Round Top, one of the smallest incorporated communities in Texas, is on the old La Bahía Road between La Grange and Brenham in Fayette County. The earliest settlers were Englishmen who came to the area from other parts of the United States. The family of Stephen Townsend arrived from Florida in 1826, and the name Townsend was the first to be associated with the site of Round Top. The family established a Presbyterian church, Florida Chapel, and founded a Masonic lodge. The Townsend family had the distinction of sending more men to the battle of San Jacinto than any other family. Joel Robinson, another Round Top resident, was the captor of Antonio López de Santa Anna. His father, John Robinson, was a member of the First Congress of Texas. John Rice Jones, Jr., settled in the Round Top area in 1831 and in 1835 was made the first postmaster general of Texas by the provisional government (see POSTAL SYSTEM OF THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS). Other important names associated with the earliest settlers were Taylor, Ledbetter, and Alexander. The Ledbetter land was the site of the first Round Top Academy. By the mid-1830s Round Top was identified as Jones Post Office. The English were soon supplemented by Germans. In the early 1840s Alwin H. Soergel, author, historian, musician, and member of the Adelsverein, settled in the Round Top area, bringing with him the beginnings of the Germanic traditions that characterize the area. He built a white house with an octagonal tower, which by 1847 was listed as the United States post office, with Henry A. Robertson as postmaster. The odd-shaped tower gave rise to the name Round Top. By 1850 Round Top had a population of 150, two stores, two blacksmith shops, two taverns, a post office, and a line of tri-weekly stages serving the predominantly German citizenry. According to some sources the first Round Top Fourth of July celebration, held in 1851, gave the community the distinction of having the oldest continuous Independence Day celebration west of the Mississippi. During the Civil War Round Top served as a recruiting station for the northern half of the county.
In 1866 Rev. Adam Neuthard organized a Lutheran congregation; the massive old stone church completed in 1867 remained in use in 1991, along with its pipe organ, carved by Traugott Wantke out of native cedar. Education, music, language studies, and the arts played an important role in the lives of residents, and the cultural arts characterized Round Top throughout the nineteenth century. Reverend Neuthard, who founded the Neuthard School at Round Top in 1858, was a master of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, and German. Clara Rummel, the "poetess of Texas," made her home in Round Top, and the town boasted about its string band. Round Top was incorporated in 1870. In 1884 the town had a population of 200, which increased to 360 by 1900 but decreased to 150 by 1925 and continued to decline slowly throughout the 1900s. During the twentieth century John G. Banik of Round Top became a celebrated orator, poet, and historian. The artist James Donald Painter depicted Round Top scenes, as Mathias Melchior and his three sons had done as early as 1854. Don Nagel served Round Top as mayor for thirty-one years. Major restorations were accomplished by the Bybee Foundation on Henkel Square, by the James Dick Foundation on Festival Hill, and by Miss Ima Hogg at Winedale (see WINEDALE HISTORICAL CENTER). Round Top has become an internationally recognized cultural center for the arts and education through the programs of the International Festival-Institute, founded in 1971. The 1,200-seat concert hall at Festival Hill is the permanent home of the Texas Festival Orchestra. In 1990 Round Top had a population of eighty-one.