Located in the historic German Free School building, the German-Texan Heritage Society preserves and promotes German-Texan culture through a variety of programs including German-language classes, lectures, festivals, film showings, and other events. It also features a library where visitors can conduct genealogical research on German-Texans and other subjects; the library also houses German language publications. The building itself dates back to 1858 when, upon opening, it was the first chartered school in Austin.
German migration to
Texas in significant numbers began during the 1830s and continued for the next
few decades. Germans were drawn to the area by reports of land grants, abundant
resources, low taxes, and a warm climate. Many immigrants settled together in
communities, preserving their language and culture for many years. In the
1840s, organizations such as the German Emigration Company helped to establish
German-immigrant towns such as New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, and Castroville. Some
Germans who had previously immigrated to the American Midwest also moved to
Texas. By 1850, Germans made up 5% of the population of Texas. German
immigration to the state died down in the 1890s. Anti-German sentiment during
the World Wars as well as increased urbanization led to a decline in German
culture and usage of the language. Today people of German ancestry still make
up the largest European ethnic group in the state of Texas.
One major problem
facing German immigrants was access to education. For much of the nineteenth
century Texas lacked a free public education system. It did however subsidize
tuition for lower-income students who could not otherwise afford to attend
private schools. Taking advantage of this, German-Texans created the German
Free School Association, a system of free German schools for students throughout
the state. In September 1857, a German Free School was established in Austin.
It was the first school in Austin to be chartered by the Texas State
Legislature. The two-story school building was constructed with volunteer labor
on land donated by civil engineer Wilhelm von Rosenberg. In 1871, a public
school system was established in Austin, leading the German Free School to
close in 1880. Afterwards the building was used as a residence for many years.
In 1948, it was purchased and occupied by local artist Dr. Kelly H. Stevens,
who donated it to the German-Texan Heritage Society upon his death in 1991.
Today the school building is a designated City of Austin Landmark as well as a
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark.
Heritage Society was formed in 1978 by a group of Texans who had participated
in the annual symposium of the Society for German-American Studies. The
organization is dedicated to preserving and promoting the history and culture
of Texans of German ancestry. The Society was originally based in the Texas
State University’s German department until 1991, when it made the German Free
School building in Austin its headquarters. The Society houses the Trenckmann
Library, a collection of German-language books as well as documents on German
culture and genealogy. The German-Texan Society also offers German language
classes, lectures, German film screenings, genealogy seminars, and other