In 2020, Round Top, a hub of history and art, is celebrating several milestones including the 150th anniversary of the town’s incorporation and the golden anniversaries of Festival Institute and Shakespeare at Winedale. Read on for snapshots of their respective histories and plans for their parties.
ROUND TOP, TEXAS
By the early 1840s, German settlers began arriving in the area. One of the first was Alwin H. Soergel, who built a white house with an octagonal tower near the original Townsend settlement, on present-day Farm to Market Road 1457. From a distance, the octagonal structure looked round, prompting the stage coach drivers to yell, “Round Top next stop.”
When the town was 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, the name Round Top stuck.
It wasn’t until after the Civil War, though, that Round Top earned the distinction of being one of Texas’ smallest incorporated towns.
In 1865, a group young soldiers who didn’t want to return home after the Civil War, camped out in the cedar breaks below Cummins Creek. Periodically, when the “rowdies” 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.
They were told in order to get a marshal, they would have to incorporate. Round Top agreed to incorporate in exchange for law and order. The town elected its first mayor in 1870.
Want to celebrate? The planning committee, organized by the Round Top Town Council, has selected Aug. 1 for the town’s family-friendly birthday celebration. While the schedule of events is still being developed, the committee envisions plenty of food, children’s activities, and live music—with a high probability of dancing in an historic hall. Watch roundtop.org and/or townofroundtoptexas.org to keep up-to-date as the plans are finalized.
ROUND TOP FESTIVAL INSTITUTE
Concert pianist James Dick established Round Top Festival Institute on six acres just north of downtown Round Top in 1971.
During its first five years, the Festival Institute leased facilities. Today, the campus, which has grown to more than 200 acres, is home to an array of architecturally diverse buildings including: the School Building (1956), the William Lockhart Clayton House (1885), the Menke House (1902), the Edythe Bates Old Chapel (1883) as well as the Texas/Mediterranean Albert and Ethel Herzstein Stone Chapel and Memorial Plaza. The centerpiece of the campus is the magnificent 1,000-seat Festival Concert Hall, considered an acoustical master work.
At Festival Institute, students from conservatories and universities in the United States and abroad refine their talents under the guidance of an international faculty. To date more about 2,700 music students have benefited from the personal attention that is the program’s hallmark.
The 1971 Festival, a 10-day session with 10 piano students, included two concerts. The “two concerts season” in 1971 has expanded to include more than 30 concerts during June and July. With events such as the August-to-April Series, the International Guitar Festival, the Theatre Forum, The Poetry Forum, and the Herbal Forum, the Institute hosts more than 50 events annually.
Want to celebrate? On April 18, Festival Hill will be the site of “A Golden Jubilee of Music,” a 50th Anniversary Gala featuring a cocktail reception, dinner, dancing and a live auction. For more information, including underwriting opportunities, see festivalhill.org/calendar.
SHAKESPEARE AT WINEDALE
Shakespeare at Winedale grew out of a conversation between University of Texas professor Dr. Jim “Doc” Ayres and Houston philanthropist Ima Hogg.
Miss Hogg, an avid preservationist, began restoring historic buildings on the property that became the Winedale Historic Center near Round Top in 1965. When she completed her efforts two years later, Hogg donated the complex to the University of Texas.
During their discussion at a reception in 1970, Ayres noted the resemblance of the 1880s hay barn at Winedale to an Elizabethan theatre. Miss Hogg suggested that Ayres try having his students perform Shakespeare there. Ayres agreed. Shakespeare arrived at Winedale that November.
Over the past 50 years, Shakespeare at Winedale has grown into a year-round program. Students in the summer program spend two months in the Texas countryside, studying and performing three plays. A spring semester version is offered on the UT campus, with performances at Winedale. Each June, Camp Shakespeare, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, provides two, two-week experiences allowing 10-16 year-olds to learn and perform Shakespeare.
Want to celebrate? In addition to their regular seasons, Shakespeare at Winedale and Camp Shakespeare are hosting a variety of events. Celebratory events include the SXSW premier of a 90-minute film, “Take Pains to be Perfect,” documenting Ayres’ 50-year direction of the program, a Camp Shakespeare Gala at Henkel Hall on July 12 as well as a performance by Actors of the London Stage in October and a Christmas play. Plans are also in the works for a weeklong reunion event in mid-August that will culminate in Shakespeare at Winedale alumni performing two plays for the public. For more information, see shakespeare-winedale.org .
by: Lorie Woodward