Sunday houses were small second dwellings maintained near a church as a weekend place of residence. They became popular in the late 1800s among farmers and ranchers who lived in areas too remote to permit commuting to services. The families owning such houses normally left their farms and ranches Saturday morning, journeyed to town, took care of shopping and business, attended an evening dance or party, and spent the night in the Sunday house. On Sunday they attended church in the morning and either returned home in the afternoon or attended Sunday school in the afternoon, and then spent a second night in town. Sunday houses were also used when a member of the family needed to stay in town to conduct business or receive medical attention. Some Sunday houses became the residences of retired ranchers when their land was turned over to their sons.
Although in Texas Sunday houses were almost exclusively confined to Germans in the Hill Country, particularly Gillespie County, the phenomenon was not unique to Texas. Similar houses were used in the 1660s in Middlebury, Connecticut, and a counterpart to the Sunday house exists in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. Sunday houses were small, usually having only two rooms, and often made of frame rather than rock.
Some of them had 1½ stories, with a gabled roof to form an attic, usually reached from an outside stairway, that served as the children's sleeping quarters. The roof was pitched at a little less than forty-five degrees and covered with handmade cypress shingles. Some of the houses were embellished with millwork in the door and window casings and had ornamented stair rails, newels, and transoms. The ground floor usually had a single room with a lean-to kitchen behind and a slant-roofed porch in front. Occasionally a second room was added. The houses were furnished for light housekeeping with a fireplace to provide heat and a place to prepare meals. There was no running water. Sunday houses originated for several reasons. Since there were few rural churches, a weekend town residence made it easier to attend services. And the social contact of a weekend in town provided compensation for the isolation of rural life. Such German settlements as Fredericksburg, New Braunfels, and Castroville were laid out as farm villages, and it was expected that farmers would build their houses in town and journey each day to outlying fields and pastures, in the European manner. To that end, farmers were granted town lots.
Soon after initial colonization, however, Germans moved out to settle in isolated farmsteads on their land, like their Anglo-American counterparts. The Catholic and Lutheran churches, however, did not soon follow their parishioners into the countryside, but stayed instead in the county seats. Many devout Germans therefore erected Sunday houses, often on the town lots originally intended for their homes.
Certain streets in Fredericksburg were lined with Sunday houses, and a surviving cluster is found on West San Antonio Street, near St. Mary's Catholic Church. Others still stand on West Main and South Milam streets. Clusters of Sunday houses also developed around St. Paul Lutheran Church in Cave Creek and in the village of Harper. Although the custom began to die in the 1920s with the advent of improved roads and motor vehicles, it experienced a resurgence in the late 1970s. Surviving Sunday houses sell at premium prices as restoration and historical significance have become more important in the tourist business.
Elise Kowert, Old Homes and Buildings of Fredericksburg (Fredericksburg, Texas: Fredericksburg Publishing, 1977). Esther Mueller, "Sunday Houses of Fredericksburg," Texas Monthly, April 1930.
Terry G. Jordan