HISTORY OF THE WENDISH SETTLEMENT AT SERBIN, LEE COUNTY, TEXAS (1855)
By Leonard Kubiak, central Texas author and Texas Historian of Rockdale, texas
WENDISH SETTLERS MOVE TO TEXAS (1854)
In 1854, some 557 Wendish settlers from Lusatia (part of Prussia and Saxony) sharing a common bond, the Wendish language passed down from a group of central European Slavic tribes in the 10th century. By the early 1800's, the Wends or Sorbs as they were sometimes called, had been reduced by conquest and assimilation into other cultures so that only a small number of Wends remained along the River Spree in Germany.
Religious oppression by the Prussians who controlled a vast territory in Central Europe and their insistance that the Wends speak German instead of their native language motivated the Wendish population to go to Texas with their spiritual leader, Rev. Jan Kilian a graduate of Leipzig University. Rev. Kilian was a scholar and writer who translated a variety of books, poems and hymns from German into Wendish.
The Ben Nevis was a 3-masted ship some 180 feet in length that brought the first group of nearly 600 Wends to Texas
In the fall of 1854, a group of 557 Wends travelled to Liverpool England and boarded the Ben Nevis, a three-masted ship for the start of their long journey to Texas. The trip was filled with dangers. 56 Wends died of cholera before the colony reached Galveston in December of 1854. Then they faced an outbreak of yellow fever which miraculously only took only 13 lives.
From Houston, the Wends travelled toward Giddings by oxcart arriving at their destination in early January of 1855. Two men had been sent ahead to find a place where they could settle along the banks of Rabbs Creek in what is today Lee County, near Giddings. Here, the Wends purchased a league of land for $1.00 per acre.
The Wends set aside 95 acres on which to build a Lutheran church, school and cemetery. About one mile northwest of the church property, Carl Lehman, one of the original settlers, began work on a housing development that became known as the Low Pin Oak Settlement.
SERBIN FOUNDED IN 1860
When the settlement was assigned a Post Office in 1860, there were approximately fifty families living in the vicinity. The town's name was changed to Serbin (Wendish Land).
Rev. Kilian applied for membership into the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church and soon therafter St. Paul's Lutheran Church of Serbin was officially recognized.
According to Weldon Mersiovsky of Walburg, "The church was not known as St Paul until St Peter was organized on the other side of the cemetery in 1869 and the members decided that it should be called something other than the "Evangelical Lutheran Congregation at Serbin."
By 1880, Serbin had two general stores, three blacksmiths, two wheelwrights, a meat market, a carpenter, a physician, and two churches and parochial schools. St. Paul Lutheran Church was the first congregation of the Missouri Synod in Texas. The church, its parochial school, and the town held a prominent place in the history of Lutheranism in Texas and was the site of synodical conventions.
NEW SERBIN ESTABLISHED IN 1890
In 1890, the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway laid tracks through Lee County passing within two miles east of Serbin. As was common throughout Texas,
businessmen moved nearer to the railroad tracks and a new community was formed known as New Serbin or Serbin Switch.
NEW SERBIN NAME CHANGED TO NORTHRUP
New Serbia became known as Northrup when a new railroad station was established in 1892.
SERBIN POST OFFICE CLOSES IN 1909
The post office in Serbin was closed in 1909. Although Serbin declined with the rise of Giddings in the twentieth century, a small community of nearly a 100 people continues to live in the area today.
In 1990 St. Paul Lutheran Church, situated halfway between Serbin and Northrup, had 555 members; seventy-eight students were enrolled in its parochial school. In 1980 the church donated the 1915 parochial school building to the Texas Wendish Heritage Society and leased them an acre of land. The society founded the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum, now a complex of several buildings, including a log home built in 1865 by an original settler. The museum research library and archives preserve, interpret, and make available for study the history of the Wends.
This log cabin served as a church and school until a larger church could be built.
St. Paul's Lutheran Church of Serbin
The present St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Serbin was completed in 1871 and is still in use today. The unique interior includes a balcony extending around the interior with a pulpit nearly 20 feet above the lower floor. Originally, the men sat in the balcony, while the women and children occupied the floor level pews.
The present Serbin church was completed in 1871 and has been in continuous use since its construction. The interior of the church is absolutely magnificent. The pulpit is some 20 feet above the bottom floor of the church.
The John Biar family was one of the original Wendish settlers.
The Texas Wendish Heritage Museum
Today, most of the buildings and structures of early day Serbin are gone. However the history of the Wendish settlement is well preserved in the local Heritage Museum adjacent to the St. Paul Lutheran Church, school and cemetery. The present Church building, built in 1871, and is classified as one of the painted churches of South Central Texas.
The Heritage Museum is a complex of buildings connected by porches. In the center is a new facility with a display interpreting the history of the Wends. It also houses the Offices, Gift Shop, Library, and Archives. To the right and left are the old St. Paul school buildings.
Exhibits include relics from the old country and Texas. Folk dress of Lusatia, the traditional Texas wedding dresses, and the beautiful Wendish Easter eggs are a few of the colorful exhibits.
Outdoor exhibits include two log buildings and farming equipment.The 1856 log room, built by the Kurio family, originally part of a dog trot home, is furnished as a bed room. A section of the earlier 1855 room is also preserved on the Museum grounds. The Mertink family log room is used to exhibit carpenter's and farming tools.
The Museum and Library are open Tuesday thru Sunday 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., and are closed on Mondays and holidays.
Admission to the Museum for non-members is $2.00 for adults; admission for children 14 and under is free.
This great museum, staffed by local volunteers, displays variety of old photographs, clothing, tools, implements and interesting stuff dating back to the early Wendish settlement of the area.