I counted 5 Polish stores on a single street in Hereford, England, and became obsessed with finding out why they were there. As it turned out, lots of Poles emigrated to Great Britain to work in agriculture, especially apple gathering. Cider was once and still is a big product coming out of Hereford. However, making it and gathering apples employs far fewer people than before. Regardless, a cider museum remains, but local Poles, I was told, are struggling economically.
Ruth and I have known for a long time that Central Texas has many residents of Czech descent. I thought that all that was left of their cultural presence was a large number of stores selling kolaces, a calorie-filled pastry of Central European origin, until Ruth and I went through La Grange, Texas, earlier this year on our way to Houston. On the outskirts of La Grange was the Texas Czech Heritage & Cultural Center. It looked new. It looked impressive. Ruth and I went in to be welcomed as if we were Czech. The greeter even gave me a 2018 Czech calendar!
This occurred after a guided tour of the museum during which my host corrected my pronunciation of kolace. This cultural center is far more than a donated collection of many Czech artifacts in a museum. It houses a genealogy library, a banquet hall, and an amphitheater. Retta, the lady who gave me last year’s calendar and is 1st generation Czech, told me that this large community center was dedicated in 2009. Its library contains more than 10,000 books, mostly in Czech.
La Grange was chosen for this heritage center because it has the largest Czech population in the area. This town in Texas’ Fayette County bid for and won the right to have it; 66% of Fayette’s residents are of Czech heritage. Czechs followed Germans to this area fleeing war and the usual pestilences. Texas is home to about 10,000,000 folks of Czech descent, and Retta told me that this facility proudly preserves their heritage. There’s even a Czech Music Museum in the Kalich house in the Czech village.
The enthusiastic people involved in this project are building an entire Czech community of heritage buildings behind their huge culture center. The day we were there, workers were completing a newspaper operation that was about to open to the public. It joins the Wallachian Bell and Belfry that was sent to Texas from Roznov in the Czech Republic, a general store, the 1880s Hoelscher house that had been moved here from Houston, and several other heritage buildings. The original bell is now in the museum. Everyone involved with this cultural operation was buzzing about a church in Shiner, Texas, that was soon to be moved to La Grange to become part of this village. The newspaper was one of several published for a Czech community, and the church was attended by Texans of Czech origin until there were only 3 of them left.