Day Trips

The steeple of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Cestohowa towers above the farm and ranchland west of TX123 in northern Karnes County.

About 90 miles southeast of Austin, Cestohowa (the "w" is pronounced as a "v" sound) has a history that stretches back to the 1700s. With the exception of the church, dance hall, and few houses, nothing much remains of the Polish settlement. In 1963, the school that started the community was closed. Twenty-three years later, the school that replaced it was closed. During the lumber shortage after World War II, the empty buildings of the town were dismantled and used to build other towns, said Rosalie Titzman, a local historian. The church remains the center of the community of 300 which surrounds the banks of Cibolo Creek.

The creek is halfway between San Antonio and Goliad and an ideal place to build a fort -- El Fuerte de Santa Cruz del Cibolo. In 1776, soldiers from the fort supplied the Spanish army along the Texas coast with cattle and horses. The Spanish governor of Louisiana, Gen. Bernardo de Galvez, used the supplies to aid the Americans and to defeat the British in the Gulf of Mexico. Local historians go so far as to claim that Paul Revere rode a Texas pony on his midnight ride.

On Christmas Day, 1854, the first Polish colony and parish in America was established five miles south of Cestohowa at Panna Maria. In 1873, 50 families built a small school and started a parish separate from Panna Maria that became the beginnings of Cestohowa (named for Czestochowa, Poland).

The Poles were the first farmers to come to south central Texas in large numbers. The churches they built in Panna Maria, Cestohowa, St. Hedwig, and Bandera all resemble the Old World
architecture. When lightning destroyed the church at Panna Maria, Cestohowa saw its chance to become the center of the Polish community. Both settlements raced to raise a new sanctuary. Although Cestohowa had the money and materials, the skilled craftsmen remained loyal to Panna Maria. Both churches were blessed on Feb.10, 1878.

Cestohowa saw its fortunes rise in the early 1900s when a post office and several businesses opened. Without the railroad, business was hard to sustain, and by 1957, the jail was used to build a grotto on the church lawn. Mass is said in Polish on the second Sunday of the month. The dance hall still serves as a community center with dances every Saturday night.

The church holds a traditional Thanksgiving mass on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. Ms. Titzman said the Polish family Thanksgiving dinner is much like any American table except they always have lots of sweet potatoes and homemade noodles covered in tomato sauce with cheese.

Coming up this weekend...

Texian Thanksgiving at Flat Creek Ranch east of Pedernales Falls State Park on County Road 201 celebrates the holiday with history, music, and traders, Nov. 29-30 & Dec. 1. 512/264-2355.

Twilight and Firelight at the Fanthorp Inn in Anderson offers stagecoach rides, tours, and refreshments, Nov. 30. 409/873-2633.

Coming up...

Lights of the Blackland follows US79 and TX95 to see the Christmas displays in Hutto, Taylor, Thrall, Thorndale, Bartlett, Granger, Coupland, and Elgin, Dec. 1-31. 512/365-8485.

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