History of the Round Top Family Library

The story of the Round Top Family Library is one of dreaming big dreams. It is a community project that benefitted from the gifts and hard work of many different people, but it began near the end of the last millennium as the dream of Christopher K. and Cheryl A. Travis.

Travis was a writer, Managing Partner of an architecture firm and a restoration builder with a love of historic architecture. His wife had a long career as an educator and school administrator. Both had long been involved in education and children’s issues. They owned and ran a private Montessori school in Houston for almost a decade before moving to Round Top.

After relocating to Fayette County in 1992, both were inspired by the vision and relentless determination of James Dick and his team at the International Festival-Institute at Round Top. In a tribute to the vision of those non-profit founders, they followed the advice of master stonemason Jack Finke, and had the motto “Why Dream Ordinary” carved into the stone steps leading into the library gardens. The same motto had been inscribed first, but in Latin, on the grounds of Festival Hill by Mr. Finke.

Early on, they enrolled architect Ed Mattingly of La Grange in their project. Mr. Mattingly was the original designer of the exterior façade of the Concert Hall at Festival Hill, and later, was also instrumental in the founding of the La Grange Animal Shelter.

On April 13, 1999, the three of them incorporated the 501(C)(3), the Round Top Library Association. They then approached the Texas Pioneer Arts Foundation (now the Bybee Foundation) with a request to lease a two acre tract within the Town of Round Top that included a partially restored historic building called the “Rummel Haus”. Their goal in securing the lease was to create a children’s library that could provide supplementary education, arts and music programs that were not offered at that time by the local public schools.

The “Rummel Haus” was the home of William Rummel, Jr and his wife Clara. Rummel bought the ten acre tract on April 1, 1871 from Frances W. McGuire, the Mayor of Round Top when it was incorporated in 1870. The home was likely built in 1871 or 1872 by Rummel’s grandfather, Carl Siegismund Bauer, an exceptional stone mason who built the historic Schueddemagen house on Hwy 237 and is thought to have been instrumental in the construction of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church.

After several months of discussions the Texas Pioneer Arts Foundation, approved their request and leased the property to the new non-profit for thirty years for one dollar ($1) a year in the Summer of 2000. At the time, a well-known entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sterling McCall Jr., was a member of the TPAF Board and a leading advocate for the project. Neither he nor the Travis’ envisioned the partnership they would form in years to come.

With a $1,000 gift from Ed Mattingly, a renovation was begun pro-bono by Travis’ building company. Many other local sub-contractors donated labor and materials to the renovation, including Jack Finke, electrician Weldon Hartmann and woodworker Leo Miller. The Do Your Duty club of Round Top funded the purchase of the Library’s first computer and its library software. Many others contributed time and money.

Before long, the Children’s Library opened and it became a common site for people driving by to see children sitting under the massive live oaks in front of the tiny stone house reading books.

In January of 2001, the Town Council of Round Top voted unanimously to designate the Round Top Children’s Library as the “official Town Library of Round Top,” and to provide a budget of $2,500.00 per year for its operations. This funding allowed the new library to meet the minimum standards set by the Central Texas Library Association. Round Top became the smallest incorporated town in Texas with a free municipal library.

The Texas Pioneer Arts Foundation had trusted the new library with an extensive collection of books about decorative arts, Texas architecture and antiques previously owned by its founder, Mrs. Faith Bybee. It was named the Bybee Texas Heritage Collection. In later years, that collection was passed on to the Festival-Institute at Round Top where it became part of their permanent collection.

In those early days, operating funds were in short supply. The Travis’ and other volunteers manned the check-out desk. They shelved and labeled the small collection. Cheryl Travis was the founding President of the Library. The first paid librarian of the Round Top Children’s Library was Kathy Madere of Carmine. Her five children, who were home schooled, could often be found working beside their mother and local volunteers. But despite these practical limitations, their dream continued to grow.

In early spring of 1999, Christopher Travis had been driving his grandmother from her home in Milam County to the hospital in Temple, Texas. As they drove through the small hamlet named Buckholz, he saw an unusual old building far off the highway.

Later that day, he returned to Buckholz and asked around until he found out the name of the owner and contacted him. Elbert Svetlik, the elderly farmer who owned the building, had been a member of the Hope Lutheran Church Council in the late 1960’s when that body decided to build a new brick church.

Mr. Svetlik could not bear the idea that the old gothic church would be demolished, so he acquired it, move in onto this property just outside the town and turned it into a hay barn. There it sat for 30 years until he gave Travis permission to look at it in February of 1999.

Travis immediately fell in love with the old church but Mr. Svetlik was no more eager to sell the structure than Travis was able to pay for it. So it was not until May of 2001 that Travis was able to talk the old farmer into giving him a six month exclusive right to purchase the Hope Lutheran Church, at which point Travis began to raise the money to purchase it.

He created a set of architectural drawings and a plan for the expansion of the Round Top Children’s Library, and presented it to their Advisory Board at its annual meeting.

Some of the members of that Board were people with considerable financial resources. He and his wife thought it might be possible to raise a few thousand dollars from each of them, and use that money to begin a capital campaign for the purpose of moving the old Hope Lutheran Church to Round Top. Being optimistic people, they imagined that after a few years of hard work, they might be able to raise the money it took to restore the old building. Sadly, their hopes were dashed as the meeting ended without a single check being donated to the effort.

Three days later, one of the members of that Advisory Board, Sterling B. McCall Jr., called Cheryl and said that he had talked to his wife Marianne – and that they had decided to fund the project. He explained that they loved Round Top, and wanted to do something to help the Fayette County community.

The Travis’ were in shock. Cheryl asked “…you mean the whole thing?” Sterling McCall said “Yes” and Cheryl broke into tears. All their dreams were turning into reality.

Chris Travis donated the majority of his architecture fee for the renovation of the Hope Lutheran Church and three bids were taken from experienced restoration contractors. Travis’ construction company, Round Top Companies Inc., was the low bidder and by early August in 2001 they were hired by the Round Top Library Association to begin the process of dismantling, moving and restoring the historic structure.

That was a complicated process. The building had to be moved in seven pieces across three counties to the property on Mill Street. Each piece had to be carefully braced, cut into sections, and then lifted by a large crane onto the trailers and dollies of house mover Vernon Yoakum of Brenham, Texas. The Travis’ son and construction manager, Shiloh Travis, managed the project along with job foreman Mike Pavlicek of Fayetteville.

On a rainy November 15, 2001, the first pieces of the future Marianne and Sterling McCall Library Building rolled into Round Top and the process of putting it back together began.

During and soon after the restoration of the new Library building, Chris and Cheryl Travis were able to secure a number of grants. A new computer system was provided by the State of Texas TIFF fund. The Tocker Foundation provided a grant to fund the bookshelves and furnishings of the new Library building. The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) provided a grant for playground equipment. Many other smaller gifts were donated to the project and in late March of 2002, the Sterling and Marianne McCall Library building was completed.

The Rummel Haus soon became the Library’s Activity Center and a long partnership was begun with the Round Top/Carmine school district that continues to this day. Demand for music, arts and gardening programs begun at the Library grew to the point that they were adopted in the curriculum of the local schools. In 2014, with the help of the newly formed Round Top-Carmine Education Foundation, that program had grown to such an extent that a 40+ school band played at the annual Library Gala. At the end of that event, the Band Director acknowledged that the music program in Round Top-Carmine schools was a result of the Round Top Family Library.

With its larger facility, the Round Top Library Association’s Board of Directors, which had grown considerably from its three founding members, decided to expand its mission to provide services to adults. They changed the name of the institution to the Round Top Family Library.

Barbara Smith, who retired as the Librarian at Round Top/Carmine elementary school, first joined the Board of Directors, and became the Director of the Library immediately after the new facility was opened. Under her leadership and that of a talented and committed Board of Directors, the Library has flourished. Barbara Smith retired as Round Top Family Library Director in 2021.

In 2012, the Library was able to purchase the 2.5 acres of land upon which the Rummel Haus and the Sterling and Marianne McCall Library building sits from the Bybee Foundation, which continues to partner with the Library it helped create.

By 2013, the Round Top Family Library had grown to become a community center for the 4000+ residents of North Fayette County and adjacent areas of Austin, Lee and Washington counties. It offers a wide variety of programs for children, families and seniors; free Wi-Fi internet access for all patrons, a public playground for children, many community events and the beautiful Grace Memorial Garden.

Its collection contains over 13,000 paper volumes, as well as e-books and other media. Over 6000 children and 1800 adults attended its programs in 2012. Roughly 24,000 people visited the beautiful Library in Round Top, the smallest town in Texas with a full service public library.

In 2012 and 2014, a major renovation of the Historic Rummel House Activity Center was undertaken. Many contributed to the effort, but it was funded and led primarily by two families on the Board of Directors, the Grace family who had previously funded the Grace Memorial Garden and BOD officers Suzanne and Ed Ellis. That renovation included the installation of a high end kitchen and new furnishings. Due to the modesty of the family that funded those improvements, the donor plaque reads simply “Mom’s Kitchen.” The Rummel Haus is now available for use by citizens of the area.

Late in 2014, due to generous contributions from many donors, including a major contribution from Advisory Board members Jean and Frank Raymond, the Round Top Family Library was able to pay off the remaining balance of its mortgage on the purchase of the property. From that day on the Round Top Family Library has been debt free. As of the writing of this brief history, the programs of the Round Top Family Library continue to expand and diversify as new needs in the community are identified. English as a second language classes for underserved patrons were added to the curriculum.

The activities and programs of the library had begun to outgrow its onsite facilities. The Library’s leadership once again began to consider additions to its facilities to respond to its patrons needs.

(History last updated July 2015)