In 1869, John O. Meusebach, founder of Fredericksburg and friend of the Comanches, took up residence in a mesquite flat 25 miles northwest of Fredericksburg.
He named the place Loyal Valley, and it is one the oldest communities in what would become Mason County. The name was probably a reference to his loyalty to the Union during the recent Civil War.
Loyal Valley was located on the Pinta Trail — an historic path used by indigenous people for centuries. Then beginning in the 1700s, explorers, conquistadores, soldiers and settlers traveled the Pinta Trail from San Antonio up into the high Hill Country.
Not long after Meusebach came to Loyal Valley, the place became a stop on the San Antonio-to-El Paso stage route. In a few years, the town had several stores, a post office, a livery stable, a saloon and a stone building that served as a school and a church. Charlie Metcalfe built a hotel to accommodate travelers.
Meanwhile, Meusebach, now semi-retired, ran a store and served as justice of the peace. He drilled a well near his home and built an outdoor Roman-style bathhouse. The ruins are still there today.
But the most remarkable feature of Loyal Valley was Meusebach’s nursery. Among his many talents, Meusebach was an amateur horticulturalist, and he chose Loyal Valley because he thought the site would be a good place to experiment with scrubs, fruit trees and grape vines.
Meusebach saw something special in the dirt. While much of the Hill Country is a thin layer of topsoil atop solid rock, the soil in Loyal Valley is a sandy loam with a red tint. And compared to the surrounding area, the vegetation in Loyal Valley looked especially healthy and abundant to a man with an eye for such things.
Loyal Valley was particularly good for grapes. While most places in Texas could only grow native varieties, Meusebach was able to grow 14 varieties of grapes from all over the world. A good argument can be made that the roots of the Hill Country wine industry are in Meusebach’s nursery and his horticulture experiments.
The nursery was a garden in the wilderness. There were 60 varieties of peach trees, 14 varieties of plums, and 32 varieties of pears in the same enclosure. Meusebach also grew apples, cherries, figs, apricots and pomegranates.
His crepe myrtles were legendary. Flowers, too many to count, bloomed in wonderful profusion. Of roses alone, there were 215 varieties.
And certain trees, like pines and spruces, that didn’t always grow well in West Texas, thrived in Loyal Valley.
Meusebach managed his nursery with tender care until he died in 1897. He is buried in a family plot near Cherry Spring.
But his work with plants showed the world just how diverse and productive Hill Country agriculture could be.
Loyal Valley was a thriving little community until the new highway to Mason went around it. Today it is a quiet collection of country homes, medium sized ranches — and a winery.