In the News – 13 Aug. 2002 – Star-Telegram

About Van Massirer and the Prairie Chapel School
Crawford, Texas

This is a companion add-on article to The West begins near the beautiful Bush ranch, too – Bud Kennedy commentary in DFW, Texas Telegram – August 13, 2002 reposted on the Bukovina Society Website.

Van’s great-grandparents, Franz and Margaretha Loess Massirer, were born in 1842 and 1844, respectively, in Polowce, a small colony near Chortkov, Galicia, in the far eastern part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Franz was a descendant of Johann Nikolaus Massierer who immigrated to Galicia from the Rhineland-Pfalz region in Germany in 1785. Franz and Margaretha immigrated to Texas in 1892 with six of their seven children. A daughter was already married and did not immigrate until two years later. Franz became a tenant farmer in Texas, but saved enough money in four years to make a down payment on 481 acres of land in 1896. A portion of that land has been passed down through four generations and, along with more recently acquired property, is now owned by a great-grandson, Van Massirer and his wife, Mary. The Massirer Ranch was recognized in 1997 by the Texas Land Heritage Program for 100 years of continuous ownership.

While still in Austria, Franz was converted to the Baptist faith by his cousin, Ferdinand Massier, a roving missionary in Bukovina and Galicia. After Franz arrived in Texas, he and Margaretha became members of the Canaan Baptist Church, a German Baptist congregation in the Prairie Chapel Community west of Crawford. This community is now the home of President George and Laura Bush.

Many of the charter and early members of the Canaan Church were immigrants from Bukovina and Galicia. Their names, in addition to Massirer, were Althof, Freyer, Gauer, Hoehn, Hodel, Jaeckle, Lander, Landfried, Mack, Mueller, Selzer, Weber, and others. Descendants of many of these early members are still active in the church.

The Prairie Chapel School

Prairie Chapel School, built in 1908 and named for the rural German-Texan community that it served, sits on a prominent rise in central Texas. Although that rise has been known for years as the highest elevation in McLennan County, the old school has recently been on a different kind of “rise.”

Although the Prairie Chapel School consolidated with the Crawford School in 1939, the building was retained by the community and used sporadically for a variety of activities. Then in the mid-1990s, a group of community leaders interested in preserving the school for posterity, applied for and erected a state historical marker. Ever-increasing numbers of activities have been held in the building and on the school grounds since that time. At first, there was only a Christmas party in December, but several more activities have been added during the last couple of years. A heritage day is held each year in late May, and this year a Christmas Tour of Homes is scheduled for December 14. The school and the nearby Canaan Baptist Church, a German Baptist congregation, will be two of the six stops on the tour. Proceeds from all of these activities go into a restoration fund for the building. Estimated cost of the restoration is $60,000.

The school and especially the community surrounding it recently gained world-wide attention when President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush bought a nearby ranch and decided to make their home here. Not only has their presence in the community given new meaning to the word “rise”, it has also provided an added impetus to the restoration project and the desire to preserve the German-Texan heritage of the area.

Although the first school in the community was built by Irish settlers in about 1879, German and Austrian immigrants began moving in and purchasing large tracts of land during the mid-1880s. Many of these immigrants came from the Austrian provinces of Bukovina and Galicia, and by 1900, the community was heavily populated with German speaking people. Some were Baptists while others were Lutherans.

The school built in 1908 was a three-room building that served some 70 students in nine grades. German surnames on the teachers’ rolls included Bartels, Bohne, Engelbrecht, Freyer, Gauer, Gohlke, Gossen, Hoehn, Hoppe, Landfried, Massirer, Mattlage, Mueller, Rabbe, Rohloff, Spross, Weber, Wehmeyer, Weiss, Westerfeld, Willmann, and others.

Ex-students and descendants of ex-students and former teachers are now banded together to preserve the historic school building. To this end, the Prairie School Association was recently organized with the following officers: President–Van D. Massirer; Vice-President–Jerry J. Gauer; Secretary–Glenda Smith; Treasurer–Rheadene Weber; and Historian–Clora Kellum. For further information or to donate to the restoration fund, Massirer may be contacted at (254) 486-2366 or <>.

The above is a companion add-on article to The West begins near the beautiful Bush ranch, too – Bud Kennedy commentary in DFW, Texas Telegram – August 13, 2002 reposted on the Bukovina Society Website.