While visiting a friend over Christmas in 1839, Gustav Dresel was appalled at how Texans observed the holiday – they didn’t! Determined to salvage New Year’s Eve, Dresel bought gallons of raw whiskey, grabbed his gun, and set out into the countryside. Going from farmhouse to farmhouse, a well-lubricated Gustav Dresel would fire his weapon, offer the startled farmer a shot of whiskey, and invite him to join the ride to the next house. Dresel’s party grew to 15 that night. When the joyride was finished, the men rang in 1840 with an all-night feast of ham and egg nog. It may seem funny – and it is. But it tells us something, a basic truth about German-Texans: they valued work and fun. They made time for dancing, singing, and for many, yes, drinking. Celebration was central to their “Germanness” – or Deutschtum.
In La Grange, Casino Hall was the place Deutschtum could thrive. Built in 1881 with $12,000 donated by residents, Casino Hall was not a gambling parlor. It was a venue for singing and theater performances … meetings of the Masons… the annual Fireman’s Ball…and even a school. The La Grange Journal reported at the time, “When the Casino announces an entertainment, it must be a first class one and all who attend will find mirth, music and merriment ruling the hour.” By 1905, records listed 11 German “Casinos” scattered throughout the state.
Today, La Grange’s Casino Hall has been restored to its 1881 grandeur. Its second-floor performing arts center once again hosts plays and parties, just as it did a century ago when the Casino club strengthened those bonds of Germanness - or Deutschtum – in La Grange. The building also houses the La Grange Visitors’ Bureau, which operates the town’s visitors center and gift shop.
Watch our German Texan Culture video to learn more about German Texan cultural heritage in Texas. This video was produced for inclusion in our German Texans mobile tour found in our Texas Time Travel Tours mobile app. Download the app for more videos and travel information:
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