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Conrad Fuchs house: History up in flames, Part I

The Conrad Fuchs house before it burned on Feb. 25, 2024. The circular stone steps, which lead to the kitchen, are still in good shape. The city of Horseshoe Bay is considering moving them to use in the design of a new City Hall. Courtesy photo

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series about the past, present, and uncertain future of the Conrad Fuchs house. Part 2 was published in the July issue of The Picayune Magazine

Crumbling rock walls are all that remain of the historic Conrad Fuchs house, a 150-year-old pioneer homestead in Horseshoe Bay that has been central to preservationist hopes since at least the 1970s. The house was being restored by its newest owners when it caught fire and burned on Feb. 25

The Horseshoe Bay City Council decided in April that the structure was unsafe and voted to have all but a portion of it demolished. As the city and the property owners negotiate the home’s future, The Picayune Magazine is taking a look at the history of the place and the impact it has had on the area.

SUCCESSES & TRAGEDIES

For a 40-year period spanning the turn of the 20th century, much of the acreage that is now Cottonwood Shores and Horseshoe Bay South was “the hub of pioneer industry,” according to the late historian Esther Richter Weaver.* She called the Conrad Fuchs house “one of the first substantial homes of a cultured pioneer family” in her successful 1974 application to the Texas Historical Commission for a historical marker. 

“(The house) is an example of what highly skilled craftsmen could accomplish during pioneer days with the natural resources at hand,” Weaver wrote. “(It is) a monument to the courage and strength of the pioneers … who labored constantly against many odds in the primitive wilderness.”  

Conrad Fuchs (pronounced Fox) was born in Germany, the fourth child of Adolph and Luise (Rümker) Fuchs, who moved to the United States with seven of their children in 1845. Adolph and Luise were given a league (about 4,400 acres) of Central Texas land that was granted posthumously to German immigrant Ferdinand Lueders by then-Texas President Sam Houston. Lueders died from wounds sustained in the Battle of San Jacinto fighting for Texas independence from Mexico.

Lueders’ brother, a town mayor in Germany, inherited the land but had no desire to leave his native country. He gave the acreage to his good friend, the Rev. Adolph Fuchs. A Lutheran minister, Fuchs was looking for religious freedom and new opportunities for his large family. He certainly succeeded.

This story, however, is about Conrad Fuchs, his wife, Anna Perlitz, and the house they built near the Colorado River before Marble Falls was founded.

The portraits of Conrad and Anna Fuchs are framed and in the archives of The Falls on the Colorado Museum, 2001 Broadway in Marble Falls. Courtesy photos

The couple married in 1860 and, one year later, purchased 160 acres of land adjacent to Adolph’s property for $80 in Confederate money. They started what became a large family in a log cabin until the two-story stone structure was completed in 1880. Conrad built the house using nearby stone for the outer walls, oak and cedar trees for the interior framing and cabinetry, and locally quarried and processed lime for mortar and plaster. 

Conrad was the first postmaster of the Tiger Mill Post Office, which moved to Marble Falls when the city was founded in 1887—15 years later. Pony Express riders delivering the mail and stagecoach drivers with passengers and packages pulled into a stable built under the back of the Fuchs house where it extended over a rocky incline. 

Also on his land, Conrad built and operated a gristmill, a blacksmith shop, a cotton gin press, a sugar cane press, a sawmill, and a lime kiln.

Anna taught school for about 15 years, first in the log cabin and later in the stone house. She had up to 14 students at a time, all related to the Fuchs family in some way.

The house was large and impressive, especially for a rural area. Downstairs consisted of four rooms, two on the west and two on the east, separated by a large hallway. Each had a fireplace. Upstairs was one undivided room that ran the entire length and width of the house. All but the north rock wall was plastered over with a lime mixture. 

A stairway of stones intricately carved and laid in a half-circle led to the kitchen door on the east side of the house. Conrad routed water from Tiger Creek to his house and corral, next to which he built a two-story barn with a pulley to lift hay bales to the loft. A boiler provided the steam needed to power the cotton gin, sawmill, and gristmill. 

Despite being the center of a growing community, the couple led a sad life, said Horseshoe Bay resident Jim Jorden, who wrote “A History of the Conrad L. Fuchs Family,” published in 2020.

“Conrad and his wife split up,” Jorden told this reporter. “That wasn’t common then.” 

The couple had eight children. The two youngest, 3-year-old Roland B. and 5-year-old Conrad Louis, died of diphtheria in 1878 within a week of each other. 

“Perhaps the sorrow contributed to the eventual dissolution of Anna’s and Conrad’s marriage,” Jorden wrote in the book, although Anna didn’t leave for another 11 years. 

When the marriage did dissolve in 1889, Anna moved to San Antonio with her daughters, 21-year-old Lena Marie and 18-year-old Aldolphina Louise, and two of her sons, 20-year-old Werner J. and 17-year-old Benjamin Ulysses. Son Aldophus Carl, or A.C., 23, stayed to work with Conrad, who died nine years later after falling from a pecan tree. Another son, 25-year-old Frederick R., had already left home and was living in Uvalde.

Anna and the children inherited the property, which they sold in 1899, ending the first of what Jorden describes in his book as the three eras in the house’s saga: the Fuchs Years from 1880-1899; the Forgotten Years from 1900-1969; and the Horseshoe Bay Years from 1970 to the present. 

During the Forgotten Years, the property exchanged hands 10 times, most owners lasting only a few years before selling again. At some point, as ownership changed, all of the metal and lumber from the mills and other outbuildings was sold off to support the World War I effort. 

T.M. and J.R. Yett, who bought what was then a 200-acre homestead from Anna and the children, held on for 15 years, adding up to 3,000 acres to the property. The last private owners, Mr. and Mrs. C.T. Hedges, had the property for 23 years from 1947-70. It was around 850 acres by then.

Today, the 2.67-acre homestead is owned by Jennifer and Paul Raley, who purchased the house in 2020 from the city of Horseshoe Bay for a symbolic $10 and an agreement to follow deed restrictions that include maintaining the property and allowing public access. The deed also prohibits subdividing the property or selling it.

For more on the “Horseshoe Bay Years” and the new “fourth” era of the Conrad Fuchs house, see the July issue of The Picayune Magazine. 

*Esther Richter Weaver was the sister of the late state Sen. Walter Richter and the aunt of Sen. Richter’s daughter, Robyn Richter, who still lives on the family’s Double Horn Ranch in Marble Falls.

suzanne@thepicayune.com

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