Luckenbach Texas maintains a ghost town feel with its small population and strong western roots. One of its two main buildings houses the remnants of a post office, a working saloon, and a general store. The other is the dance hall.
Luckenbach’s association with country music began in the summer of 1973, when Jerry Jeff Walker, backed by the Lost Gonzo Band, recorded a live album at the Luckenbach Dancehall called Viva Terlingua. That album became an outlaw country classic. Four years later Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson memorialized Luckenbach with the song “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love),” co-written by rock and soul record producer Chips Moman and keyboardist Bobby Emmons. Notable concert appearances in the town include Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Pat Green, Robert Earl Keen, and Lyle Lovett. The little community is still an active home to country music, where folks gather by the score to listen to area musicians and drink cold beer, particularly Shiner Bock, a local favorite brewed by the oldest brewery in Texas. Also, check out Memorial – Houston area if you’re in the Energy areas of Houston.
The community of Luckenbach, Texas is located in Gillespie County, which was established in 1847. It is a very scenic community, and music is a very important part of community life. During the mid-1800s, Luckenbach was settled by two German brothers named Jacob and August Luckenbach. The Luckenbach brothers were farmers, and Jacob had fought in the Texas Revolution.
It wasn’t until 1886 that the town was officially named Luckenbach. The community of Luckenbach is located on Grape Creek, which is a tributary of the Pedernales River. The landscape is quite pleasant with mixed bottomlands and the type of reddish-brown caliche hills that are typical of desert-like areas.
Luckenbach consists of almost ten acres between South Grape Creek and Snail Creek. Its oldest building is the Post Office-General Store-Bar, opened in 1849 by Minna Engel, whose father was an itinerant preacher from Germany. The community, first named Grape Creek, was later named after Minna’s husband, Carl Albert Luckenbach. Luckenbach was first established as a community trading post and was one of the few that never broke a peace treaty with the Comanche Indians whom they bartered and traded with.
The Population Of Luckenbach
To say that the population of the town of Luckenbach has always been small would be an understatement. In 1896, the population was 150, and it fluctuated wildly in the 30 years surrounding the turn of the 20th century. It grew to 492 by the turn-of-the-century; however, in 1904 it began a rapid decline. By 1920, there were only 20 people in Luckenbach and this remained the case until the 1950s. By 1960, the population of the town had increased to 60 people; however, it fell again to only 25 residents.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the Texas almanac counted the population of looking back as 25. Be that as it may, the sign that greets tourists visiting the old town today notes a population of three.
Historic Places And Events In Luckenbach
Dreams Take Flight In Luckenbach
One notable historic event occurred on November 20, 1865, when schoolmaster Jacob F. Brodbeck decided to pursue his dream of flight by designing and testing his very own flying machine four decades ahead of the Wright brothers. According to the Handbook of Texas Online, Brodbeck was actually the first man to fly in an airplane on September 20, 1865. He had built several working models successfully and was able to get solid financial backing from a number of investors. Unfortunately, his demonstration flight ended with a crash. Although Brodbeck was not badly injured in the crash, he was sorely disappointed. He set his wrecked plane on fire and walked away, never to explore the world of aviation again.
The Luckenbach School Holds Its Place As A Texas Historic Landmark
The Luckenbach School was established in 1855. The building went through a number of iterations from a one-room log cabin to the one-room stone schoolhouse to a limestone schoolhouse/teacher age combination. Because of the small size of both the school and the population, the school never offered more than seven grades.
Because the population of the town decreased dramatically in the 1960s, classes were consolidated with the schools in Fredericksburg by 1967. Nonetheless, the school has always been central to the town, which continues to have a sense of community thanks to the fact that the Luckenbach Club meets seasonally at the historic school and maintains the school grounds. In 1982, a historical marker was erected at the school. In 1986, one was erected for the town, itself.
The Engel Family Established The Luckenbach Dance Hall And Other Enterprises
At the turn of the 20th century, several successful businesses were operating Luckenbach. They included a blacksmith shop, a cotton gin. Mrs. Albert Luckenbach (a.k.a. Minnie Engel) opened a dance hall, store and saloon. As the population grew, the need for schools, churches, and cemeteries grew right along with it. By 1900, the community of Luckenbach had a primary school, a Lutheran Church, a Methodist Church and a Catholic Church along with a Catholic cemetery. There were also quite a few private family cemeteries in the area.
Unfortunately, in the early 20th century, the population of the town experienced a sharp decline. Despite this, the Luckenbach Dance Hall was rebuilt during the 1930s and continued to be successful. The rebuilder invested quite a bit in an all-new maple dance floor. Dances were held, and Anna Shoop Engel used her own dishes to serve patrons homemade delights. Throughout all its ups and downs, the dance hall has remained a popular gathering place for both local and visiting musicians.
In 1935, Anna’s husband, William, passed away and his sons took control of the saloon and dance hall along with the other businesses and the post office.
The Historic South Grape Creek/Luckenbach Post Office
It was not long after the Luckenbach brothers settled the area that the first post office was opened. In 1854, the South Grape Creek post office opened its doors. Unfortunately, the post office was not a resounding success. It failed briefly but reopened in 1886 with August Engel serving as the postmaster. Before the turn-of-the-century, William Ingle also took a turn as the postmaster. Being postmaster was an Engle family tradition, and in 1935 Benno Engle took over as postmaster following the death of his father, postmaster, William Engle.
Many consider the World Famous Luckenbach Dance Hall to be the “Best Dancehall in Texas.” This is the place where memories are made. From school closings, oompah band and swing dances to reunions, anniversaries and concerts the Luckenbach Dance Hall has been a community social center since the 1800s.
We have had weddings (Pat Green and Jerry Jeff Walker), political and antique car rallies. We’ve even staged a beauty contest… Scare Me! Traditional regulars on the Luckenbach stage range from Gary P. Nunn, Robert Earl Keen and Jerry Jeff Walker to Too Strange for Sisterdale and the Luckenbach Junior High Progressive Oompah Band. Most folks say the “happenings” here in Luckenbach are “magical.”
Luckenbach Becomes A State Of Mind
In 1970 Benno Engel sold the town of Luckenbach to John Russell (Hondo) Crouch, Kathy Morgan and Guich Koock who lived in Comfort, a town located nearby. Crouch was something of a celebrity. He had been a swimming champion, an actor and a columnist. He made the most of his opportunity to own a town by declaring Luckenbach to be “a free state of mind”.
Hondo Crouch presented himself alternately as “The Clown Prince of Luckenbach” and the mayor. He made the most of the fact that Lyndon Johnson’s “Texas White House” (a.k.a. the LBJ ranch) was located nearby in the town of Pedernales. It was during this time, Luckenbach began attracting people in the music industry. It began with singer/songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, who recorded his 1973 hit album, Viva Terlingua in the town of Luckenbach.
It was also during this time that a number of festivals became established in the city. Among them are:
- Annual Hug-In
- Mud Dauber’s Day
- Women’s Chili Cookoff
- Luckenbach Great Worlds Fair
- The Non-Buy Centennial Celebration
This last event was organized as a protest to the fact that the actual Bicentennial of the United States in 1976 was becoming so commercialized. Both Elizabeth Taylor and the Prince of Wales were invited to and attended this event, and thousands of people flocked to Luckenbach to see them.
Luckenbach Becomes A Music Mecca
Thanks to the vision and enthusiasm of Hondo Crouch, Luckenbach became known as the town where “everybody is somebody”. It became legendary in 1977 when Waylon Jennings recorded the hit song, Luckenbach Texas, Back to Basics on his album, Back To The Basics Of Love. The song became a national favorite. As a result, musicians both amateur and professional were attracted to the historic and relaxed atmosphere of the town.
From 1995 to 1999, Willie Nelson held his famous annual Fourth of July Picnic in the town of Luckenbach. In December 2002, the magazine, Texas Monthly included Luckenbach in its “Top 25 Unusual Treasures of Texas” list.
These days, it is hard to keep road signs in place to direct travelers to the tiny town because it has become quite popular to steal them as souvenirs. Nonetheless, visitors who are determined can find the town of Luckenbach on Farm to Market Road 1376, just east of Fredericksburg and South of US 290.
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