Hill Country Treasure Hunting

We sent our expert shopper to the Hill Countryâ€"Fredericksburg, to be exactâ€"for a report on local retail.

HUNTER-GATHERER: Ken Knight’s Hill Country shopping excursion in Fredericksburg revealed treasures—both great and small—ranging from whimsical folk-art animals at Garden Spirits (below left) to antiques and custom furniture (left) and decorative accessories (below right) at Homestead.

Hill Country Treasure Hunting
Retail guru Ken Knight details his favorite finds on a weekend getaway to Fredericksburg.

The Texas Hill Country was settled by agrarian German immigrants, including my great-grandmother, in the mid- to late-1800s. They came up through the Gulf of Mexico and traveled by ox and wagon through New Braunfels, claiming the farmland grants available for those aspiring to a new life in America.

In 1846, a group of these pioneers named a settlement for their patron—Prince Frederick of Prussia—calling it Fredericksburg. Their main houses, like their farms, were scattered across the hills, but in Fredericksburg proper they built small limestone buildings, called Sunday houses, which were used on weekends while marketing or attending church.

While some of Fredericksburg’s original buildings were lost to progress, many of the survivors, now registered historical landmarks, gained a new lease on life thanks to the booming bed-and-breakfast industry—urban dwellers in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, eager for a restful weekend and some unique retailers, find Fredericksburg a natural choice. There is a relaxed and breezy rhythm of living here, and it is refreshing to be favored with waves and smiles by folks who look you in the eye with sincerity. This is an honest part of the world.

PASTIME: In Fredericksburg, you’ll find quaint stores standing shoulder-to-shoulder along Main Street (below left) offering something for every taste, from the elegant to the more whimsical, such as Garden Spirit’s Day of the Dead figurines (left), and even something for your sweet tooth at Rather Sweet (above).

After my own leisurely 4-hour drive down from Dallas, I coast into town at the end of the day and land in front of my abode for the duration, the Bierschwale Estate, which is one of the best of the many hospitable facilities in the region. Each B&B has a personality all its own, and what attracted me to the Bierschwale Estate was its 1889 limestone structure, designed by the leading San Antonio architect at the time—English-born Alfred Giles—and the current owner’s combined passion for collecting regional and early American primitive antiques. Once there, I know I’ve made the right choice. The grounds are impeccable, yet relaxed. Indigenous floral gardens are planted below tall oak trees and set the stage for relaxation, enhanced by a gurgling stream of water.

Owner Jim Foutch escorts me to my “room,” The Granary, a relocated outbuilding that has served several functions over time, including cellar, smokehouse, and grain barn. Once inside, I find a bottle of wine from local Becker Vineyards and a note reporting that a basket of fresh-baked muffins, scones, and rolls will be delivered in the morning at 9.

Soon after, I find myself stalking the Main Street corridor of shops. They’re all closed for the evening, which is just the way I like it on the first round. Pulling out my jotter, I make a list of stores that seem worthy of exploration. (I am curious about the vast wideness of the streets, and, with a little investigating, I learn that they were designed so that oxen and wagons could make a complete turn without backing up—true German engineering at work in 1846.)

The next morning, as promised, I find outside my door a basket full of the most amazing, oversized pastries from Rather Sweet. When I pass the bakery on the street later in the day, I decide to pop in and deliver my compliments to the chef. Inside, managing partner Dan Kamp entertains patrons at the very well-stocked pastry counter while chef Rebecca Rather handles the creative side of the business.

Across the street is my first stop and the most visually interesting store. The power of the logo on the window—so fresh and clear—speaks volumes about the talent and abundance of quality on the other side of the window. Dogologie is a fresh approach to the world of pet furnishings. The dog beds, leashes, and toys seem to pop as creatively as the logo, and, in keeping with the trend of dog-friendly establishments, a welcoming bowl of water outside the front door assures that man’s best friend will find an ally on this warm, summer day.

REST STOPS: Enjoy the tearoom in the Peach Tree Gift Gallery (right) or take a few of their gourmet treats back to a local B&B, such as Bierschwale Estate (above), for those late-night cravings.

For home furnishings, the most formidable game in town is Homestead, owned and operated by Tim and Carol Bolton. Homestead offers a wide array of regional farm-primitive and European antiques, reproduction upholstery and furnishings, and a collection of iron beds made by local craftsmen. Tim and Carol also offer decorative bed linens and soaps and general decorative accessories and art. Don’t miss the garden accessories in the courtyard. I found a rare chess set of molded iron players for $195—since a few pieces were missing in action—a highly carved 19th-century French armoire with original curved beveling for $2,695, and a cast-iron bust of the goddess Diana for $179.

The Peach Tree Gift Gallery & Tearoom wins the award for most beloved retailer in town, and it turns out that Dogologie is a member of this same busy retail family. Proprietors Tina Sawlette and David Pedregon provide a series of rooms filled with the best lines in home accessories, ceramics, and gourmet treats, and their tea room is a favorite haunt of locals.

With a focus on antique china, silver, and American cut crystal, Showcase Antiques, which is housed in an old bank building, attracts collectors from all over the nation. It would be very easy to fall in love with an 18th-century Wedgwood pattern, and mountains of antique silver and crystal pieces are waiting for new homes—and they don’t have it on the Internet, so you will have to visit in person.

One of the most exotic buildings in town, with iron ornamentation on top of its Victorian façade, is The White Elephant Shoppe, which has just been purchased by former-computer-executive-turned-retailer Mickey Drake. Mickey’s very affordable, custom hand-woven wool rugs may be built to order. My favorite example is a 8-by-12-foot, two-color piece for $1,440. For first-time homeowners, this entry-level price is a unique alternative to carpet.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME: Bierschwale Estate is just one of the many B&Bs in Fredericksburg, where you can enjoy Hill Country scenery and Southern hospitality.

 A newcomer in town, Zertz is a small, modern shop with interesting decorative items. My favorite find here is a rust-and-cream sunburst-patterned ceramic pasta bowl in two sizes, for $81 and $119. These new shopkeepers express refreshingly personal, genuine excitement for both customers and products.

Der Küchen Laden, an entertaining shop inside a former hospital building, is a chef’s heaven, including contemporary tools and cookbooks. Have an espresso at the counter and peruse the inventive collection.

A fun playground for all ages, Garden Spirits is filled with folk-art objects, including beautiful pottery and colorful, hand-painted wooden lizards from Oaxaca, Mexico. When the store closes for the evening, the owner positions a chair in front of a window by the door. Stationed in that chair is one of the lizards—holding the “closed” sign. Very smart.

And these are just a few of the sights to be seen in Fredericksburg. The rest I’ll leave for you to discover. Sweet breezes await you in a land of solid limestone and gentle smiles. Remember: shopping isn’t only about material goods. Think of it as an advanced degree in history.


Keep me up to date on the latest happenings and all that D Magazine has to offer.