving 66 and a quarter acres. The Stork family lived the typical life of pioneers and endured the hardships of their new land. Their farm prospered and on February 9, 1849, Karoline gave birth to a son named Adolph, who was their first and only “Texan.” Tragedy struck the Stork family on September 29, 1849, with Peter falling ill from a contagious disease and dying at the age of 51. His wife Karoline was left stranded in an unfamiliar land, caring alone for seven children ranging from seven months to 16 years old. She was in desperate need of a help mate.
Gottfried Braun was a single German immigrant who had also arrived in Texas in 1846 and worked for area farm families. Upon hearing of the Stork family’s tragedy, he came to their assistance. Gottfried and Karoline were married in June of 1850 and he was appointed guardian of the children and estate. They continued to live and work on the Peter Stork farm and had two daughters of their own.
Although many Germans had settled in Texas by the 1850s, the rural areas were sparsely populated. There were no public schools until 1854 when the Texas State Legislature passed the Public School Bill. The Burkhardt School was not built until 1856. The Mayer school was built four years later.
When Gottfried and Karoline Braun got older and were unable to continue farming, they sold all of their land and retired. Being devout Christians, they reserved one acre of land on which a church and school should be built. The building was completed in 1868 and Gottfried and Karoline’s son-in-law, Pastor Jacob Graul, organized the German Evangelical Lutheran Trinity Congregation. The church was dedicated on January 1, 1869, and a basket lunch celebration followed. The deed, which was not executed until November 4, 1887, states “…of the interest I take and always have taken in the welfare of the settlement in which I live and of the love and affection which I feel and always have felt for the cause of religion and especially the Evangelical Church of which I am a member, have granted, given, conveyed, and confirmed to Evangelical Trinity Church: one acre.”
The building served solely as a church for 25 years before being converted into a one room school, with Sundays set aside for church use. With the closing of the Burkhardt and Meyer schools, all of the area children attended classes at the Evangelical Trinity Church, and it was called simply “the Winedale School.”
The first classes were held in 1894 with L. M. Casis as the first teacher. The teachers who followed were Fritz Richter (1896), A.J. Wendt (1897), L.C. Neutzler (1902), N. Seibel (1904), Otto Brandt (1907), W.F. Finck (1914), Roy Giese (1919), Herbert Knebel (1920), Oscar Feist (1921), W.F.Finck (1928), E.A. Kuschke (1936), Victor Witte (1941), and Ruth S. Scholl (1942). The Winedale School closed and consolidated with the Burton Independent School District in 1943. The building remained open for church use for another three years before closing. The land later passed hands to a cattle farmer who used the building as a hay barn.
Grandpa Henry attended the Winedale School with other children in the area. Unlike today’s schools, the Winedale School was composed of a single room in which all students learned, and only went to the eighth grade. Owing to its presence in a rural area, only a small number of people attended the church and school, even up to the time it closed in 1946. The church, like all of the rural churches, did not have an assigned pastor, rather was visited by traveling pastors, including Pastor Jacob Graul and Pastor A. Neuthard. When Pastor Leon Simons made the decision in 1946 to step back from serving the Evangelical Trinity Church, the church was never formally retired, and so the remaining congregants were left without any guidance. This never sat well with Henry, who wrote:
What would Pastor Graul say if he could step out of his grave and knew today’s condition of the Winedale Lutheran church? The church building that he helped build with lumber hauled from east Texas sawmills with ox wagons in 1969. He worked with his Christian congregation to build this church of god to worship him herein. Or what if Rev. H. Brunotte could see what happened to the church in which he worked so faithfully to build up…? The Winedale Lutheran church and school building was badly damaged after its closing. It was vandalized, and abused, and dishonored as a church, turning it into a hay barn for the love of cows.
Henry eventually reconciled his feelings about the church and school with an acknowledgment that growth and decay is a part of life. In a speech presented at a reunion of former Winedale School students, held in 1984 in Round Top, he said:
Memories of the Winedale Church and School linger on as many of us were baptized, confirmed, and had our first communion in this building. And all of us started our education in this building. Reading our first Primary Book with the first pages saying, “This is Will. How do you do Will?” and the second page saying “This is May. How do you do May?”
The Church School building that is now over 120 years old, once stood proudly with open and inviting doors. And as we think back as we entered the school room, we are greeted by our own memories. The scent of chalk from the large blackboards, a space once occupied by rows of school children who openly worked their lesson on their desks and blackboards. The ever present American flag at the teacher’s table. The portrait of George Washington watching over the classroom. The long handle bronze bell the teacher rang to call students to class. These memories are deeply embedded in our minds. Our pioneer forefathers and their families labored in the fields raising cotton as their main source of income. For many years cotton was their King Crop and they were proud of their effort. They called it progress. But times change.
Today these once proud agricultural fields are covered with weeds and grass. Cattle is the king “crop.” They call this economy, with little or no land in cultivation. Times change.
Not long ago, you and I were small schoolboys and girls. Time changed us to men and women, later to fathers and mothers, then grandpas and grandmas and I’m sure there are some of us who are great grandpas and great grandmas. Times change.
And so is our Winedale School building, which was built as a church, later changed to a church and school, then just a school, and now a barn. Sad but true. Times change.
Reality has faded but memories remain. And that is the purpose of this meeting today, to meet and talk to the few remaining schoolmates who are still able and fortunate enough in health to be here but sadly to know that many of our schoolmates have departed from us. A meeting like this brings back memories of true friendship that we hope continue between all the students of the Winedale School.
Henry was blessed to see the beloved building restored to its former glory during his lifetime. In 1963, renowned philanthropist Ima Hogg purchased property near Round Top and oversaw the restoration of several historical buildings. She donated the property to the University of Texas at Austin, and it became known as the Winedale Historical Complex. The Winedale School building was gifted to the university and moved to the complex in 1992. Restoration was completed in March 1994 and the building was dedicated as a historical site on April 17, 1994. The Winedale School is open to visitors who wish to see what a pioneer Church School building looked like. And I believe that if Pastors Graul and Brunotte were still among us, they would be very pleased.
On March 20, 2023 my mother and I visited the Winedale Historical Complex. Because we paid for a private tour, we got to take the “super private” tour and see the schoolhouse. It was spooky to walk in and imagine my grandfather as a child, sitting in one of these desks. The teacher’s chair and table are original, as are the student desks.
Phillip Peter Stork and his Descendants, 1798-1974
Rose Marie and Oliver Stork, 1975
The History of Early Pioneer Families of Winedale, vol I.
Henry C. Jaeger, 1990
The History of Early Pioneer Families of Winedale, vol II.
Henry C. Jaeger, 1994
Welcome to Texas Escapes
The Winedale Historical Complex
One thought on “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Back to School”
Great to see the history preserved. Our High School had its 75th anniversary a few years ago but is not as old as this one. A few weeks ago I saw a plaque commemorating Coffs Harbour’s first school which was over a century old but has long since been moved or replaced.