The Round Top Inn is not “a” place. It’s a collection of places, six separate buildings, three of which are original to the property: the Schiege farmhouse, the cigar factory building, and the cigar factory manager’s cottage. One assumes the other buildings were moved onto the site. All of the buildings have been restored, but with a light and intelligent hand. Apart from fresh paint, electric lighting and indoor plumbing (i.e., toilets, sinks and bathtubs), the buildings remain much as they were when they were built in 1885.
Schiege Sr was born Carl Johann Rudolph Schiege in Prussia in 1815 and was trained as a cabinet maker, chair maker, locksmith and machinist. He had already been to Texas in 1847 and 1851, but had returned to Prussia. His decision return to Texas a third time to live there with his bride Carolina Schubert Schiege in 1855 caused his Prussian family to disinherit him. When he became a US citizen upon his arrival, he changed his name to Charles Henry Schiege. He and his wife’s first child, Gustav died at age 7 days; their second son Charles Henry Jr., was born in 1858 and was the only one of their four children to survive to adulthood. In 1861, Charles senior bought the Round Top property and he and his wife and 4-year-old Charlesl Jr. lived there. That same year, his wife gave birth to twins, Selma, who died at age 14 months, and Otto, who died at age 6 years. Charles Sr. later purchased an additional acre of land from his neighbor, Conrad Schueddemagen (remember him?).
Charles Jr. attended Neuthard’s day school, which was just down the street.
In 1881, (the year Neuthard’s wife Emma Rummel Neuthard and youngest daughter Laura died) Charles Jr., aged 23, started his cigar factory. One of his employees was a 16-year-old boy named Paul Herman Helmecke, whose father Fritz A. and oldest brother Otto Heinrich were blacksmiths in Round Top. (Fritz and his wife Matilda Melchoir Helmecke and two of her brothers emigrated to Texas from Prussia in 1853.)
Schiege’s “seegars” sold for 6 cents (regular) and 7 cents (premium) apiece, and were made by hand. Schiege used locally grown tobacco whenever possible, but also shipped in tobacco from Missouri and Ohio.
“Segars” must have sold well in the 1880s if, after only four years in business, Charles Jr. could afford not only to build a large, two-story house for himself, but a second large building with finished attic to house his factory (the young men he employed slept in the attic which they reached by ladder), and a 386 square foot manager’s house with a finished attic.
Unfortunately, Charles Jr. and Emma had no children, and she died in 1892 at the age of 28. In 1893, Charles Jr. married Marie Becker, and they had 10 children, nine of whom survived to adulthood. Tragically, their first child, a son, only lived 10 months.
Charles Jr. served as town marshal and alderman of the Round Top Town Council. He was mayor of Round Top from 1903 to 1908 and served as the Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 in Fayette County. He was also a member of the Round Top Volunteer Fire Company for 30 years.
In 1885, Paul Helmecke was promoted by Schiege to factory manager. That same year, Helmecke married Martha Mary Neuthard, the third of Pastor Neuthard’s five daughters. Neuthard was not in favor of his daughter marrying the Catholic Helmecke, but married them anyway on May 24, 1885. The groom’s parents were strongly opposed to his marrying the Lutheran pastor’s daughter and disowned him. The groom was 20; his bride was 15. Helmecke’s boss, Charles Jr., himself Catholic, apparently had no objection to the marriage for Helmecke continued as his foreman for the next nine years.
Paul and Martha Mary had five children: Martha Natalie (1886-1970), Hulda Holina (1887-1902), Flora Lena (1888-1967), Gertrude Dolores (1890-1979) and Albert H. (1892-1970), all born in this house.
The manager’s house (“The Gate House”) is 385 square feet with a finished attic of 195 square feet.
The house is 130 years old, and the live oak tree out front which was large when the house was built in 1885 is now huge, and the galling on its trunk has become massive.
The house from the side showing the deep front porch. The grounds are very nicely landscaped now with many areas where one can sit outdoors in the shade when the weather is fine. Descriptions of the property in Schiege’s day mention vegetable gardens.
The rear of the house showing the back door and precipitous steps, which explains why the back door is not used. The house is furnished sparingly but comfortably.
This is the trundle bed where mother and I slept, she on top, and I on the trundle. The wall on which the picture of cows hangs separates the ground floor into a large front room and smaller back room (kitchen). While the loft above the front room extends the full width of the house, it does not extend the full depth and the floor joists of the loft are supported by this interior wall, which makes me suspect it is original to the house.
The loft was roomy and had a large king-size bed, but the stairs were steep with quite shallow treads, and neither I nor my 91 year old mother wanted to have to deal with them. The family would have climbed a ladder to sleep in the loft.
This area would have been part of the kitchen. There was no indoor plumbing when the house was built. They would have had a wood-burning stove, probably where the lavatory sink is now. They would have had to haul water from a well. The family would have bathed in a tin tub with water heated on the stove, and would have used an outdoor privy. Now the house has been fitted with a modern bath tub/shower and toilet, and has both hot and cold running water. The old back door of the house, which is no longer used.
It was rainy and overcast when we arrived. The Inn’s cat braved the rain to welcome us, and followed me around the grounds as I made a brief photographic foray. Maybe she knew I had a black cat at home . . .
In 1893, Helmecke and some of his friends got into a friendly contest to see who was strongest. In attempting to lift a large barrel, Helmecke injured himself, sustaining a strangulated abdominal hernia which was not treatable. In unrelenting and excruciating pain and unable to work, Helmecke took his own life on 14 October, 1893, aged only 30. He left a wife and five children, all under the age of 8.
Because suicides were not permitted to be buried in consecrated ground, he was not allowed to be buried within the Bethlehem Lutheran Church cemetery, but was buried just outside the fence.
Helmecke’s grave was unmarked until one of his eldest daughter Martha Natalie’s children had a headstone made for it some 70 years after his death. The date of death shown on the headstone is incorrect. It should be 14 October, 1893, and his name is misspelled as “Helmecker“.
Just past Helmecke’s grave is a retaining wall made of field stone shoring up the steep escarpment at the edge of the hill atop which the church and cemetery sit.
Martha Mary Neuthard Helmecke Noak Wolfe Pfardrescher died on 16 October, 1936 at the age of 66. She died 42 years and 2 days after her first husband, and is buried at the foot of her father Adam Neuthard’s grave, beside the grave of her youngest sister Laura Neuthard (11 Nov 1879 – 23 Jun 1881) She married John E. S. Noak in 1897, by whom she had three children. Noak died of typhoid fever on 6 November, 1902 aged 31. (Her daughter Hulda Holina Helmecke, aged 15, died 6 days later from typhoid fever which she contracted while nursing her stepfather.) She married William Wolfe about 1903, by whom she had three more children. After Wolfe’s death she married Paul Pfardrescher, who died in 1932.
Charles H. Schiege, Jr. died in 1935, aged 77, survived by his wife and all but one of his ten children.
Mom and I spent a wet, grey afternoon and evening in the home where her mother was born. We could not travel in space owing to the rainy weather, but I, at least, did a goodly little bit of time traveling, trying imagine what life would have been like for the Helmeckes in that little house. There were seven people, five of them children under the age of 8, living in about 580 square feet. The noisy, tumultuous life of Round Top would have been going on all around them, but here’s the hardest thing for me to get my head around. One of the subjects Adam Neuthard taught to the children in his day school and to their parents in his night school classes was English. The elder Schieges, Helmeckes, Neuthards, Rummels and a good many other citizens of Round Top were all native German speakers, and their Texas-born children and grandchildren (my grandmother for one) all spoke High German as their first language, only learning English once they got to school. My second-generation-Texan grandmother spoke English (after a fashion!) with a noticeable German accent. The largest ethnic group in Texas may be Hispanic, but the second largest is German.