Pixie and Carl Christensen have created a brief, accessible guide to select churches across the state of Texas. The handsome homage to Christian churches, both Catholic and Protestant, and one Jewish synagogue features structures of historical significance built in Texas especially between the years of 1870 and 1925. Churches are located in both urban and rural settings. Each entry is typically two pages in length. One page features the name of the church, city location (no street address), building date, and architect (if known). A brief description of the planning and construction, unique features of design, and/or maintenance challenges through the years is narrated. References to interesting personalities connected to the congregation are often noted. The facing page yields a beautiful watercolor rendering(s) of the exterior of the building. A small number of entries feature an interior view(s) as well. The churches are gathered into seven groupings according to geographical regions of the state: Texas Gulf Coast, East Texas, North Central Texas, South Central Texas, Hill Country, South Texas, and West Texas and the Panhandle. A hand-drawn, colored map of each region begins each geographic section.
Lone Star Steeples is published in the Clayton Wheat Williams Texas Life Series of the publisher, a series exploring the history and culture of Texas. Spanish mission work began in Texas as early as 1690. Texas achieved statehood in 1845. Only three buildings are featured that were constructed prior to statehood: San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio (1755), Mission San Jose, San Antonio (1782), and Christ Episcopal Church, Matagorda (1841). The majority of buildings (57 of 67) were constructed between 1870 and 1925. Seventeen of the churches selected are Catholic and forty-nine are Protestant. Protestant denominations are represented primarily by Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist, and Presbyterian congregations. The ethnic heritage of each congregation is underscored in nearly half of the entries. European nationalities include German, Polish, Czech, Norwegian, French, Spanish, and Swedish. Six African-American congregations (Methodist and Baptist) are noted. Insights into the gradual settling of Texas can be found in these notes concerning Christian traditions and ethnicity. Only one non-Christian place of worship is included in the book, Temple Beth-El, a synagogue located in Corsicana. This is a Reformed Jewish congregation with ethnic roots in Germany and eastern Europe.
Design styles of the churches reflect the architectural revival movements popular in the United States from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries. Gothic revival influence (recognized especially by basilican/rectangular or cruciform plans with windows and doors featuring pointed arches) dominate the selected buildings, representing about two-thirds of the churches. I would be interested in discovering if the majority of historic Texas churches generally feature Gothic-revival design or if the authors simply found these buildings to be more attractive for their project. A glossary of architectural terms used in the book is included. It is not extensive, but I found it useful for navigating jargon common to design features of church architecture. A bibliography of resources is also included. It features 10 titles of books (referencing the history of Texas and churches in Texas), a dozen titles of booklets related to specific churches, and seven interviews. Seven pages of websites, sorted by geographic regions in Texas, follow the print sources. These would be useful for discovering additional details about the churches featured in the book.
Overall, I found Lone Star Steeples to be a helpful primer for beginning an exploration of historically significant churches across Texas. The book is beautifully illustrated with brief, but thoughtful descriptions of a handful of churches. The content is oriented toward a broad audience and is easy to access. The focus on the late-19th to early 20th century seems to be a bit narrow, but additional research could be done to supplement this fine selection of churches. [End Page 95]