Created Sunday, 16 August 2009 23:00
Hill Country Bibliothek
By Julia Hayden
Of all the American towns and small cities I have ever had much to do with, two stand out as interesting hybrids of America and the European homeland… well, three if you count Savannah, the other two being Santa Fe, and Fredericksburg. All three are, to be honest, a little self-consciously touristic with the charms, a touch too dressy for the occasion and location… but charming.
Fredericksburg is the smallest and the least-known of these three, and of course it is the one I am the most familiar with, although there are other Hill Country towns just as pleasant- Comfort, Wimberley, Kerrville- tucked into the limestone hills and steep valleys braided with that dear commodity in South Texas- clear, cold streams of water. William and I sat in a small courtyard this one lovely springtime, sharing a bakery cinnamon roll, and marveling at how it had a definitely European feel- a sort of cloisterish ambiance, sheltering buildings along four sides, well and fountain in the middle, nice comfortable benches, stone paths and all… but three of the sheltering buildings around this small courtyard were the generic Texas clapboard and metal-roofed structures, only the fourth building had any claim to stone and mortar permanence.
My mother insisted, after a visit to the Hill Country, that it looked more like Pennsylvania. This was not just a an accidental geographic coincidence, since the Hill Country is all rolling hills and oak treks, but because it was settled by the same sort of people; stolid Anglo-Saxon or Germanic farmers, devoted to hard work but the higher things as well – learning, free-thinking, and libraries being amongst them.
The public library in the town of Fredericksburg is on Main Street, right next to the Gillespie County Courthouse, on an open green square- the Marketplatz that is the heart of town. The police and fire departments have a building along one side, most of the old, major churches are not far away, the Pioneer Museum and the Pacific War museum are in walking distance, and one can happily while away an afternoon just walking around and looking at lovely old houses, and shops and sampling local foods and wines. I have done so many times, since I moved to this area ten years ago; William is very fond of the place, and it is only an hour or so drive from my San Antonio home; we drive up in the springtime, enjoying the fields of wildflowers on the hillsides and highway verge, and a nice meal and meander through some of the shops. The library presents a most arresting appearance: pure and lavish late 19th Century Beaux Arts style, all porches and tall windows, steep-domed towers, ornate iron lacework along the roof ridges and balconies- the whole effect being something that one can imagine would be the Addams’ Family local public library branch. It is all the more amusing, since the courthouse next door is one of those severely 1930ies Moderne efforts, like a table radio of the era, made large. I’ve never been inside either building, but I just know that the courthouse has WPA murals and industrial linoleum floors, and both of the buildings must and should have those heavy, blond oak tables and chairs that used to be an institutional staple before Bauhaus-style clubbed us all over the head and left us all aesthetically the poorer for it. But the library… ah, the library must have something more special.
/It must have shelves, and shelves of books, and not on those nasty modern industrial metal-grade bookshelves that dent as soon as you look at them, with shoddy adjustable shelves. No, the Fredericksburg Public Library should have heavy, bespoke built-in shelves, as solid and permanent as the building itself, none of those laminate moveable shelves that will begin to sag after a decade or two under the weight of books and books, and books, and more books. This library should have odd little nooks and corners, with window seats and carrels built into them, where a child could curl up with a book and become lost in another world for hours, given access to a place where every volume is a doorway and a passport to that magic land of imagination. Such a perfect place to read, and read and read, all those wonderful worlds accessed through books.
/I told William that the Fredericksburg Public Library would be the perfect venue for a kids’ adventure book. It looks from the outside as if it could contain every one of those elements for a perfectly ripping yarn, juvenile division. A secret room, or hidden passageway, a benevolent ghost, a hidden treasure, a mystery… a story that should encompass friendship and adventure and a sense of the wonderful things that lurk just beyond this all too prosaic world… things that are just barely imaginable just beyond the doorway of a place like the Fredericksburg Public Library… or any other public library, any other town in this seemingly unimpressive but potentially magical world of ours.