Round Top’s Historic Wonder: Bethlehem Lutheran Church is Over 150 Years Old and as Magical as Ever
Check out one of the oldest stone churches in the entire Southwest.
How about taking a quick trip to Bethlehem this year, without ever leaving Texas? It’s possible. Just look to Round Top.
Bethlehem Lutheran Church is one of Round Top’s most historical — and precious — buildings. It’s been a part of the community for the past 155 years. If you are Christmas-ing in Round Top, it’s worth stopping at this local landmark to soak in the history and architecture. No matter what your religion is. There is also heartwarming candlelight service each Christmas Eve.
Built in 1866, Bethlehem Lutheran Church was designed by Carl Siegismund Bauer, a German immigrant. The church’s traditional barn style roof is even reminiscent of what you’ll find in many German villages. Bauer’s sons and family contributed the labor to raise the church, and he served as its chief mason.
The building materials didn’t travel far. In fact, the sandstone used in Bethlehem Lutheran Church was quarried from Cummins Creek ― which is found to the west of the church site. Local, hand-hewn red cedar beams were installed for its framing. There are even four stone buttresses along the south wall. Officially recognized as a Texas Historic Landmark in 1965, the local wonder was added to the National Register of Historic Places back on August 10, 1978.
The church’s historic cedar pipe organ still gets used from time to time. And if you’re lucky enough to get a chance to hear it played, you’ll be struck by its dreamy music box quality. Designed and built by John Traugott Wantke, who was also a German immigrant, the organ was dedicated on January 13, 1867 ― the same day that the church’s congregation was formally organized. This is the largest of six organs that Wantke built, and as of 1987 it was one of only three surviving cedar organs. Now that’s true craftsmanship, testament to a since lost art.
Bethlehem Lutheran Church is one of the oldest stone churches in Texas — and it’s been holding services continually since 1866.
Bethlehem Lutheran Church also has the distinction of being the oldest remaining Lutheran church sanctuary in the state of Texas. Now surrounded by its church cemetery, which is filled with prominent Round Top pioneers and parishioners, the church is bordered by a quintessential stack stone wall. It looks out onto a still unspoiled pastureland ― the same scene enjoyed by the German settlers who originally built it.
But some things have changed. It now has a very active, multi-generational, local congregation, led by Pastor John David Nedbalak. The church hosts weekly services and other events throughout the year.
If you want to check out Bethlehem Lutheran Church ― perhaps to take in the magical organ, or just to soak up a bit of historic Texas architecture — it is easy to find at 412 S. White Street. Just a few blocks past Rolland Square, you can catch a glimpse of Bethlehem Lutheran Church from the back patio of Prost Wine Bar. You’ll be seeing something special.
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