INTRODUCTION TO NEW BRAUNFELS

By John Ronan Broderick

GERMANIC ORIGINS AND INFLUENCES

When one thinks of Texas towns and cities settled by 19th century German immigrants, among those that spring to mind unbidden are New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, Brenham, Boerne, and Schulenberg. With an estimated 2020 population of 95,782, New Braunfels is by far the behemoth of these German communities. It was also the very first settlement of any significance, though there were a scant few individual German settlers here and there who preceded it on a smaller scale, but with less planning in the grand scheme of things. One could liken New Braunfels to the hub of the wheel and the other German communities that followed in its wake, to the spokes of that wheel. Now a part of the Greater San Antonio Metropolitan Statistical Area, it is currently the third fastest growing city in America.

The area that encompasses present day New Braunfels was the ancestral home of early Native American tribes such as the Tonkawa, Waco, Karankawa, and Lipan Apache. Between 1700 and 1758, however, the area came to be known as “Comal,” which is Spanish for “flat dish.” And it was at Comal Springs in 1756 that the Spanish established Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe [Our Lady of Guadalupe] Mission. The undertaking was short-lived and the church’s staff decamped the site in 1758 due to increasingly dangerous attacks by Comanches and other hostile northern tribes. In 1825, the new Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas issued a land grant for Comal Springs to Spanish/Mexican politician, Juan Martin de Veramendi, who later served as governor of this same Mexican state from 1832 until his death in 1833.

On April 20th, 1842, preparatory to the settlement of German communities in Texas, some German noblemen had organized a group known as the Mainzer Adelverein, aka the “Noblemen’s Society,” aka the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas. The Society’s purpose was to encourage mass emigration, both as a means of providing new opportunities for economically hard-pressed commoners and of establishing foreign markets for German industry.

Thousands of these German and Prussian immigrants settled in Texas, many of them in the Texas Hill Country, e.g., Comal, Llano, and Gillespie Counties. This emigration was comprised in part by the liberal intelligentsia fleeing the economic, social, and political conditions in the Fatherland that precipitated the German Revolution of 1848, and in part by the proletariat.

Among the cultural, societal, and educational changes the Germans brought with them to America were: the concept of the entire weekend as days off from work, as opposed to the standard six-day work week typically observed by most Americans; the tradition of the Christmas tree; the introduction of hot dogs (frankfurters) and hamburgers as food alternatives; and the establishment of kindergarten in the school system (notice the retention of the German spelling for this term). The German philosophers of this era whose ideas the immigrants brought with them were, among others: Schelling, Hegel, Kant, Marx, and Schopenhauer. Never doubt that there were many intellectuals among the German dirt farmers who settled in New Braunfels and the rest of the Texas Hill Country.

According to an article he penned in 2007, the year of his death, at age 87, Texas historian W.T. Block, Jr., wrote, “Where the average frontiersman was illiterate and could barely read and write, the pioneer German settlers of New Braunfels brought with them the best educators and craftsmen, blacksmiths and machinists, European stone architecture, brewers and millers, journalists, weavers, music and saengerfests [singer festivals], brass bands, doctors, teachers, schools and libraries.” Mr. Block’s estimate of these immigrants’ talents and abilities bore fruit right from the very start.

And New Braunfels got its start on March 14, 1845, when Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, Germany, negotiated the purchase of 1,265 acres of the original Veramendi grant, which included Comal Springs, at the confluence of the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers for the princely sum of $1,112, which works out to 88 cents per acre.

A week after acquiring the land, on Good Friday, Prince Carl and his engineer, Nicolaus Zink, led approximately 200  German immigrants in a wagon train up the Guadalupe River to the ford of the San Antonio-Nacogdoches Road into their proverbial “land flowing with milk and honey,” New Braunfels. Fittingly, Prince Carl had named the new settlement after his ancestral German home, and thus was the “City of a Prince” born. His German Texans were known as Deutschtexaners, as are their descendants today.

It was the end of a several-months-long tedious, and treacherous journey for these weary immigrants. First there was the lengthy sea voyage, then a two-month-long overland march of some distance to the land they would colonize. For reasons of his own, Prince Carl had wished to minimize the fraternization of his people with any Americans, so instead of disembarking at Galveston as a port of entry, he chose instead a lesser port on Matagorda Bay, which he purchased outright. It was known, alternately, as Indian Point, aka Carlshafen (literally, Carl’s harbor, port, or haven, which the prince named after himself), and later renamed Indianola. It is now a ghost town.

In any event, Prince Carl and his immigrants landed here in December 1844, in the dead of winter. This was a fateful decision, for an estimated 50% of the immigrants died here from disease, starvation, and exposure to the elements. Moreover, an epidemic of spinal meningitis broke out at Carlshafen and spread with the immigrants as they walked 150 miles to New Braunfels or 222 miles to Fredericksburg. This deadly epidemic certainly fueled the mortality rates of the fledgling colony and many orphans were left behind in its wake.

This in turn gave rise in 1846 to the establishment of a Waisenhaus (orphanage) in New Braunfels, believed to be the first in Texas. In 1848 it was chartered as the Western Texas Orphan Asylum. This tight-knit community of Germans believed in taking care of its own. The building that housed the original orphanage is still extant today, owned by the descendants of its founder, Reverend L.C. Ervendberg.

The size of the prince’s initial land purchase is significant because it equates to a tad less than two square miles, essentially downtown New Braunfels and its environs. Today portions of the city lie in two counties named after its rivers, the Comal and Guadalupe, and the city boasts a total land area of 44.9 square miles, or 25 times that of the original townsite. It is also the county seat of Comal County.

Prince Carl’s engineer, Nicolaus Zink, immediately set about surveying and platting the town as well as the farm lots. There was nothing haphazard about his planning either, for today, 175 years later, New Braunfels’s downtown streets are the same widths and retain the same basic layout as in 1845, when Zink surveyed them. The surveyor even included a typical European Main Plaza in his layout of the downtown area. These Germans were nothing if not methodical, efficient, organized, and permanent. The famous late 19th/early 20th century German novelist and philosopher, Hermann Hesse, once wrote, “No permanence is ours.” Mr. Hesse was apparently unaware of either Zink or New Braunfels.

Shortly after their arrival on the scene they erected the first public building that served as a combination fort (for protection against allegedly cannibalistic Indians), headquarters for the immigration association, and the township’s seat of government. The structure is still extant and serves as the Sophienburg Museum. Prince Carl had named the original building after his fiancé.

Sadly, Sophie never made it to Texas, and he didn’t stay long either. Instead, he returned to Germany to continue his somewhat checkered military career, serving as an officer, alternately, in the Prussian, Austrian, and German armies. He married Sophie and they had five children. He was often referred to, perhaps derisively, as the “Texan Don Quixote.”

Within a few short years, the burgeoning community was home to all the typical businesses that could be found in most enterprising German frontier towns—breweries and saloons, general stores and restaurants, markets and millworks. By 1850, New Braunfels reportedly had the fourth largest population in the state, with 1,723 souls.

The Germans wisely established trading relationships with the several indigenous Native American tribes in the area. One wonders what the Indians thought when they first tasted the native German dish, sauerkraut, which had hitherto been unknown in the South. For some German farmers put it up by the barrel to satisfy their desire for a taste from the homeland. Likewise, the Germans brought with them another native talent, that for making sausage, which they made from the plentiful supply of beef and pork at hand. Virtually unknown in Texas until their arrival, sausages and frankfurters have since become staples of Texas cuisine.

Probably an even more prudent decision concerning their relationship with the Indians was to utilize less expensive ox-drawn carts for transportation rather than horses, which were more highly prized by the hostile, thieving Indians who still roamed the area. War-like Indian braves could not conduct raids against the ever-increasing number of white settlers encroaching on their ancestral land mounted on the backs of the plodding oxen; they had to have horses. These educated, common-sensical Germans were certainly not, to coin a phrase, “as dumb as an ox.” Between 1846 and the 1880s, Hispanics and Lipan Apache Indians came to New Braunfels each spring to work during sheep-shearing season, rather like the migrant farm workers of today.

Nor did these immigrants neglect their worship of God, to whom they were thankful for bringing them to this promising land, and they demonstrated their gratitude that first Good Friday of their arrival with services under a grove of elm trees. One imagines this weary band of colonists singing in their native tongue some version of that old hymn, “The Doxology”: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow . . .” And it was here, at this service, that their leader, 32-year-old Prince Carl, presented the small congregation with the chalice used in their first celebration of the Lord’s Supper in their new home.

As evidence of their priority on their worship of the Almighty, the First Protestant Church was incorporated within seven months of their arrival. The first log church building served them until 1879, when the current stone church was erected. It is this church that is the home today of Prince Carl’s chalice, where it can be seen by other weary travelers to New Braunfels. It is one of the most sacred relics in the history of this God-fearing German community.

(Author’s Personal Note: On Father’s Day 1988, my 12-year-old son and I worshipped at this church with an old high school friend of mine and his father, who was a member there. Captain Norwood B. “Bill” Williams, who was like a surrogate father to me, had been among the first Marines to hit the beaches at Guadalcanal beginning August 7th, 1942.  He was a great role model, a great patriot, a great American, one of “The Greatest Generation.” Of the 16,000,000 men and women who served in the American military during World War II, only about two percent are still alive today. At his funeral in 1994, Mr. Williams was buried in the Veterans’ Cemetery in San Antonio with full military honors, including an honor guard of seven Marines attired in their dress blue uniforms firing a 21-gun salute, and a bugler playing “Taps” over his grave. It was a tableau worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting.)

And lest anyone think that all of Germany embraced Protestantism in the wake of Martin Luther’s 1517 Reformation, let me assure you that the German Catholics soon made their presence known in New Braunfels a year later with an outdoor service of their own. This eventually led to the establishment of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in 1849. The German Catholics evolved from open-air services to a log cabin to a walnut wood chapel to the magnificent 1871 Gothic church of native limestone still in use today.  And like the First Protestant Church, this one abounds with beautiful stained-glass windows. It is noteworthy that the Catholic church building is eight years older than the Protestants’ structure.

Next came the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saint Martin in 1851, a structure of brick and fachwerk (timber framing) construction. It is still in use today and has the distinction of being not only the oldest church building in New Braunfels still in use but the oldest Lutheran church in Texas.

 The Lutheran congregation was followed in 1890 by the first “Colored Methodist Church,” which bought land elsewhere to erect their current church building in 1900. It is known today as Allen Chapel AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church. Not to be outdone by the black Methodist church, the first “Colored Baptist Church” was founded in 1900. Its first meeting, like the Protestant and Catholic churches that preceded it, was held outdoors in a barren field under a Live Oak tree. In June 1900, the tiny congregation bought a parcel of land and built the church still in use today. The name of the church was changed, appropriately, to reflect its first gathering; it is now known as Live Oak Baptist Church.

On August 11, 1845, less than five months after their arrival in New Braunfels, Hermann Seele started the fledgling town’s first school with 15 barefoot children under the same grove of elm trees where Reverend L.C. Ervendberg, the founder of the orphanage, held Christian services. These Germans wasted no time in seeing to it that their children would be educated. Seele’s school later evolved into the New Braunfels Academy.

According to Daniel P. Greene’s article, “New Braunfels, TX,” published on the Texas State Historical Association’s website, tshaonline.org, “The initial church school gave way to a city school, then to a district system that in 1858 was incorporated with the New Braunfels Academy. . . . New Braunfels, Galveston, and Fredericksburg were among the first Texas towns to collect taxes to support schools. . . . black schools were formed during Reconstruction, and schools for Hispanics appeared early in the twentieth century.”

The first ferry across the Guadalupe River was established in October 1845, at the confluence of the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers. And in March 1846, after the Republic of Texas had been annexed by the United States as its 28th state, the Texas Legislature created Comal County from the eighth precinct of Bexar County, naming New Braunfels as its county seat. At the time, Bexar County was by far the largest county in Texas, encompassing all of West Texas, where counties had yet to be created. In 1858, the final boundaries of Comal County were established via some more gerrymandering by the state legislature with the separation of part of western Comal County to form Blanco and Kendall Counties, a common practice in those days.

Significantly, an 1850 survey of 130 German farms in Comal County unearthed no slave laborers, an attitude that predominated among Germans, who were vehemently opposed to slavery. Nevertheless, in 1861, Comal County voted for secession from the Union, even furnishing three all-German volunteer companies to the Confederate cause. Since an army company typically consists of 200 soldiers, that means that approximately 600 Germans from Comal County served the Confederacy in the Civil War.

 One of those companies was comprised of cavalry, which had as its commanding officer a Prussian with military experience, Gustav Hoffmann. By the war’s end Hoffman had risen to the rank of colonel and was commander of the Seventh Texas Calvary Regiment, or about 1,200 men. Hoffman had been one of the original settlers of New Braunfels, was elected its first mayor in 1847, and after the war was elected to the Texas legislature in 1872. He was a farmer, soldier, and politician, a not uncommon combination of vocations for a man in the early days of Texas.

Throughout the last half of the 19th century, industry flourished in New Braunfels as the agricultural products that were locally produced (at a rate double that of other Central Texas farmers) demanded local processing. Cotton gins, grist mills (corn, wheat, pulp, grain), sawmills, woolen and cotton textile factories, and distilleries sprang up as capitalism thrived on the competition between these industrious German immigrants. As a result, the city became a regional trading and shipping nexus for Central Texas. There were also the various trades: machinists and mechanics; carpenters, masons, and builders; blacksmiths, gunsmiths, and locksmiths; cobblers and tailors; butchers and bakers. Pooling their talents, energies, and abilities as they did, these German Americans became essentially self-sufficient.

The first newspaper, a German language publication, the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung, was founded in 1852. Dr. Ferdinand Lindheimer, educated as a botanist and who had absolutely no experience in the newspaper trade, eventually became the paper’s sole owner. He is better remembered as the “Father of Texas Botany” due to his collection, study, and classification system of Texas flora.  Unbelievably, his newspaper published in German continuously until 1957, later merging with the New Braunfels Herald.

On the 4th of July 1849, in recognition of the birthday of the country they had adopted as their new home, the New Braunfels Schuetzen Verein was established. It is the oldest continuously active shooting club in America. It is also a safe bet that its present membership is comprised of folks who are ardent supporters of Second Amendment rights and/or members of the National Rifle Association. I don’t think it would be a good idea to try to rob a bank in New Braunfels, Texas, because even little old ladies there have licenses to carry handguns, and one of them may be a bank customer who doesn’t approve of unauthorized withdrawals.

In 1852, the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of Comal County was founded by the Acker und Gartenbau Verein, as was the Shepherd’s Society, which represented cattle grazing and herding. These were the predecessors of the agricultural and gardening clubs so prolific in the state today. The following year saw the formation of the area’s Tradesmen and Workingman’s Club by numerous craftsmen. “A gregarious lot, the Germans of New Braunfels also organized the Germania [Gesangverein] Singing Society [in 1850] . . . and one of the early Turnvereins or athletic clubs [in 1855]. All these clubs served to maintain the ethnic and cultural identity of the original settlers for later generations” (Greene).

Hermann Steele, the town’s first school master, also started its first theatrical society in 1850, the New Braunfelser Theater-Gesellschaft. Steele, who had earned the honorific, “the cultural soul of the city,” also built the town’s first amusement hall, the Saengerhalle, in 1855. Over the years, other German communities in the Texas Hill Country built similar recreation halls. The still extant (and famous) 1878 Gruene Hall, on the outskirts of New Braunfels, is a wonderful example.

The first Texas Sangerfest (singers festival) was held at Steele’s farm on the banks of the Guadalupe River on October 17, 1853. Steele also organized the Kindermasken Ball and Parade in 1857. It is the oldest children’s festival and parade in America and is still celebrated, 163 years later, each spring in New Braunfels. Some traditions die hard, especially in this wonderful German community in Central Texas. Who was that fellow who said, “No permanence is ours”?

The first bridge across the Comal River suitable for wagons was built in 1856. This enhanced the ability of several stagecoach lines to begin servicing New Braunfels in 1858, with scheduled stops there eight times a week. Stagecoach service continued into the 1870s. The historic Schmitz Hotel, a three-story structure built circa 1850, was a popular stagecoach stop. Located on the downtown Main Plaza, it now serves as a venerable bed and breakfast inn. In the 1870s and ‘80s, two other bridges were built across the Guadalupe River. The 1887 Faust Street Bridge, spanning more than 640 feet, is the only example in Texas of a multiple span, whipple truss bridge still surviving at its original site.

New Braunfels continued to accumulate other “first” and/or “oldest” titles as the years rolled by. For instance, Henne Hardware began operations in 1857 and is still in business, making it the oldest hardware store in Texas. Similarly, Naegelin’s Bakery opened in 1868. Still in business, it is the oldest bakery in the state.

The first railroad to lay track to New Braunfels was that of the unscrupulous Gilded Age “robber baron,” Jay Gould’s International & Great Northern (I&GN). Though the agreement to do so was apparently reached in the late 1870s, it wasn’t until 1885 that the first trains began service to New Braunfels. By then, the train depot built in 1880 had stood empty for five years. Gould had already reached Austin by 1876 with his railroad. It staggers the credulity of the situation to believe that it took Gould six or seven years to lay the 48 miles of track from Austin to New Braunfels. I reckon he had bigger fish to fry.

In any event, the arrival of the railroad had a positive and immediate impact on the commerce of the city, enabling it to import and export goods more efficiently and expeditiously. Moreover, an additional and unexpected benefit of the railroad was that it sparked tourism to New Braunfels and its increasingly popular Landa Park, which is located on 196 acres near the downtown area. The 14-acre Landa Lake and Comal Springs also form part of the park. The source of the springs is a natural opening in the limestone from the Edwards Aquifer along the Balcones Fault.

On a visit to the Landa estate in 1897, Helen Gould, daughter of the railroad tycoon, was so impressed with the locale that she persuaded her father to build a spur to Landa Park, thereby increasing tourism to the spot even more. A few years later, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad also built a spur to the park. Hailed as one of the most popular resorts in the Southwest, it wasn’t long before excursion trains from Austin and San Antonio were also bringing tourists to the area. And a new industry—tourism—was given birth in New Braunfels in the waning hours of the 19th century. The population of the city in 1900 was a mere 1,600 hardy German American souls. Over the course of the next 120 years there would be changes of seismic proportions to that number as well as its ethnic composition.

HERITAGE TOURISM

According to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), there are 24 sites located in and nearby New Braunfels. They consist of government, commercial, residential, transportation, educational, and religious structures, as well as spots found in nature that God created all by Himself without any help from man. Of these 24 sites, 13 of them are also listed as Recorded Texas Historical Landmarks (RTHL).

 Additionally, there are some RTHL sites that are not included on the National Register, as well as various others that carry the designation of State Historical Marker. These latter markers may be a plaque on the side of an old building or a free-standing marker that identifies the site where an historic building once stood or a significant historical event took place, even a marker for a cemetery.

We Texans are justly proud of our history and seize every opportunity to memorialize it. Some sites, like the Alamo in San Antonio, are hallowed ground. It holds the triple crown: State Antiquities Landmark, NRHP, and RTHL. There is a sign posted at the entrance of that mission fortress that I always pointed out to my Boy Scout Troop on our annual pilgrimage there back in the 1980s: “Brave Men Died Here.” Respect must be paid.

It is not within the scope of this article to attempt to list all these different sites. What I will do, however, is list some of those with the most historical relevance. The most significant of the man-made structures is of course the 1898 Comal County Courthouse, which is listed on both the NRHP and the RTHL, as well as being the only site in Comal County which holds the distinction of being listed as a State Antiquities Landmark. It is centrally located on the downtown square and is a magnificent three and a half story Romanesque-style structure constructed with native Texas Hill Country limestone.

Of all the original churches described elsewhere in this article, the only one to be listed on both the NRHP and the RTHL is the First Protestant Church. Oftentimes such sites are excluded from these lists due solely to neglect–the fact that no one in authority at the site has bothered to apply to the appropriate government agencies for its inclusion. Other causes for exclusion may be due to modifications made to the structure that prohibit its qualification. Such is the case with Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church. It did however qualify for a State Historical Marker.

In terms of commercial buildings, there is a virtual cornucopia of structures to admire: the 1900 Comal Hotel and Klein-Kuse House (apparently one property) is on both the NRHP and RTHL; as are the 1878 Gruene Hall; the 1904 H.D. Gruene Mercantile; the 1872 Gruene Mansion Inn and Bed & Breakfast;  the 1850 Guadalupe Hotel; and the 1925 Hotel Faust. Other commercial structures listed solely on the NRHP are: the 1900 Holz-Forshage-Krueger Building and the 1925 Brauntex Theater; the circa 1851 Schmitz Hotel (now a popular bed & breakfast inn) and the 1893 Henne Hardware are on the RTHL but not the NRHP.

There are several museums worthy of note: the Conservation Society, founded in 1964, has as its sole purpose the preservation and promotion of the history and heritage of New Braunfels and has saved and moved several notable structures onto its private grounds; the 1845 Sophienburg Museum; the 1918 Central Fire Station and Museum; and the New Braunfels Railroad Museum, which is housed in the 1907 I&GN Depot, designated with a State Historical Marker. No longer open to vehicular traffic, the 1887 Faust Street Bridge, aka Guadalupe River Bridge, is now open only to pedestrians and bicyclists. Like the fire station it is listed solely on the NRHP.

In terms of residential structures listed on both the NRHP and RTHL, there are the: 1850 Andreas Breustedt House; 1825 Stephen Klein House; and 1850 Lindheimer House. The 1850 Carl W.A. Groos House is NRHP only.

Of the natural phenomena that should not be missed when visiting New Braunfels which are listed on the NRHP are: the Natural Bridge Caverns Sinkhole Site, which is 13 miles from the city, located in Natural Bridge Caverns National Natural Landmark; and Comal Springs, which are, according to Wikipedia, “the largest concentration of naturally occurring freshwater springs in Texas.” (Other sources say the “Southwest.”)

The springs have, for generations, also been the biggest tourist draw to New Braunfels. The Comal River, which is fed by the springs, is known as the shortest large-volume river in the United States.  Nor should one overlook one of the most famous trees in Texas, the Founders’ Oak, located in Landa Park. Dating back to circa 1700, it has seen the New Braunfels area inhabited by Native American, Spanish, Mexican, Texian, German, and American peoples, a tree-like incarnation of Six Flags Over Texas.

Under the category of State Historical Markers are other such sites as: Near River Crossing, used by New Braunfels’s first settlers; the New Braunfels Academy site, Cemetery, Post Office, Woolen Mill, and Schuetzen Verein (Shooting Club), as well as the sites of the 1878 Gruene Cotton Gin and 1874 Mission Valley School and Teacherage.

Note: For this section pf my article I was aided immensely by Ms. Lynette Cen, Marker Program Specialist/Office Manager History Programs Division of the Texas Historical Commission in Austin, Texas. Any resultant errors are solely mine.

NEW BRAUNFELS STATISTICAL DATA

According to World Population Review, New Braunfels is the 42nd largest city in Texas and 341st in America. Currently growing at an annual rate of 6.19%, its population has increased 65.89% since the 2010 U.S. Census. It has a population density of 2,120 people per square mile. Average household income is $85,126 with a poverty rate of 8.92%. Median rental cost is $1,146 in recent years, and median house value is $$199,700, with a 63.7% rate of home ownership. Median age is 36.4 years, and for every 100 females there are 95.3 males.

From an educational perspective, 27.98% of the population are high school graduates; 22.96% hold a Bachelors’ degree; and 9.31% hold a Graduate degree or higher. The primary language spoken is English, at 76.78% of the population, with Spanish accounting for 20.5% and the remaining 2.72% speaking various other foreign languages.

Percentage wise, New Braunfels has one of the highest number of veterans of any of the 13 Texas towns and cities I have had the pleasure to research and write about. According to the US Census 2018 ACS (American Community Survey) 5-year table, there were 5,501 total U.S. military veterans, with 4,599 of them male and 902 females. I believe this may in fact be the highest percentage of female vets I have encountered thus far. The breakdown by war served in is as follows:

First Gulf War               1,905                32.0%

Second Gulf War           1,763                29.6%

Vietnam                       1,733                29.1%

Korea                              404                06.8%

World War II                    155                02.8%

New Braunfels is probably one of the most patriotic communities in a state where patriotism holds the highest of priorities, dating back to March 6, 1836, when 180-odd men held out for 13 days of glory against an army of 4,000, paying the ultimate price at a place called the Alamo–“the mission that became a fortress, the fortress that became a shrine.” I could not ascertain the membership numbers of either the American Legion Post or Veterans of Foreign Wars in New Braunfels, but I am quite certain the numbers are in the stratosphere. I encourage all my fellow vets who live there to join one or the other organization if they have not already done so.

POST-19TH CENTURY NEW BRAUNFELS

“By 1900 both [railroads] provided freight and passenger service and had helped secure the city’s future as a manufacturing and shipping center. Flour mills, textile factories, and processing plants for construction materials provided the basis for steady growth in the twentieth century. . . . The [Great] Depression and the boll weevil nearly devastated the textile industry, which returned very slowly” (Greene).

Nevertheless, the city’s population, except for a hiccup here and there, continued to increase, particularly after World War II, when returning veterans came home to establish families of their own in this beautiful Texas town. Tourism became the major growth industry when Interstate Highway 35, linking Austin and San Antonio, was completed in the mid-1950s. For New Braunfels offered a convenient off-ramp for travelers desiring authentic German food and a respite from the traffic of the larger cities and maybe a swim in the Comal or Guadalupe to cool off on a hot Texas summer day.

It was in 1960 that four students from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio discovered Natural Bridge Caverns, the largest known commercial caverns in Texas. The following year New Braunfels’s first Wurstfest, a German heritage celebration, was held, drawing an initial crowd of 2,000; it is now a Texas tradition, ranking right up there with Willie Nelson’s annual 4th of July concerts (47 consecutive ones to date). Then the Canyon Lake impoundment, in 1964, further boosted tourism and related industries.

Aquatic sports in New Braunfels are probably the biggest single draw for families and young people alike, whether tubing on the Comal River or spending a day (or weekend) at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark, which has been voted the #1 waterpark in the world for the last 22 years and is the original water park resort with 51 attractions situated on 70 acres. The Guadalupe River is perfect for rafting and canoeing. If you want to vacation somewhere that requires only a swimsuit or cut-offs for attire and is far away from any saltwater, New Braunfels is the perfect destination. In the last 50 years New Braunfels has experienced unprecedented population growth, from 17,859 in 1970 to 95,782 in 2020. Any way you slice it, that makes for an increase of more than five times what it was a half century ago. The point is: people do not just like visiting New Braunfels, they like living there. Small wonder it is the third fastest growing city in America. And it all started with just 200 hardy, industrious, well-educated German immigrants a mere 175 years ago. As Prince Carl may have said, “Jawohl!”