Giddings, Texas, (population 5,000) is the county seat of Lee County in the eastern part of Texas. The town was established by the Houston and Texas Central Railway in 1871 and was primarily settled by the Wends, a group of conservative Lutherans that settled in the town in the 1870s. A persecuted Slavic minority in Germanic Saxony and Prussia, the Wends came to the area in search of religious freedom and economic opportunities. Wendish culture is still alive in the area.
Facilitated by the railroad, industries began to be established in Giddings by the end of the 19 th century. A soda water bottling works was established in 1880, a cotton compressor began operation in 1901, and a creamery in 1908. A couple of oil mills also opened in the beginning of the 20th century. Six carloads of turkeys were shipped in 1912, the beginning of Giddings’ development into the turkey processing center of Texas, an industry that remains important in the local economy. Giddings also played an important role in the oil boom of the 1980s and is home to the oldest peanut company in Texas.
Giddings remained a railroad junction until the 1960s and boasts three original railroad depots. The area around the depots had been the social and economic center of the community, and their closure in the 1950s and ‘60s led to economic decline. A partnership including the city, the Giddings Economic Development Corporation, the Friends of the Depot organization, and the downtown business community has restored the depot complex as a downtown anchor and regional hub for rural heritage tourism, cultural education, and outdoor recreation. A master plan to revitalize the area led to the creation of a historic area walking tour, a train viewing platform, the display of railroad memorabilia, and a park area. The Passenger Depot and Baggage Room now houses offices, and the Freight and Passenger Depot is used as a transportation museum and visitors center. The complex houses the Rural Texas Tourism Center, providing one-stop shopping for rural Texas tourism information.
Other significant historic buildings to visit include the recently restored Lee County Courthouse, built in 1899, and the Lee County Heritage Center and Museum, housed in an 1879 Greek Revival home across the square. The First Presbyterian Church and the Serbin Church and Texas Wendish Museum are more than 100 years old and attract many visitors.
The annual Lee County Fair was revived in 1999 at the original fairgrounds, a 50 acre park just outside of town that preserves some original fair buildings. The park features an antique carousel, one of only a few remaining in the world. The carousel was left behind by a traveling carnival in the early 1900s and is still in use.
Giddings participates in regional heritage tourism efforts including the Texas Brazos Trail and the Texas Presidential Corridor. A new youth docent program and outreach to children through fieldtrips and other programs are enhancing appreciation of Giddings’ heritage with the younger generation.
Designated a Preserve America Community in March 2008.