We left my cousin EJ’s house at 6:30 on the morning of October 26, 2015, armed with a new route, and a fist full of dollar bills and quarters for the Beltway (Sam Houston Parkway), a toll road which was not as far north nor as close in to Houston as 610. This route would skirt us further west before it swooped us around back to the north where we would pick up 290 West to Brenham, tootle just past Burton, and catch Texas 237 which would take us to south to our destination, Round Top, which we hoped to reach before 9:30, as that’s when the services began at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church there, which my mom wanted to attend.
We had been concerned Saturday night that the rain Hurricane Patricia had been pushing north and east across the Gulf of Mexico into Texas and Louisiana would be problematic, but luckily, the heaviest rainfall was on Saturday and by Sunday morning we had only a light rain to contend with. We had also been concerned about traffic, which was why taking the Beltway was a good move. There was very little traffic to speak of. The road was clearly marked, and we only had to stop to pay tolls three times ($1.75/£1.16 a pop). (There is a special sticker you can buy that is good for all toll roads in Texas, where you go through a special booth that scans your sticker and license plate and automatically charges your account. It is a good value if you live in a large metropolitan area like Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston or Austin where traffic is often brutal and where toll roads offer you a better, less crowded route to work.) We made excellent time.
I had previously researched the route from Brenham to Round Top on Google maps, where the street view showed me what the intersections looked like, and I had no trouble finding Texas 237, or where North White Street turned off it. I was able to take us right to the church with half an hour to spare before church. The weather was overcast and it was raining hard enough that an umbrella was needed.
The Round Top Inn where we were to stay Sunday night is about 100 yards from the church. We picked a good time to attend the church as 25 October was Reformation Sunday, which commemorates Martin Luther‘s “95 Theses” which he is (apocryphally) said to have nailed to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. This was one of the sparks that ignited the Protestant Reformation, and the brouhaha and subsequent events eventually led him to form the Lutheran denomination.
Based on the service, which I found unexpectedly moving, Lutherans are similar to Episcopalians and Anglican in their rites and rituals. My mom really liked their pastor, John Nedbalek and thought he preached a good sermon. He wore an alb with a rope cincture and a red stole. Mom had talked with him by phone before our trip to find out what time services were held, and he had mentioned that they have communion every Sunday, so we were not surprised by its inclusion in the worship service.
In the Presbyterian Church (the denomination I grew up in) and in other more “protestant” denominations such as Methodists, Baptists and Church of Christ, communion is “self service,” i.e., plates of bread wafers and trays of individual cups are taken up from the altar by appointed members of the congregation and passed along the pews, and members take for themselves a wafer and a little cup (typically of grape juice rather than wine since (a) it is being served to minors, some as young as 9 or 10, (b) some denominations are “agin” the drinking of alcohol for any reason, (c) there may be abstinent alcoholics in the congregation, or (d) there may be people who cannot consume alcohol because of adverse medication reaction or adverse effect on a medical condition). Lutherans are similar to Anglicans and Episcopalians in that the members of the congregation approach the altar in groups (usually a pew at a time) and the rector/pastor serves each person individually with a wafer dipped in liquid, grape juice, in this case.
The Wandke organ was not used during the service; rather a woman played piano for the congregational singing. They did not have a choir, but a lady performed a praise song to guitar accompaniment. There were only about 35-40 in the congregation. (For the purposes of population, the town of Round Top only counts those who live within a square mile area centered on the town, which yields a population of around 90, so this was a good turnout. Also, the church is quite small — I doubt it would seat more than 200 people if you packed them into the pews like sardines and put extra seating in the choir loft. )
The Bethlehem Lutheran Church was organized by J. Adam Neuthard in 1861 (he is my mother’s maternal great grandfather). The stone church building was designed and built by Carl Siegismund Bauer, who was Neuthard’s grandfather-in-law, and Bauer was also the head mason. Construction of the church was begun in May, 1867, and it was dedicated in October of the same year. The church building cost $2,400.00 (£1595), then a considerable sum, and despite the fact that this was just after the end of the Civil War and money was scarce, “they gave liberally” and it was not necessary to borrow more than $500.00 for the completion of the building. The first church service was held in January 13, 1867. Next October they will be celebrating the 150-year anniversary of the church’s founding. I think we are planning to return to Round Top for that.
Mom had let it be known that she wanted to see the organ, and hear it if possible, and after the service, someone introduced her to Jolene Wickel. who had played piano for the congregational singing. She promptly got the key, took us up the precipitously steep stairs to the organ loft and opened it for us. She then proceeded to play a couple of hymns on it for us.
The organ was built by Johann Traugott Wandke, who was born in Nikol Schmiede, Silesia, Prussia (now Kowalice, Poland) in 1808. It was constructed from local aromatic cedar wood, including all the pipes. Wandke was trained as a cabinetmaker and organ builder in Silesia, and emigrated to Texas in 1855 at the age of 47. Only this organ and two others of the seven organs he built in Texas are still extant. It is a tracker organ. As you will note, the organ only has one manual (keyboard) containing 51 keys. It only has 10 stops, and all of its 408 pipes are made from cedar. Wandke died in 1870, three years after its construction. The organ was completely restored by Friedmann Buschbeck in 2007.
(I have a video I made of her playing it which I still haven’t edited yet, which will go here. Stay tuned.)
Mrs. Wickel ‘s husband was a “local,” a descendant of German settlers in Round Top, and he helped us locate graves in the little cemetery behind the church, including those of Neuthard, his wife and three of his five daughters (one of whom was my mother’s maternal grandmother).
Considered the founding pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, J. Adam Neuthard was born 11 September, 1828, in Lauterbach, Baden, Germany. His family were Roman Catholic and educated him for the priesthood. He attended the academies of Baden and Frelsberg, where he graduated with highest honors. He studied Hebrew, Latin, French and Greek, He attended the University of Heidelberg and obtained a doctorate of divinity. While there, a Lutheran professor influenced him to convert to Lutheranism. As a result, his family disowned him. He then attended the Theologische Seminar St. Chrischona in Bettingen–St. Chrischona, Switzerland. Following his graduation, he was sent to Texas as a missionary to serve the burgeoning population of German settlers there. He set sail from Bremen, Germany, landing at Galveston, Texas on 28 December, 1860, one of four missionaries being sent to Texas from St. Chrischona at that time. He first traveled to Spring Branch, Texas, where he met and married Emma Rummel, granddaughter of Carl Siegismund Bauer by his daughter Carolina.
There was already a Lutheran congregation under the pastorship of Otto Hahn in Round Top when Neuthard arrived in 1861. That congregation was combined with the congregation of St. John Lutheran church which was was located 3 miles south of Round Top under the pastorship of J. G. Lieb, to form a new congregation that was to be called “Bethlehem Lutheran Church.” He took over the church and school at St. John Lutheran, and started a boarding school in Round Top. In addition to pastoring the Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Neuthard also preached to other small groups in the surrounding area. In 1867, Neuthard withdrew from the Lutheran Synod because he was criticized for preaching the word of God to other religious groups. He did not believe he should restrict his preaching to Lutherans only, but felt he should preach to any who were willing to listen. Bethlehem Lutheran Church then became an unaffiliated and independent congregation.
In 1865, Neuthard bought the two acres adjoining the church and built a parsonage and parochial boarding school. The Neuthards had eight children: Five girls and three boys. Emma Rummel Neuthard died on 30 January, 1881, at age 39, followed only six months later by their youngest child, Laura, aged 1 year 7 months. Neuthard continue to serve the Bethlehem Lutheran Church as pastor, and as schoolmaster until he passed away in 1902 at the age of 74.
J. Adam Neuthard 11 October 1828- 26 February 1902 aged 74
Following church, it was still intermittently raining. However, we found a delicious lunch at Lost Patrones Mexican Restaurant (one of only two places to eat in town and the only one open). We had a combination platter with beans, rice, a cheese enchilada and a beef crispy taco.
Because of the rain, we were unable to explore on foot as we had wanted, but we did drive around and take pictures out car windows and see what could be seen. Supposedly, we could not check in at the Round Top Inn until after 3 o’clock, but they had only had one family guesting the night before and we were able to check into the Gatehouse early and get out of the rain. Because of the length of this post and the number of pictures I’ve uploaded already, I am going to break up the Round Top portion of the trip into several posts.