Monday, October 20, 2008

Where You Least Expect It -- A My Town Monday Post

Umbarger, Texas is the tiny kind of town that people refer to as a wide spot in the road. Originally settled by German and Swiss immigrants, the town has a meager population just over three hundred people.

This grain elevator is the only structure of any significant size.

The average traveler would view it as simply another small town dying a slow death. I imagine that is how most Amarilloans think of Umbarger which lies 27 miles to the southwest. Matter of fact I'd say the only time the average Amarillo residents think of Umbarger is when the small community has it's annual sausage festival each November. Here is the blurb about the upcoming event.

Umbarger German Sausage Festival, Nov. 9

St. Mary’s Church of Umbarger will be hosting their annual fundraising dinner on November 9, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. German sausage will be served along with sauerkraut, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, applesauce and homemade baked bread. Tickets are $8 for adults, $4 for children 6 to10, and children under 6 eat free. Take outs are available and sausage and sauerkraut can be purchased. Homemade crafts and baked goods will be for sale to the public at the Country Store. There will be a drawing for prizes. The church will be opened for public viewing.

If you've never attended I highly recommend you do so this year. And while the food is good, the real hidden gem and the subject of this particular My Town Monday post is the last line of that blurb. I'll enlarge and italicize it in case you were skimming.

The church will be opened for public viewing.

So what you say. What's the big deal about a tiny little Catholic Church in some Podunk town on a state highway in Texas?

For the answer to that let me take you back 62 years, to a time when the world was involved in a war against Hitler and the Axis powers, including the Mussolini led Italians.

St. Mary's church in Umbarger was built a decade before in either 1929 or 1930. Originally it was described as a drab structure both inside and out.

In 1944 Rev. John Krukkert was assigned to St Mary's Church. That very same year the United States Government built an 800 acre POW encampment in nearby Hereford, Texas. The Hereford Military Reservation and Reception Center housed nearly 4,000 Italian prisoners of war, many of whom were artists and craftsmen.

Word got out about the prisoners talents and Krukkert asked the cam commander of some of the men could be given work assignments to beautify his church in Umbarger.

Permission was granted and a group led by Franco Di Bello, an English-speaking Italian officer went to work.

The "volunteers" painted two murals. The Annunciation and The Visitation each lined a side of the altar. An oil-on-canvas, The Assumption of Mary, was created to hang behind it.

But the Italian men did not stop there. A wood carver created a bas-relief scene of The Last Supper, which fronts the white marble altar and along both sides of the Assumption of Mary painting, they carved more vertical bas-relief featuring grapes, olives and crosses. Christian symbols such as crosses, anchors, olives, grapes and lions ring the walls.

Krukkert earlier ordered stained-glass windows in jewel colors from his native Holland, and the POWs installed them.

Here is an AP photo I found of the church but it truly does not do it justice, so for those of you who live in the area I urge you to visit if you get the chance and see the beautiful work of the captives left behind.

Thirteen men died at the encampment and today there is a memorial on the site for those men.

The next time you speed through one of those don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it kind of town slow down and take a look around. You might be surprised by what find.


Melanie Avila -- Zihuatanejo, Mexico

Cloudia -- Hawaii

Junosmom -- Kentucky

Patti Abbott -- Detroit, Michigan

Britta Coleman -- Fort Worth, Texas

Barbara Martin -- Toronto, Canada

Clare2E (Women of Mystery) -- Croton-on-Hudson, New York

Clair Dickson -- Brighton, Michigan

Barrie Summy -- San Diego, California

Lana Gramlich -- Covington, Louisiana

Reb -- Old Strathcone (Edmonton) Alberta, Canada

Jenny Jill -- Muskoka, Ontario, Canada

Mary Nix -- Olmsted Falls, Ohio

Lyzzydee -- Welwyn Garden City, England

PreTzal -- Boone County, Iowa

Karen Alaniz -- Walla Walla, Washington

Debra -- Village of Peninsula, Ohio


Melanie Hooyenga said...

Hey Travis, I posted about my town on Friday - feel free to link it if you'd like!

Hilary said...

That's a wonderful history. You're so right about small towns holding their own special tales, unknown to even the surrounding area. Nicely told.

Lyzzydee said...

Hi Travis, Thats beautiful!! I have a similar strange experience. I went to a school called St Joan of Arc, we were told all about her history and I consigned the info into the back of my brain somewhere. A few years ago we were travelling in France when we decided to stop in this tiny little village called St Catherine de Fierbois. The name started to ring a bell in my brain. The place was absolutely deserted even though it was mid morning. We parked up and walked around the corner to be confronted with a magnificent church and a statue of St Joan. It turns out that this was the place that she received her 'visitation' where she was told what her destiny in life was. The church seemed so out of place in comparison to the rest of the sleepy place!! My post goes up just before midnight tonight.
Thank You!!

Phats said...

We have one of those close to us a don't blink town. They have a hopping pub, and some crazyass artwork at their four-way stop.

How about them Huskers!

Anonymous said...

My brother, who was an artist and art teacher, spent 10 years in prison. It would've been great if he had been given the chance to do art work in a church.

Cloudia said...

Thank You Travis, for another engaging little trip! Your simple way of saying worthwile stuff makes your blog a must-visit. Apparently others feel the same: your place is teeming with "callers" who stay a while and chat. I'm real glad to be one of them. I linked to you!
Aloha, Texan

Angie Ledbetter said...

The little out of the way places sometimes hold the best treasures. Interesting history of your area, so thanks for sharing!

Junosmom said...

Hi Travis, My post will go up at midnight tonight about a small town in KY.

Loved your post about small hidden treasures, beauty where you least expect it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

A gorgeous church, Travis. Always worth visiting the church in a town. And that sausage doesn't sound half-bad. Mine goes up at 11:00 tonight.

Britta Coleman said...

An annual sausage festival??? I lived in Amarillo for years and never went. Label me bitter.

My Town is up--it's about Fort Worth's illustrious horned frog.

Frank Baron said...

Although a lapsed Catholic, I still feel a sense of magic and wonder in many churches that stems largely from their art.

Terrific story Travis, very well told. Thanks.

Barbara Martin said...

German sausage and sauerkraut...the food that puts meat on your bones. Love that food! Very nice post about small places tucked away. Reminded me about Beiseker, Alberta, which was an interment camp during the WWs.

My post is up now. Our minds must have been linked somehow...mine is about a farmer's market.

Clare2e said...

Travis- ours from the Blaze at Croton-on-Hudson is up at Women of Mystery.

This is a neat post, and I agree wholeheartedly about stopping at the rump ends of nowheresville and taking the tours! But I still kept thinking about how my 2nd grade boyfriend's last name was Linebarger. Cousin mebbe? Could I have married him and inherited a town?

Gregory Anderson said...


Travis, I will be in Dumas on Wednesday night.

I'll even let you buy me a beer.

You probably need to visit Dumas anyway to gather information for your next MTM post.

Send me an email if you're interested.

Penelope said...

Interesting. . .

I've got a bunch of MTM stuff in my head. I just need the time to get it on paper.


Anonymous said...

Great post and story as always, Travis. I have some sort of odd fear of the silos. I recall traveling through towns just like the one you describe and being scared to death.. go figure.

The church is beautiful and the sausage sounds delicious.

David Cranmer said...

When I did my post on the pow camp at Rayne, Louisiana I came across similar interesting facts. Also, many of the Germans liked the area so much that after the war they stayed or returned to the area and even today there is a large German population in the region... good post Travis.

Clair D. said...

I like the little towns that are barely a blink on the roadway. Less people. ;-)

My MTM post will go up at 1AM.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Fascinating bit of history.


Barrie said...

That church looks AMAZING! What a great story. Thanks for posting it for us. My MTM will be up at midnight my time. It's about the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

Joshua said...

very cool! and when a sausage festival is involed, even better!

Lana Gramlich said...

I've got a MTM post (kinda.) It's based in Covington, LA (the next town over from ours.)

Will be back to catch up on reading shortly...been SOOO swamped!

Lana Gramlich said...

Interesting about the church & the festival. With a name like "Gramlich" I do feel obligated to attend some kind of Oktoberfest or sausagefest at some point. Yavol!
And that grain elevator? We had a couple of those where I lived in Canada. I knew one of 2 guys who fell from the top of one (the other guy died.)

Reb said...

What a great church and a wonderful tale to go with it.

Mine is up, more on Old Strathcona.

Jenn Jilks said...

There is something about a small town.

Aaron said...

I had no idea we brought back POWs from WW2 to the states...

alex keto said...

Just to add to this post, Italian POWs taken in the North African campaigns built the roads on the Kenyan highlands where they were taken by the British.
After the war, a lot of them stayed figuring it was better in Kenya than Italy at that point.

Unknown said...

Very cool post, Travis.

My wife loves beautiful old churches and I love sausage (we're a match made in Eastern European heaven). I think we might have to check out that festival. I'm guessing that they'll have some great German beers, too!


preTzel said...

I love to visit old churches and if I ever get that way I'll be visiting it. After I visit you, of course. :D

My MTM is up.

Jewel Allen said...

Found you through Georgie B. I love that you write Women's fiction. Cool for you!

Interesting history for a small town!

Cheryl Wray said...

Travis...this was so interesting! It sounds like a beautiful church, and what a fascinating history lesson. I would love to visit it!

One of these days I'm going to start doing My Town Mondays. :-)

Karen Fisher-Alaniz said...

Hey Travis! I have a post up today and from the looks of it, I'm the only Washingtonian and for sure the only Walla Wallan. LOL ~Karen

debra said...

Just got home from North Carolina. My post is up. I'll be back later to read :-)

Jess said...

Totally awesome. I wrote my grandmother (who grew up in your town) and asked her if she knew about this church. I'm curious as to her response. :) Thanks for the great MTM and letter writing content!

Mr. Shife said...

Wow that is a great story and a wonderful history. Thanks for sharing. We sure do miss a lot in life by not taking the time to slow down.

Lauren said...

That is such an interesting story. What beautiful work they did! Thanks for sharing :)

Shauna Roberts said...

Cool story. It gave me a little shiver down my back.

My post is up. It's about the Santa Ana winds of Southern California: