I’m new to blogging, but we’ll give this a shot. I received a phone call a few weeks ago from my friend, and photography mentor, Sam about going and photographing the painted churches of Texas. I had never heard of them, but I was ready for the trip. It’s probably a 2 hour trip from my home to Schulenburg Texas, which lies in the middle of the area where most of the churches are located. Sam, and his wife Val came in from Jefferson, where they own, and operate a bed and breakfast (The Azalea Inn) www.azaleainn.net ; they arrived at the house in the evening of Friday the 6th of January, and we started breaking out the maps with my friend Monte, who i will be riding with. After deciding on a route, and time of departure, we hit the sack, awakened by the smell of beignets, which Melanie was cooking for breakfast, Monte arrived, and we embarked on our mission. We took I-10 to Weimar, then Hwy 90 to FM 1383 towards Dubina, our first stop. It wasn’t hard to spot our 1st church, Saints Cyril, and Methodius Catholic church, it’s on the corner of Piano Bridge Rd, and 1383. The weather wasn’t what I would call perfect by any means, It was overcast, so the sky was washed out bad. When we pulled up to park, instead of looking at the church, my eye was immediately drawn to what used to be the Dubina general store. It was an old wooden building, with the windows and doors shuttered by rusted tin. The store was sagging badly on the far side, almost like it was going down the side of the hill. We were unable to get too close, due to a gate wrapped in barbed wire, a fence, and a huge “no trespassing” sign threatening with a lawsuit if you dared to enter. After shooting the store my attention turned to the church, I stopped to think about all of the history that was right before my eyes. How, for so many years people has been coming to this church, starting off in wagons, perhaps by horse or walking. I would imagine the services would have been in their native language, Czech, perhaps in Latin. The congregation would have been mainly farmers or ranchers, definitely people who lived off of the land. Dubina was founded as a community in 1856 by Czechs, and the church is on the National register of historic places, based of the placard which reads 1911. Heading up the steps, and into the church, we met an iron padlocked gate, which prevented entry into the sanctuary, still We managed to poke the lenses through for some shots. Sam went first while Monte shot outside, and I waited my turn inside, because there just wasn’t enough room for two people to operate. The church was just beautiful, and I was blown away by the architecture. The ceiling was a light blue, with gold stars painted about every 8-9 inches apart. Angels with harps were painted every so often, and the stained glass was magnificent, as were the statues on the platform.We shot for about 10-15 minutes, then I walked outside with Valerie, where we saw the sign that led us to believe the Piano bridge was about a half-mile ahead, I had no desire to walk there and back so I waited for Monte to finish shooting, thinking we would drive down. I saw that Monte wasn’t going to finish any time soon, so I took off walking after Valerie. The Piano bridge was one of the oldest bridges in Texas, dating back to just after the Civil war, and I was pumped to finally get a chance to shoot a really old bridge. I had lost sight of Valerie, partly due to the curves in the road but she was well in front of me, so I was walking at a pretty good clip to catch up, when I met her coming back. “It’s gone” she said, as I stood there was a look of dis-belief on my face, you’re kidding were the only words I could muster at the moment. Val said Sam was on the way down to pick us up, because someone had came by and opened up the church. I convinced Sam to drive us down to the bridge, so we drove down to where the bridge would be, and saw pieces of the bridge everywhere. It has been cut up, I can only hope they are going to re-assemble it somewhere, it would be a travesty if the bridge was destroyed.
We were able to get into the church, and we immediately went into the balcony, so we could get some shots up top. It was really cramped up there, only a few benches for a choir, and some sound equipment were to be seen. After a few photos were taken, Val was reminding us that we were on a schedule, and we wad a lot to do, and we needed to roll.
The next stop on our trip was Ammannsville, another small community a lot closer to Dubina than I had Imagined, only about 5 miles. The church located there was St John the Baptist Catholic Church. St John was a bigger church than The one in Dubina, and once again, I was impressed with the craftsmanship of the entire bldg.For such a small community, this church sticks out like a sore thumb. The exterior was crisp white, and it contrasts nicely with the black roof, and steeple. When you step inside, it takes a moment to take in all that is before your eyes, the ceiling is a dusty pink, and the platform is recessed into a kind of half-dome with a statue of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist. Above the dome in Latin was an inscription; Deliciae meae esse cum filiis hominum, which loosely translates to ” my delights are to be with the children of men”
As soon as we pulled out onto the highway headed towards High Hill, our next stop, Sam hit the brakes and pulled over on the side of the road. He had just seen what I call the trifecta, An old house, with an old abandoned truck, and a windmill.It just doesn’t get much better than that, so we had to jump out a shoot a few photos of what we ran cross.
Ok, so we’re back in the SUV’s and headed to St Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hill. When we pulled into the parking lot, we saw a busload of people there, and the church didn’t seem to have the character of the other two we had visited. This church had a red brick exterior, not the wood plank type we had been seeing, and there was people everywhere. We were debating on whether not to go inside, or go to the next church. Valerie and Sam took off to go inside, Monte set up outside, not really wanting to go inside, and I reluctantly followed Sam inside. When you enter the front door,a few feet ahead, there are two large swinging doors, somewhat similar to a saloon door, but like twice the size. Well, we swung the door open, and at the same time, we collectively muttered under our breath “Oh my God’ . Sam looked at Valerie with a deadpan look, and said to her ” Go get Monte” , the exterior was nothing like the interior at all! This was by far the most ornate, detailed, beautiful church I have ever seen with my eyes.
We were burning a lot of daylight, but we were starving, since it’s going on 2;30pm and we hadn’t stopped for lunch yet. We drove into Schulenburg, which was maybe a 10 minute drive, and stopped at a BBQ joint. Over lunch Sam looked at Monte and me, asking we we had seen the old school bus, neither one of us had, and Sam told us it is a “must see”. Monte and me followed them to the bus, but while parking, we noticed that we were really in someone’s front yard. No sooner than we had parked, someone stepped out and asked if they could help us, to which we replied that we’d just like to take a few photos of the old bus. After promising that we’d not hold anyone responsible, Val noticed an old Bel-Air, probably a 55 model. The lady shared with us that the place at one time was a car dealership, then it ended up being a junk yard, owned by her father-in-law, and suggested we take the lap around the yard, but to be careful. There were probably 60 cars there dating from the 30’s to the 60’s, I was in heaven. Studebaker’s, Chevy’s, Cadillacs, and even a Hudson. I have never seen a Hudson in real life, so it was a treat for me. We shot for a while and then hustled to get to Church #4 in Praha.
We got to Praha, only to find the church was being renovated, and was inaccessible. Discussing options, and looking at the time, I decided it wasn’t worth the time for Monte and me to drive to Shiner, 30 mins away, because of the chances a mass would be going on. We parted ways with Sam and Valerie, and drove home. We’ll be finishing our trip in February, I can almost guarantee you.