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Painted Churches Ride – 2006
Write-up by Rokker, Pictures by txcwdancer
The Painted Churches Ride is one of the most talked about rides for bikers here in central Texas. It was started by a lady biker who goes by the nickname of Gypsy. Each year, several churches are designated as sites to visit on this ride. This year’s churches were:
St Paul’s Lutheran Church – Serbin, Texas
Bethlehem Lutheran Church – Round Top, Texas
Wesley Brethren Church – Brenham, Texas
St Mary’s Catholic Church – Brenham, Texas
The event took place on March 4, a day of beautiful weather. The forecast had initially called for a chance of rain. But as if God himself intervened, the rain was taken out, and even the cloudy day that was anticipated gave way to a gorgeous day of mild temperatures and sunny skies.
The day started early. Our group would meet in two separate locales initially, then meet as one group at the 290 Café in Manor.
The first group, which at the outset met in Pflugerville, arrived first. The other group met on 290, several miles west of Manor. When the first group arrived, we noticed the parking lot at the café was filled with a number of bikes. Therefore, we elected to park across a small side street so the other group could easily find us upon arrival. It wasn’t long before the rest of the gang arrived. Jefe informed the rest of us that the other folks were the Southern Cruisers. A choice was made to join them for the ride to Paige, which was the designated assembly point for all bikes.
The ride to Paige was interesting. The count was about 25 bikes. The sight in the rearview mirrors of the leading bikes was amazing. The view from those in the rear was equally wonderful.
Along with the Southern Cruisers, we arrived in Paige and saw a considerable amount of bikes. After some meeting and greeting and a pre-ride briefing, it was on the way to the first church. Official count at this time was 107 motorcycles. One of the people with our group counted 114, while the official count from an old lady who watched the bikes pass by her house was 113. A large group regardless of what number is “official”.
The first church of the day was St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, located in Serbin, Texas. St. Paul is the home congregation of a large group that immigrated to Texas in 1854. It was built by this group of immigrants from Hamburg, Germany in 1870. Upon entering, one can’t help but notice that there are two floors and that the ceiling is an eye catching, striking sky blue color. The image behind the altar is of Jesus Christ ascending into heaven.
The bottom level is the main level, and is simply beautiful. During the church’s early years, the women and children sat in the lower level while the men sat above. Interestingly enough, this arrangement was the opposite of most churches. Note as well that up until the 1940s, it was common for men to sit separately. A very steep set of stairs takes one to the upper level, where there is a very large, very beautiful, multi-colored pipe organ. Ed Pfeifer, a German pipe organ builder who lived in Austin at the time, completed the pipe organ in 1904, finishing what was a labor intensive, time-consuming process. The pipe organ in this church is the one of six organs Pfeifer built in his lifetime.
Saint Paul’s boasts the tallest pulpit in Texas. This church is majestic without being grandiose or pretentious or overdone.
Near the grand, beautiful structure is the original church, something that resembles more a small shack and is a far cry from the picturesque and large house of worship.
As with all the churches on this route, St. Paul’s had a cemetery. Apparently, the iron gravesite markers designate the oldest graves in the cemetery. It appeared as though roughly a dozen of the graves had these markers. Unfortunately, the iron markers are in poor condition. It seems that someone should do something to restore them to their rightful state. Years of weather and wear have taken their toll.
The large number of bikes departed St. Paul’s in two separate groups and set out for Bethlehem Lutheran Church, the oldest Lutheran sanctuary in the state of Texas. Bethlehem Lutheran Church was built in 1866 by German immigrants who brought with them a strong faith in God and a love for music. The structure and the grounds surrounding it are designated a historical site by the Texas Historical Commission as well as the National Registry of Historic Sites. The church itself is the work of German stonemason Carl S. Bauer and his sons. Members of the congregation were skilled stone masons and built this structure of stone in a style that was typical of their German homeland.
Like St. Paul’s, this church has a second level. However, the upper level isn’t designed for worshippers, but rather to simply have a good location for the organ. The hand-made cedar organ in this church holds a citation by the Organ Historical Society. The Wantke pipe organ was hand-built into the balcony by Traugott Wantke and was donated to the church by him. Grave markers indicate he is buried in the cemetery on the grounds.
The cemetery itself is multi-tiered and surrounded by a stone wall. The surrounding countryside offers a peaceful view and is an ideal place where one can pause and reflect, perhaps unwind and relax, or possibly even find a spiritual connection. To put it simply, it’s pretty.
Bethlehem Lutheran Church is located in Round Top, Texas, which is the smallest incorporated town in the state with a population of 81 - though the sign when entering town says 77. Either way, Round Top defines small town America. And the influx of bikes temporarily more than doubled the population!
From there, it was a short hop into “downtown”, where some of us found ourselves shopping in a cute little antiques store. With some items marked 50% off, purchases were made.
Following this break in the action, it was a short hop to the town of Warrentown for lunch at The Oaks restaurant. The establishment was closed to the general public so that they could feed the 100+ hungry bikers. The buffet menu had all the chicken, burgers, and pizza one could stomach. They even threw in a HUGE slice of cheesecake for one of us VROCers! Guess it’s because of his sweet disposition and endearing personality!
The third church on the ride was Wesley Brethren Church. This place of worship was apparently built by Czechs who had immigrated to America. The interior of the church was painted by a Czech immigrant pastor by the name of Reverend Bohuslav Laciak. The people of the surrounding area used the church as a schoolhouse. Laciak was the teacher. Legend has it that he would paint between his lessons while the students did their assignments. Unfortunately, Laciak was tragically killed in a hunting accident, and never finished painting the inside as he had planned. To this day, the church is as he left it.
The cemetery on the grounds of this church is fascinating. A walk around can have the explorer finding many things. The small area dedicated to children. The graves of the Grote family’s children, all next to each other. In the 1880s, the Grote family celebrated the birth of five children. They also grieved their deaths. All died in the 1880s, none living past six years.
There is the gravesite of a Private in the Confederate Army. There are decorative, more extravagant markers and there are very simple, modest ones.
It is a fascinating place.
With the schedule running a bit late, our group decided to pass on the last church of the day, St Mary’s Catholic Church. Instead, we broke from the rest of the pack and headed toward highway 290 and home.
When all was said and done, each of us had ridden some 215 miles or more and spent over nine hours on the 2006 Painted Churches Ride. We are already looking forward to the ride next year and to the learning and perhaps the spiritual inner feeling that comes with the discovery of Texas’ cherished and treasured places of worship.
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