Cousins Descended From Two Pioneering Central Texas Families

Michael Barnes wrote a wonderful article for the Austin American Statesman in June 2013, after visiting with a few descendants of George Henry Nelle and Dora Lohman Nelle. The link below takes you to the article with details about life as a pioneer in Texas and references to Rose Hill. Be sure to check out the family photo. It’s a treasure!

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Progress Continues: March 2017 Work Day

The March 2017 work day was a success! Rose Hill is looking great after sixteen people came together on a beautiful spring day to continue the important work at Rose Hill.

Work Day March 2017


Participants from various families cleared debris, burned brush, treated unwanted vegetation, ground mesquite stumps, and mowed grassy areas. Along the way members also visited with one another, admired a handsome lizard, ate Loraine’s delicious muffins, held a baby bunny, laughed, and were thankful for the cool weather and beautiful scenery. Visitors can enter the property on the newly installed gravel drive and park without fear of getting stuck in the mud or falling in a hole.

Not long ago, Rose Hill could not be described as scenic. But because of diligent and continuous work, the land has been transformed from a neglected rat-infested dumping ground to a lovely piece of Central Texas land with open grassy areas, shady spots to rest, and a variety of wildflowers, birds, and small animals. Members of the cemetery association have respectfully turned Rose Hill to a place that honors the final resting place of the pioneers who once lived there.

There’s’ now a gravel entry drive into the property.


Future projects include collecting Rose Hill history, learning more about the people who lived there, and continuing the land restoration.

(Photos courtesy of Bennie Engelke, Trisha Nelle, and Laurel Nelle)

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Back to School at Rose Hill

Since it’s Back-to-School time it seems appropriate to post this wonderful picture of children in front of the Rose Hill School many years ago. Bennie Engelke, member of Rose Hill Cemetery Association, sent these pictures from the family files of Neal and Ina Voelker, also RHCA members. The photo shows what appears to be 14 students and one teacher, sitting on the front steps of the school on what may be a special occasion, judging by the jackets the boys are wearing.

School Children at Rose Hill School

The accompanying hand-written note (below) is a list of those in the photo and appears to be in the order they are seated.  While it’s difficult to know for sure and some of the names are not complete, here is a good guess of who the people are in the photo, based on the note:

Back row: Meier, George Nelle, Monroe, Gertrude Johnson, Myrtle Sunberg, Mayme Nelle.

Front row: Miss Stole, Ethel, Theresa, Ann (the writer’s mother), Katie Lou, Frieda, Zora, and Antoinette Nelle

If anyone has more informationNames of Children in Rose Hill School Picture about the people in the picture, or more complete names or spellings, please respond in the comments or let Laurel know.

Thank you Bennie, Ina, and Neal for this wonderful piece of Rose Hill’s history!

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RHCA Annual Meeting and BBQ

Please plan to attend the annual meeting of the Rose Hill Cemetery Association on Saturday, May 21 at 10:00 at Rose Hill.  Members will be sharing progress made over the past year and planning for the future.IMG_1101 It’s important for all Rose Hill families to be represented and for as many people as possible to attend to take part in these important conversations.

After the meeting everyone is invited to join together for a BBQ lunch. This will allow time for us to get better acquainted and enjoy the beautiful space Rose Hill is becoming.

Please make plans to attend. While there are no structures at Rose Hill, there will be shade, foRH flowers2 2014od, water, good people, and probably birds singing in the background. Bring folding chairs, family members, and whatever else you might want to be comfortable.

If you haven’t been to Rose Hill lately you owe it to yourself to go. Hope to see everyone there!

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Springtime at Rose Hill

Rose Hill is always beautiful, however spring is especially pretty. Now that the trash is gone and much of the brush has been thinned, it’s easier to see the beauty of the property. These Mexican Evening Primroses are beautiful and abundant this year.

Evening Primroses at Rose Hill Evening Primrose at Rose Hill

The Indian Paintbrushes are scattered and blooming right now. Mowing is intentionally delayed until after most wildflowers produce seeds in order to increase their population next year. Up close, the Paintbrush is startlingly intricate and beautiful.

Indian Paintbrush at Rose Hill  RH paintbrush closeup

My grandmother, Lucile Nelle, often talked about this little flower called Blue Eyed Grass. To her it was a sign of spring and whenever I see it now I think of her.  And of course there are always lots of butterflies wherever flowers are blooming, like this pair.

RH blue eyed grass  RH butterfly 2014

Rose Hill is home to a variety of wildlife like this Texas Thorny Lizard. Isn’t he handsome?

Rose Hill lizard, April 2016

More varieties of flowers will bloom over the next month or two so plan to visit Rose Hill soon. These pictures were taken in spring 2014 and give a sample of blooms to come.

RH flowers2 2014         RH coneflower RH cactus 2014 RH flowers 2014

Life is good these days out at Rose Hill. Our ancestors chose a great spot to settle–come see for yourself. Thank you to Steve Nelle for these wonderful photographs.

RH Sunset March 2015

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Two Successful Spring 2016 Work Days

A happy band of Rose Hill workersThe April 2016 work day was a success thanks to this hard working group (and two not pictured). The February work day was also a success (there is no picture of that group, unfortunately). Over the course of both days, the groups burned a lot of brush, filled another dumpster with trash, excavated the remaining garbage mounds and spread the dirt on low spots, lifted the broken cement apron around the cistern, completed necessary maintenance inside the cemetery, and treated hundreds of giant ragweed plants to try to reduce their population. Both days were beautiful with numerous wildflowers, birds, and other small animals to watch. Thanks to everyone who participated–you are making a difference!


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Spring 2016 Cemetery Work Days

Please mark your calendars and plan to participate in two upcoming Rose Hill Cemetery work days:

Saturday, February 20 and Saturday, April 2 starting at 8:30

We have made tremendous progress over the past years. With continued work and collaboration, Rose Hill will become the beautiful place we want it to be.  Priorities for spring work days are:

  • Burning brush (previously cut trees)
  • Raking and disposing of the last remnants of trash

Ongoing projects in need of discussion and attention in the near future:

  • Removing mesquite stumps
  • Creating gravel drive and parking area
  • Dialog with neighboring developers regarding water acquisition
  • Dialog with Elgin church regarding burials and maintenance
  • Dialog with RHCA members about a vision for Rose Hill’s future
  • Election of RHCA officers and Board of Director vacancies

If you haven’t been to Rose Hill lately, I encourage you to visit. You’ll see open spaces, native trees and plants, and numerous songbirds. If you’re lucky you may also see hawks, owls, rabbits and deer.

Rose Hill belongs to all of us and everyone is needed to ensure the land is maintained in a way that honors and respects those who used to live there—our ancestors.

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No Rest for the Weary…, an Article from The Daily Texan, July 20, 1988

Back in the late 1980s, Austin decided it needed a new airport in a less populated part of town. For several years it appeared that Rose Hill would be the victim of the new airport and the graves relocated to make room.

Luckily for us, the plans Photo by Frank Ordonezchanged. The new airport was built on the site of the old Bergstrom Air Force base near Del Valle. Rose Hill survived.

During that time several individuals and groups conducted a good deal of research to document the history and archaeology of the area before its destruction. This fascinating article written by Will Kitts and photographed by Frank Ordonez, appeared in The Daily Texan(student newspaper of the University of Texas) on July 20, 1988. Here are his words:

No Rest for the Weary…

Manor Airport Threatens 100-year-old Graveyard

Hemmed in by fertile stands of corn and sorghum near Manor, a small, 100-year-old graveyard is doomed. Two miles to the south, U.S. Highway 290 hisses a steady flow of traffic. A junk heap of moldy carpeting and old boards rests not 30 feet from the chain-link fence. And now, worse still, this half-acre plot lies in the path of the new Austin airport.

Over the years, a number of graves have been moved to other sites. Many of the headstones have crumbled to the ground, while others lean to one side like masts on a choppy sea. The names inscribed here—Herzer, Wehlman, Meir, Schlosser—hark back to the German-Lutheran settlers who came in the mid-19th century—farmers, ranchers, and merchants.

Their community, Rose Hill, died about 50 years ago. This grouping of some 40 graves testifies to what came before—to the church and school that once stood nearby. It is a stopover, still, for people and their memories.

But not for long. The remaining graves will be uprooted by the city of Austin and relocated to a Pflugerville cemetery, or to individual sites preferred by relatives.

And the heavy equipment will come too, churning up walls of dust and filling the air with a din of engines. Before this onslaught swallows up the past, a look at the area’s first developers may be in order.

The grassy spot that will soon lie beneath runways and lobbies and baggage-claim areas was donated in 1880 by Henry Nelle, a prosperous rancher and landowner. He set aside 5 ½ acres for a church, school, and cemetery. The town, known at that time as Nelleville, already had a small school that doubled as a church, but Nelle apparently had bigger plans.

A German of French extraction, Nelle came to Texas in about 1850, and by the time the Civil War broke out, “possessed 26 fine horses, some cattle, a yoke of oxen, and a covered wagon,” according to a family history written by his son William. Nelle interrupted his horse trading business to fight in the Confederate Army, returning to his home in the Manor area in 1865. In the next 15 years, Nelle became a wealthy man.

When the donated property, which sits atop a slight crest, was planted with roses, Nelleville ceased to exist, and became Rose Hill.

Rose Hill citizens soon built a new school north of where the first one had been, but it was not until 1887 that firm plans were made to build a church.

On Oct. 14, 1888, the first services at Rose Hill Evangelical Lutheran Church were held, the structure having been built by “eighteen church members and their families,” a church history states. A pastor agreed to conduct services the fourth Sunday of each month for a fee of $3.50 per service.

Henry and Dora Nelle’s first child, Emma, who had died of scarlet fever 15 years earlier, was then reburied at the cemetery next to the new church. Her brother, William, was 4 at the time.

“Emma was the first to occupy a place in our plot. Mother supervised the moving of the remains. The entire family was present when the casket was lowered,” William wrote.

In 1893, a couple of civic-minded men donated an organ to the congregation, and two years later a fund was started toward the purchase of a church bell costing $73. At sunset on Saturdays and again at dawn the following morning, Fritz Voelker would ring the new bell to signal that all was well on Rose Hill.

In September of 1900, Henry Nelle became ill and died soon thereafter. But he lived long enough to witness the initial flourishing of the seeds he had planted.

A year later, the congregation elected Lydia Voelker as an organist, but the church was able to pay her only $10 of her annual $15 salary. From the very beginning, the church had been plagued by money shortages. Unable to pay for a full-time preacher, various churchmen from Richland and Pflugerville preached to Rose Hill worshipers on a part-time basis.

Music played a central role in the community’s social scene as well. The town held many dances at the turn of the century, with couples moving to the strains of the Rose Hill String Band. Henry Nelle’s son James headed the orchestra, and was “a good musician,” his brother wrote.

A baseball team was formed at about this time by another brother, Joe. William wrote: “We soon had an invincible team, capable of not only coping with but winning over the best teams to be found in our territory.”

In 1908, the rose Hill congregation supported an organized choir of 19 members, yet at the end of another five years, even the small formality of keeping minutes of church meetings had been dropped. By 1914, the Rose Hill Evangelical Lutheran Church had hired its last pastor, a Rev. G. Zucher. The final confirmation class, consisting of 10 students, graduated in 1918.

Town residents began to move away to larger communities when cotton prices slumped in 1913. Most accounts of Rose Hill depict a gradual decline between World Wars I and II. Still, the one-room school-house was enlarged to two rooms in 1919, and continues to see improvements year-to-year.

Church elders in 1924 decided to dissolve the congregation and sold the church building to a Lutheran congregation in nearby Elgin for $225. In June and July the building was dismantled and moved to Elgin. By September, 36 years after its founding, the transplanted church building was dedicated as the new St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.

St. Peter’s built a new church in 1953. The original Rose Hill bell hangs there today and “is still in use every Sunday,” a church spokeswoman said.

The Rose Hill School outlasted the church, but a 1936 photograph shows only 16 students, and there is no record of a Rose Hill School District after the 1938-39 school year.

Several homes built by Rose Hill’s earliest residents will be razed to make way for the airport project. A study done for the City of Austin by Lone Star Archeological Services considers these sites, together with the cemetery, as possible candidates for the National Register of Historic Places as well as State Archeological Landmarks.

But the airport momentum seems irrepressible. The march of time will surely erase these ragged and lonely footnotes to the past, just as it erased the families who left them. A major hurdle will be cleared when the Federal Aviation Administration approves an environmental impact study prepared by city consultants Turner Collie & Braden, Inc. With appropriate irony, this nod is expected to come in October, exactly 100 years after the congregation first gathered on Rose Hill.

And so, progress encroaches on Rose Hill’s weary bones. In a short while, people who might still wonder about the long-ago life on this small knoll northeast of Manor will have no tangible proof of its existence.

Those people might pass by the old graveyard one more time before it’s too late. There, they may find solace on the tombstone of Emma Nelle, who left her family behind at the


Will Kitts, The Daily Texan, July 20, 1988

tender age of 5.

Translated from the German, the end of the inscription reads:

God has taken you

As He will all of us to death

And we’ll all be together eternally

This faith quiets our crying.


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Board of Director Nominations

Nominations are open for positions on the Rose Hill Cemetery Association’s Board of Directors. All RHCA members are eligible to serve on the board as well as nominate and vote upon the positions. Please contact potential nominees prior to submitting their name to get their approval.

Board members whose terms expire this month are Mary Kay Hicks, Dick Wolff, and Laurel Nelle. Current board members with unexpired terms are George Nelle, Jean Nelle, Tim Wilson, Ralph Meier, and Doug Nelle.  A new position was added at the most recent association meeting which makes four positions up for nomination. Previous board members are eligible to serve additional terms if nominated.

Nominations can be made from Tuesday, May 12 through midnight May 16 by email to association members. After all nominations are in, voting will occur via email from Tuesday, May 19 through midnight May 23.

Please give thoughtful consideration to any family or other association member who has shown a willingness to work with others in the best interest of Rose Hill and is eligible and willing to serve.

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Annual Meeting 2015

On Saturday, May 2, 2015, the Rose Hill Cemetery Association held its annual meeting at Rose Hill with sixteen members present. Association members enjoyed Steve’s home made ice cream while birds sang and a gentle breeze cooled everyone off after a successful work day. RHCA president, Mary Kay, called the meeting to order and reviewed financial and membership updates. Various work groups provided status reports on current projects and participants discussed and prioritized future projects. Together the group continues to build a shared vision of the future of Rose Hill.  It’s becoming easier to see Rose Hill as the beautiful spot chosen by our ancestors many years ago.RH 5.2.13 meetingice cream

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