Round Top Area Historical Society
Preserving Round Top’s Rich History
Round Top Area Historical Society: Preserving Round Top’s Rich History
by Lorie A. Woodward
Originally appeared in the November 2018 edition of the Round Top Register –Ed.
Photos courtesy of Round Top Historical Society
The all-volunteer Round Top Area Historical Society preserves Round Top’s rich history at its two-acre campus and on its website.
“We showcase artifacts, donated by local families, that demonstrate life in early Round Top,” said Randy Melton, who is one of the society’s volunteer historians. “We compile and preserve local history—everything we can find and confirm—on our website, so people see it and read it wherever they are.
“Our role is saving all of the history of Round Top because a lot of it gets lost or misconstrued.”
Stephen Townsend was the first known Anglo settler in the Round Top area in 1826. Townsend began his settlement near Richter Cemetery on present-day Farm-to-Market Road 1457. This settlement, sited on a hilltop for safety purposes, was located about two miles northeast of present day Round Top.
“Round Top’s historical roots stretch back before Texas was a Republic,” said Melton, noting that Stephen Townsend’s family had more men serving at the Battle of San Jacinto than any other family in Texas.
American-English immigrants were the first to settle the Round Top area in the 1820s and 1830s then the German immigrants began settling in the area during the 1840s through the 1860s becoming the dominant cultural force, especially after the Civil War.
“The people who settled here survived with very little and yet enjoyed a rich lifestyle of family and community,” Melton said. “Round Top exists because of their industriousness.”
The museum complex, located beside Henkel Square Market and behind the Round Top Post Office, includes four historic buildings: the Noak Farmhouse, built in the early 1900s, which serves as the welcome center as well as a museum; the Kraus House, a rustic wooden house circa 1890s that includes primitive furnishings; a log cabin built in the 1880s; and the African-American Connersville Primitive Baptist Church built in 1873, which celebrates the area’s African-American settlers and their history. The Jaehne Educational and Cultural Pavilion and the Volunteer Fire Department Building, which houses a 1905 (updated 1930s) horse-drawn, hand-pump fire wagon, round out the site.
“Our exhibits are permanent, but we add to them because people are constantly gifting us with artifacts they find as they go through their families’ collections,” Melton said. “The wonderful thing about artifacts is that people experience history in a tangible way. It’s fun to touch, see and feel.”
For instance, the Round Top Historical Society has the foot-powered wood turn-lathe that Johann Wandke used in 1866 to build the cedar pipe organ for Round Top’s Bethlehem Lutheran Church.
Another highlight of the society’s holdings is a collection of glass negative photos taken by Friederika Recknagel, wife of a local merchant, capturing life in Round Top from the 1880s – 1910.
“During that period of time, photography was just emerging,” Melton said. “The fact that we have an archive of images of the town is astounding.”
The website is updated regularly as new information comes to light.
“When people come to us, they expect us to find out the who, what, when, where and why behind the event,” Melton said.
Preserving Round Top’s history is important for the families who have called the town home for generations and for those who are new to the area.
“To really know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been,” Melton said. “Our little town is caught up in the growth that’s occurring between Austin and Houston, so as people come here today, it’s important that we understand the people who came here five generations ago to build it and what they sacrificed to stay.”
How Round Top Got Its Name
The Soergal House, which was near the site of the original Townsend Settlement on present day Farm to Market 1457, provided a landmark for stagecoach drivers approaching from the east as they traveled from Houston to Austin. The two-story house, located on a high hill, was outfitted with an eight-sided cupola.
The cupola was defensive, not decorative. Each wall contained narrow slits that allowed marksmen to shoot at approaching enemies from a raised, covered vantage point. From a distance, the octagonal structure looked round, prompting the stage coach drivers to yell, “Round Top next stop.”
When the town moved to its current site in 1847 and renamed Jones Settlement, the stage coach drivers announced the Soergel House stop and the nearby Jones Settlement with the same phrase, “Round Top next stop.”
Despite the confusion that it caused for stage passengers and townspeople, the name Round Top stuck.
Why Tiny Round Top is an Incorporated City
Because of a “bunch of rowdies,” Round Top holds the distinction of being one of Texas’ smallest incorporated cities. At the close of the Civil War, many young soldiers who had experienced life beyond the family farm were reluctant to return home, preferring the life of a drifter.
In 1865, a group of rowdies, as they were known, camped out in the Cedar Breaks below Cummins Creek. Periodically, when they were out of supplies, they would ride into Round Top and shoot up the small town. Requests for relief at the county-level fell on deaf ears, so local merchants took their concerns to the state legislature in 1870.
To get a marshal, they were told, they would have to incorporate. Most small towns avoided this responsibility because it required a city government that provided public services. Round Top agreed to incorporate in exchange for law and order. The town elected its first mayor in 1870.
Soon after, the merchants in town distributed bugles to the settlers, with the instructions: “When you see the rowdies, blow your trumpets, get your guns and come to town.”
The next time the rowdies thundered into Round Top intent on shooting up the town, the townspeople shot back. The rowdies fled and never returned.
Tracing the Museum’s History
In 1989, members of the DYD Club were cleaning the courthouse and discovered a treasure trove of artifacts, which they then displayed. The display moved to the old Blacksmith Shop in 1992. The original display led a group to organize the Round Top Area Historical Society in 1991 and acquire non-profit status in 1993. The Historical Society found its permanent home on donated land in 1998. The donation of historic buildings and money for restoration and additional construction followed.
Round Top Area Historical Society Museum
397 E. Mill St.
Round Top, TX 78954
Second Saturday of Each Month
Guided or self-guided tours
Noon – 3 p.m.
* Private tours can be scheduled by calling 979-249-5058.
Don’t Miss! Annual Events
Tour of Homes
1st weekend of December
Veteran’s Celebration for Veteran’s
near Veteran’s Day
Area-wide Garage Sale
watch website for date