Serbin

by Dr. George Nielsen, Special Features Editor
How do you get to Serbin?

Here are the directions Pastor Johann Kilian gave to Pastor Th. Brohm in 1870 for finding his way from New Orleans to Serbin: “When you come to Galveston go to J. Kauffman & Co. with whom I have dealt for many years. When you get to Houston and cannot get immediate transportation to Brenham, or do not want to go there right away, go to Rev. C. Braun. The railroad ends at Brenham. In Brenham, go to the confectioner and baker Johann Neumann for lodging. I will write to the 3 above-mentioned addresses today to let them know of your arrival. From Brenham go by stage via Round Top and LaGrange to Winchester, a small village on Ingrams Prairie on the Colorado River, 8 miles south of Serbin. I reckon that the journey from Galveston to Winchester will take 3 days. If you will let me know by letter when you plan to arrive at Winchester I will send a wagon from Serbin to Winchester to bring you here.”

On March 21, 1855, A. C. Delaplain sold 4,254 2/3 acres of land at one dollar per acre to Charles Lehmann and John Dube, thereby enabling the Wends to begin their settlement.

Early names for their community were Low Pinoak Settlement, or Wendish Settlement in Bastrop County. The first documented use of the name “Serbin” was in a letter Pastor Kilian wrote to a person in Germany on December 20, 1857. In his letter Kilian wrote, “Also this letter is the first in which I use the name of ‘Serbin’ in the heading.”

The name “Serbin,” which means “Sorbian-land,” can be used in three ways. The first use is to describe the Delaplain League and the neighboring lands settled by the Wendish people. During the months that followed the purchase from Delaplain, Dube transferred the farming land to individuals usually at the price of a dollar per acre. The plots were generally long and narrow, slanting from the northwest to the southeast. If the Wends had been interested in following the settlement pattern of Wendish villages such as Weigersdorf, they would have built their houses, their shops, and the church in a village and then walked to the fields. Instead, after the land was distributed, the Wends built their homes on their plots and traveled to church for worship and to town for shopping. We do not know if Dube made the decision for the settlement pattern or if it was done by the group, but one possible explanation may be that in the months between their arrival and the distribution of land, the Wends became accustomed to the way Texans were living: isolated on their farms.

Line Drawing showing Carl Lehmann Land and Church Land on the DeLaplain League

Line Drawing showing Carl Lehmann Land and Church Land on the DeLaplain League

Terry Smith, a computer expert and member of the TWHS, using the land titles and Google Earth, has put together a superb illustration of land distribution of the league. To access the map, visit the Wendish Research Exchange.

The second use of “Serbin” refers to the religious center. Dube also sold a rectangle of ninety-five acres for $95 to the congregation and that plot stretched from center of the league toward the southeast. The church-school-parsonage was located on that northwest edge and became not only the religious center but also the geographical center of the community. The name of the congregation on the deed was the “Evangelical Congregation of the Old School Lutherans.” Generally it was called the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the name St. Paul came later, after the formation of St. Peter’s congregation. “The Serbin Church” is more commonly used now than it was during Kilian’s ministry.

Charles Lehmann was responsible for locating and platting the town and he purchased 111 acres from Dube for $247. Lehmann’s acres stretched for one mile from the center of the league, where it adjoined the church land, to the northwest boundary of the league. Somewhere on that 111 acres Lehmann would layout the town and sell town lots. He could have located his town on his lands adjacent to the church holdings, thereby preserving one aspect of the typical Wendish village-the proximity of the village and church. But instead he platted his town on the other end of his land that was a mile away from the church. As in Dube’s case, there is no documentation explaining Lehmann’s decision. The first application for a post office in the Wendish community had been made in 1857, a few months earlier than Kilian’s letter, and Kilian hoped that approval would be given so that the post office could be opened by January 1858. That request was denied and not until 1860 was Serbin designated as a post office. Frederick A. Engelke, owner of a small store, was appointed the first postmaster on August 17, 1860.

Much has been written about the first two uses of “Serbin,” but not much about the town of Serbin, so for the remainder of this piece I would like to focus on Serbin town and its fifty-year history. A small commercial cluster existed before it became Serbin, and Kilian in his records identified one individual as a “merchant in L.P.S.” (Low Pinoak Settlement). Not until the post office was opened did he refer to the town as Serbin.

The Serbin township shown in a map of May 1864.

The Serbin township shown in a map of May 1864.

On February 28, 1867, Kilian wrote that there were five stores in the Wendish colony. One of these stores was owned by Fred Schlippegull who soon sold his store to Ewald Seidel and moved to Brenham. Historical sources on these early years are scarce, although one historian of Reconstruction, illustrating the point that hard feelings remained over the German/Wendish opposition to Secession, reported that “on July 1, [1871] a band of fifteen men rode into the small German community of Serbin, where they harassed local citizens.” [Carl H. Moneyhon, Texas after the Civil War, p. 176. He gave no footnote.]

The largest property owner was Andreas Kappler, who purchased several lots. Not all the residents of Serbin were Wends or members of Kilian’s congregation. In 1872, Kilian reported that there was a state school in Serbin, taught by a Freemason, with more than twenty children in attendance, and in 1877 Fedor Soder, a German Jew, bought some lots from Kappler.

Although Serbin remained a small town, there were other businesses in addition to mercantile firms. According to the 1880 census, Serbin’s residents also included a blacksmith, a wheelwright, a shoemaker, a tailor, and a medical doctor. Theresia Kilian, Pastor Kilian’s daughter, married Johann Albert Peter who, with his brother-in-law, Johann Schulze, owned a cotton gin and blacksmith shop. And some of the Serbin residents were farmers who followed the European tradition of residing in town instead of on the farm.

P.A. Pampell Dry Goods & Groceries, Serbin, Texas, 1880s

P.A. Pampell Dry Goods & Groceries, Serbin, Texas, 1880s

Serbin’s decline began in 1890 with the construction of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad. Instead of laying the tracks through Serbin Town, the workers laid the tracks about two miles to the southeast. In 1891, town developers platted a new town near those tracks which they named New Serbin and encouraged store owners to move to the new location. In 1892, New Serbin became Northrup. However, neither the old Serbin nor new Northrup grew significantly-unable to compete with the county seat of Giddings. Serbin’s post office closed in 1909 and a general store and saloon survived until the end of the twentieth century. Now Serbin town is an empty crossroads location, keeping secrets that someday some archeologist may uncover.

George Nielsen

George Nielsen is a professor emeritus at Concordia University, River Forest, Illinois; noted Wendish historian; author of In Search of a Home, Nineteenth-Century Wendish Immigration; special features editor of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society Newsletter; and author of a biography of Jan Kilian.

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