I have as my guest today Karen Casey Fitzjerrell. A Texas girl through and through, Karen was born near Houston in Baytown, near the tip of the Houston Ship Channel, and now lives in San Antonio. Formerly a freelance writer for several newspapers and regional magazines in the state, she recently turned to getting her fiction works out from under the bed and into the public eye for us all to enjoy. As a fellow member of Women Writing the West, she very kindly answered my plea for help on all things Texan, serving as background consultant to my own WIP. I’m indebted to her not only for that, but for feeding my fascination with the Sunday Houses I spotted in Hill Country. Over to Karen:
In The Dividing Season, my book set in 1910 West Texas, a woman rancher makes a surprising discovery in a Sunday House
that had been built by her grandfather in the late 1800s. The woman recalls many stories exchanged and rehashed between her father and his brother about the wild times they’d enjoyed in the Sunday House when they were young men. Stories of cheating poker games, plots to catch cattle rustlers and cattle buying contracts gone bad.
Until the book’s editor suggested that I explain what a Sunday House was, I hadn’t realized that few people are aware of the houses’ significance to German settlers who ranched and farmed the remote hills and prairies of Texas.
Think about it. Back in those early settlement days there were no Holiday Inns, Marriotts, or LaQuintas on every corner of town. When ranchers and farmers had business to conduct in town he—and as often as not she—rarely had time to finish his or her list of errands before having to head back home before full darkness. It became a common thing for settlers to build very small “houses,”
usually one room, ten feet by ten feet to twelve feet by fourteen feet, on small town lots for the convenience of having a place to stay overnight. Most of the houses had lofts tucked up under cedar or cypress roofs where children slept on cots. The lower floor had a curtained off area where adults slept. A “kitchen corner” with a small table and wash basin were about as elaborate as the tiny houses got.
Whole families would ride a wagon or buggy into town on Saturday mornings (a half day’s ride for most) and visit the dry goods store, hardware store, and bank. Then they’d stay overnight in their Sunday House and attend church services the next morning. Most carried along picnic baskets, and after church services they ate, napped, attended baseball games or visited relatives before the return trip home.
Time spent in town to buy supplies, attend church services and visit was often the only social activity families enjoyed after long weeks of isolation on remote ranches. In New Braunfels, Castorville and Fredericksburg, Sunday Houses were being built as late as 1909. When I researched Sunday Houses online for this blog post I’d hoped to find new insight as to why Sunday Houses seem particular to Texas. I’ve not run across any mention of them elsewhere in the U.S. with the exception of similar “houses” in 1660s Middlebury, Connecticut and in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. I can only assume that the vast open, empty reaches of Texas necessitated the need for such a convenience.
The custom of Sunday Houses slowly died out with the introduction of motorized vehicles and better roads. Many of the houses still stand to this day and have been renovated as museums, tidbit tributes to a time gone by. Some have been modernized and are rented as Bed and Breakfast getaways.
While researching Sunday Houses for The Dividing Season I thought of the irony that today I reverse the pioneers’ Sunday House habit. I’m a city bound soul who always looks forward to a day trip down dusty roads leading into the heart of Texas. This is especially true in spring when wildflowers turn the roadways into brilliant paths of color. The trouble is – I’ve no Sunday House “out there” and so must return to the choke of city life before my hunger for empty stretches of land and sky is sated. I wonder what The Dividing Season’s cattlewoman would have said about my predicament.
Thanks so much for visiting, Karen!
To find out more about The Dividing Season visit Karen’s website at: http://www.karencasyfitzjerrell.com
I’ve reviewed The Dividing Season on both Amazon and Goodreads, and here’s a bit of what I said:
“:…Fitzjerrell’s style is restrained yet poetic, capturing the atmosphere of the scenes she describes as well as their physical presence. Her characters come to life with those small, intimate details only a practiced eye detects, the minutiae and small gestures that embody the individual. Her keen observation breathes life into the everyday rituals of a time long gone and makes the reader yearn for a past he never knew. Such involvement with the book is well rewarded, although that is not to say that the story is predictable. While Fitzjerrell keeps a tight rein on her prose, the pages are kept turning until the very end.”