Oscar Haas’ research used by many for over 75 years

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

There is one historian’s name in New Braunfels that is mentioned over and over. After writing this column for the last nine years, and writing a few books, I can’t begin to tell you how many times his name is mentioned as a writer or a translator. Somehow the name slips in there before you know it. The person to whom I refer, is Oscar Haas.

Haas’ material is widely used and the Sophienburg has a vast collection of his papers, published and unpublished. As far as historical writers, the same can be said for Hermann Seele and Jacob Lindheimer but not to the extent of Oscar Haas’ contribution.

Sophienburg volunteer, Ralph Koch, is presently going through and organizing material from the Oscar Haas collection.

Oscar Haas was born on October 12, 1885, on a farm in Cranes Mill in Comal County. He was the oldest child of Ernst Georg Haas and Ottilie Rochau Haas. Both families were German immigrants. The families had moved to the Cranes Mill “mountains” soon after the Civil War. The farm is 16 miles west of New Braunfels and now is under the water of Canyon Lake.

Haas spent much of his early childhood on the Little Blanco River in Blanco County. He attended a little country school called the Twin Sisters School.

In 1897, the family moved to New Braunfels and he started the third grade at the New Braunfels Academy on Mill St. Right after finishing the sixth grade at this school, he began working for druggist August Forke. Forke owned the pharmacy and this building is the famous Forke Store now located at Conservation Plaza. I say famous because so many NB events have been held in this building with its old floors that retain its old atmosphere.

Obviously Oscar Haas was a bright, curious boy. Riding his bicycle along country roads, he would sketch buildings and people. The Sophienburg Museum has a large collection of Native American arrowheads that he gathered mostly in the Landa Park area. It is a beautiful mounted collection hanging in the Native American exhibit and contains spear points, flint knives, scrapers as well as the arrowheads.

In 1918 Oscar married Clara Amelia Conring and eventually she became a partner with him in his search for the history that both of them came to love.

As a young man he worked for the large mercantile store of Pfeuffer and Holm as a salesman of men’s clothing. This led to a brief partnership in the retail clothing and dry goods business. His store was directly across from the First Protestant Church and the building was eventually moved to Gruene.

A real break in Haas’ life occurred when he was elected county treasurer in 1934, a position he held for 28 years. By 1940 he had begun the discovery, collection and translation of old county records in the courthouse. Around that time, courthouses all over the state began getting rid of old records because of crowded conditions. There was a feeling that these records had no value, but Haas knew better. He saved the county records and had them recorded in the Texas State Archives. It was from these records that he began writing articles for publication in the New Braunfels Zeitung and the New Braunfels Herald. He wrote a column called “Know Comal County” in which he translated the old Commissioners Court records from German to English. Starting with the year 1846, he revealed to the current population of the county what had happened 100 years earlier. This series ran for three years in both newspapers. Following this series was another series called “99 and 100 Years Ago in New Braunfels.”

Hermann Seele was an early writer who wrote history and stories about New Braunfels. Seele arrived in the settlement in May of 1845. His recollections gave us complete descriptions of those early years. Of course, they were written in German, but Haas could translate them. An important literary work that Haas translated was Seele’s “Die Cypress”, a collection of non-fictional and fictional stories. This book makes excellent reading and can be purchased at Sophie’s Shop at the Sophienburg.

Another translation by Haas was Fritz Goldbeck’s historic poems describing New Braunfels. This to me was a very difficult translation, as it is hard to translate poetry from one language to another. Next came the translation of Prince Carl’s papers in which he recorded everything about the colonization project. Now just imagine this project. He translated the German “Fraktur”, the German equivalent of English script. Most of the German letters don’t even look like the English letters. I will say this, however, he probably learned this script at the country school at Twin Sisters. My dad learned this Fraktur going to school in the country, but my mother did not. She went to school in NB where she was taught English and German was a second language.

In 1961 Clara Haas joined her husband in his next venture, a series of 144 installments for the New Braunfels Zeitung. It was “Comal County in the Civil War” translated from the writings of Ferdinand Lindheimer. These translations were in the newspapers in the 1960s.

Retiring from the position of county treasurer in order to work on his large collection of historic materials, he began work on producing the history book “History of New Braunfels and Comal County, Texas; 1844-1946.” This book, published in 1968, is for sale at Sophie’s Shop and has become the #1 aid to historians researching history of the area.

Other publications were: “The First Protestant Church, Its History and its People 1845-1955”; also a translation of the Civil War Diary of Capt. Julius Giesecke and “History of the Singers and German Songs of Texas.”

All of this activity in writing did not go without reward. Early on, Haas was honored with several awards. The Historical Society of the Evangelical and Reformed Church honored him for historic church writing and the San Antonio Conservation Society History Award was given to him in 1966. Last, the Comal County Chamber of Commerce honored him with their annual Besserung Award for Outstanding Community Service.

Much of the information for this article was gathered from writings by Brenda Anderson Lindemann, Crystal Sasse Ragsdale and the Dolph Briscoe Center of American History, the University of Texas, Austin.

Oscar Haas died in 1981, but his accomplishments will live on for as long as there is a need for history.

Oscar Haas stands beside one of his collections of Native American relics in 1960. It can be viewed at the Sophienburg Museum.

Oscar Haas stands beside one of his collections of Native American relics in 1960. It can be viewed at the Sophienburg Museum.

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Local family learns lessons under adverse conditions

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

The Sophienburg Reflections program is in its 39th year recording local people talking about various aspects of New Braunfels life. Herb Skoog began the program at radio station KGNB in 1976 as a bi-centennial project. For the first time in this program, we have first-hand information about the activities of an unusual New Braunfels family. The Gilberto and Benita Martinez family shared some of their experiences growing up as migrant workers. What’s unusual about the Martinez family, with nine children, is that they all grew up in New Braunfels and all but one still live here.

Gilberto was born in Santa Monica, Mexico, about 50 miles from Piedras Negras. Benita Lagunas was born in Guadalupe County. Gilberto and Benita met in fields when both families were migrant workers. In case you don’t know, migrant workers traveled around picking fruits and vegetables that were ripe. Certain crops had certain times that had to be harvested. If that didn’t happen, the crops were ruined. The work force had to come from areas all over the country. It wasn’t a full time job, so most migrant workers had another job back in their hometown. In this case, the Martinez family called NB home and still is. Before mechanized picking machines, the migrant worker was absolutely essential to the agricultural scene.

The nine Martinez children are: Yolanda Martinez, Ignacio Martinez, Sylvia M. Moreno, Teresa M. Lopez, Roland Martinez, Rafael Martinez, Alicia M. Crespo, Armando Martinez, and Gilberto Martinez, Jr. To this day, every Saturday evening the family meets at their parent’s house for fellowship and remembrances about old times. They cook together, which is something they all learned from their mother. Love of cooking is important to Ignacio who has run the Knights of Columbus fish fry every Friday night. And Teresa has been with the Landa Street Dairy Queen for 38 years. She now manages it and is well known to “regulars” at this establishment.

Most of the migrant worker stories are about their times traveling and about the lessons of life that they learned from their father. The Martinez family would usually leave in May heading for Indiana, Michigan or Florida. They returned to NB just after the Comal County Fair was over at the end of September. Being a Catholic family, they would carry a large picture of the Virgin Mary in the truck everywhere they went. That picture is still at the Martinez home.

To get to their destination, they would drive around the clock for 24 hours. They would pull over at a gas station and sleep in the car or truck. The whole family worked in the fields picking tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, and picked cherries in Traverse City, Michigan. They picked bell peppers in West Palm Beach, Florida. Snakes in the fields were a big problem in Florida.

Individual pickers, or in this case, families were paid by how many boxes or buckets they could pick. Gilberto had as a goal for his family – 1000 boxes and sometimes more a day. When the Martinezs reached their destination, they were given a one-room house, sometimes as big as 20 feet by 20 feet for all eleven to stay in. The dad would get the whole family up at 4:00 o’clock in the morning. They had to go to bed early around 5:30. The children complained that they had no time to play with the other children in the camp. They said that it was too light outside to go to sleep. Gilberto fixed that problem by painting the windows black.

A favorite family story took place on the road when their dad stopped at a gas station to fill up. He went in the station and ordered 11 hamburgers. When they were on the road again, the hamburgers were passed out. When everyone had a hamburger, there was one left. To their horror, they discovered that they had left behind the youngest, Gilberto, Jr. at the gas station. They turned around and thankfully found him patiently waiting for them.

All of the Martinez children started their elementary schooling at Lone Star Elementary and finished high school here at New Braunfels High School. School was often difficult because during the picking season, they would lose about two months at the beginning of the year. They managed to overcome the loss of time.

Doing research on migrant workers, led me to believe that the Martinez family did exceptionally well despite the hardships suffered by most migrant workers. Or was it their attitude about it that gave them strength? Generally migrant worker’s children do not go any further than 6th grade in school. Poor housing conditions and high rates of pesticide exposure, poor health treatment, eye injuries were just a few of the conditions that went along with the job. Being aware of the dangers of pesticides didn’t come along until the 1960s.

A farm worker’s income was mostly paid by the bucket, earning as little as 40 cents a bucket. At that rate, farm workers had to pick two tons or 125 buckets to earn $50. Minimum wage laws apply only to workers on large farms.

After the Civil War, migrant farm labor began when agriculture became a dominant business. Before that time, most people farmed their own land, no matter how small.

Conditions of migrant farmers came to the attention of the general population with the writing of the book “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. It was also made into a movie. In 1960 a documentary called “Harvest of Shame” on CBS by Edward R. Murrow had a big impact by making people aware of a bad situation. This documentary put conditions of the migrant worker on the political scene and some improvements were made.

In the 1960s and 70s Cesar Chavez organized migrant workers using nonviolent tactics learned from the Civil Rights Movement. This movement is called “United Farm Workers Union” and was organized in 1972.

The year that Chavez organized the migrant workers was the last year that the Martinez family picked fields. While traveling on the road they heard of the 1972 flood in NB and headed for home to help family members left behind.

The lessons learned at home from their parents have made this family successful. They learned love of family, loyalty and happiness under adverse conditions.

The Martinez Family L-R   Roland, Rafael, Sylvia (Moreno), Alicia (Crespo), Armando, Yolanda, Teresa (Lopez), Ignacio, Benita, Gilberto and Gilberto, Jr.

The Martinez Family L-R Roland, Rafael, Sylvia (Moreno), Alicia (Crespo), Armando, Yolanda, Teresa (Lopez), Ignacio, Benita, Gilberto and Gilberto, Jr.

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James Ferguson, early pioneer from Scotland

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

If you believe that all of the earliest settlers of New Braunfels were of German descent, then you will be surprised to learn how many European natives were represented. One of those Ausländers (a person not originally from New Braunfels with a German heritage) was James Ferguson from Scotland, about whom I will tell you in this article.

No list, I don’t care for what purpose, is entirely accurate, and in the case of New Braunfels, the first official list we have of inhabitants came from the 1850 census. According to the census, those of German descent far outnumbered inhabitants of other countries. There were people from Ireland, England and Scotland and there were people from other states who settled here also of Irish, English, Polish and Scottish ancestry. These transplants came to Texas from New York, Connecticut, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Maine, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and then many from other areas of Texas. These non-Germanic people engaged in businesses, merchandizing, ranching, farming, milling and real estate. Most were given land grants and many bought land. They must have had funds to invest. Also on the census were two children native of Mexico and several children born “at sea.”

James Ferguson of Pershire, Scotland is listed on the 1850 Census as being 30 years old. Also in his household was Marie Hessler Ferguson, 32, native of Germany and wife of James; Alexander Ferguson, 24, native of Scotland, brother of James; Margaret Ferguson, 22, native of Scotland and sister of James; and Euphemie, three- months-old born in Texas, daughter of James.

James, as head of the household, not only acquired a vast amount of real estate, but was a successful merchant, and also involved in civic affairs. Scotsman James and his brother-in-law, Heinrich Hessler, from Stuttgart, Germany, were early merchants in New Braunfels. They purchased lots #3 and #4 fronting on San Antonio St. where the Red Stag store is located, and also the lot immediately behind this business, fronting on Castell Ave. Here they put up a two-story building for a mercantile store with their residence upstairs.

Writer Victor Bracht said in his book, “Texas 1848”, that caravans from Mexico stopped at Ferguson & Hessler Store to make purchases and that the brothers had transferred their business from the islands of St. Thomas. Ferdinand Roemer in his book, “Roemer’s Texas”, described the store as containing articles of food, ready-made clothing, shoes, saddles and harnesses, cotton and silk goods, and implements of all kinds.

Heinrich Hessler died in 1849 at the age of 28 as a result of being struck by lightning. His death brought about a partnership between James and his brother, Alexander, and the store then became Ferguson & Brother. Both became naturalized citizens in 1849. The meaning of this is that they did not come directly from St. Thomas to New Braunfels, but that they were in the U.S. or Texas before coming to New Braunfels.

James Ferguson took an active part in civic affairs. He became a city alderman from 1851 to 1854 and a Comal County Commissioner from 1854 to 1856. In 1853 he headed a committee of five men appointed to circulate lists for voluntary contributions to establish a municipal school. He was very successful at collecting these funds which were to augment money appropriated by the city council for the purpose of establishing a city school. This was the beginning of the New Braunfels Academy.

As a county commissioner, Ferguson worked for the building of a courthouse. Heretofore court business had been transacted in various rented buildings, including houses. Abandoning the idea of building a courthouse on the city-owned Comal River, and the other idea of a courthouse in the middle of the Plaza, the Commissioners Court decided to purchase half a lot from James Ferguson located where the Chase Bank is now for the courthouse. Later, on the steps of this old courthouse, Sam Houston made his pitch to Comal County citizens to vote against secession. This courthouse was built in 1860.

James Ferguson died June 11, 1858 and at the time of his death, he was the owner of vast real estate in New Braunfels and the counties of Comal, Gillespie, and Bexar. He not only owned the property on San Antonio St. and Castell Ave. but the lot where McAdoo’s Restaurant is located. He owned 2,046 acres of Potters Survey north of New Braunfels.

James and his brother-in-law purchased 305 ½ acres in Sattler from Jacob de Cordova in 1847. James named the property Marienthal after his wife, Marie, and “thal” in German meaning valley. This property is located on Farm Road 306 about ten miles north of New Braunfels. In those early days this road was just a dirt trail for wagons.

In 1857 the Ferguson brothers deeded Marienthal to Theodore Koester who, acting as agent, sold this farm to Carl Baetge. Carl built a two-story home on the property. This Carl Baetge is the same person whose previous home on Demi John Bend was dismantled and rebuilt at Conservation Plaza. If you haven’t seen the Baetge Home, it’s worth the visit. It is maintained by the Conservation Society. Carl Baetge from Uelzen, Germany, was certified as a civil engineer and went to work for a privately owned engineering company specializing in railroad building. In 1840 he was in Russia as chief civil engineer of the construction of a 420 mile railroad line between St. Petersburg and Moscow for the Russian government. Czar Nicholas I was eager to have the line because it would connect the summer and winter palaces of the royal family. The line was completed in 1846. The Czar awarded Baetge an honorary title for his railroad construction. The plans for this railroad are preserved in the Baetge Home.

Back to other pieces of property owned by Ferguson, there were two lots on Seguin Ave. near the old depot. This property was sold and became the location of the “Orphan Mother Felecites von Fitz” who conducted a Roman Catholic female school, according to historian Oscar Haas.

In Comaltown, he owned 12 lots and a 13 acres tract called “Amistad” farm. The location of this property was along the Comal River. He owned two lots in Fredericksburg, two lots in San Antonio plus 15,860 acres in head-right lands grants in Texas.

Ferguson leaves behind a block-long street or alley called Ferguson Avenue connecting Mill and San Antonio Streets. In 1856 Ferguson owned a 9 ½ acre tract of land outside the city limits that the county needed to construct part of a road. This little road became Ferguson Avenue. His name remains prominent in two places, the name of the street and his name on his tombstone in the Old New Braunfels Cemetery.

Ferguson and Hessler Store built in 1847 (photo 1890) and Texas Historical Commission marker for the New Braunfels Cemetery located on Highway 81.

Ferguson and Hessler Store built in 1847 (photo 1890) and Texas Historical Commission marker for the New Braunfels Cemetery located on Highway 81.

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Meridian Highway businesses being documented

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

The Texas Historical Commission is taking on a two-year project documenting the Sixth Principal Meridian Highway in Texas. Don’t know where it is? The highway has been a major highway north to south since 1911. The Commission is gathering information on travel related structures along the highway. New Braunfels is part of that survey.

In 1911 John C. Nicholson, a Kansas lawyer and supporter of the Good Roads Movement, organized the International Meridian Road Association wanting a highway from Canada to Mexico. This was the beginning of the Meridian Highway. It is not a completely new highway as many segments of the highway follow Native American paths, Spanish explorer paths, military roads and cattle trails.

When the Texas Highway Department was created in 1917 the Meridian Highway in Texas was called State Highway 2 which meant it was the second most important highway in Texas. The highway in Texas is approximately 900 miles. With the adoption of the interstate highway numbering system, this highway became US 81 for the most part and much of the segments now follow IH 35, one of the nation’s busiest interstate highways. The highway links Canada to Mexico and also continues as the Pan-American Highway that stretches from Alaska to Argentina. As far as Texas was concerned, a 1953 Texas Parade article noted that US 81 was in the process of being widened to a four-lane divided roadway from Fort Worth to San Antonio and the author called the road the “main street of the Lone Star State”.

No doubt, the availability of automobiles and trucks in the 1900s changed the way of life for all Texans, but good roads were hard to find. The Meridian Highway going from north to south opened up all avenues of trade and travel which affected auto repair garages, gas stations, diners, tourist camps, auto courts, motels, road markers, bridges, traffic signs, and of course road constructions and maintenance. This important corridor was a big boost to tourism. Think about our tourism in Comal County and how it would have been affected by the lack or automobiles and the roads on which they travel.

New Braunfels, being the Beauty Spot of Texas, had a lot to gain from this highway. In 1924 the Official Automobile Red Book showed the route of the highway to be from just north of NB to just south as follows: One would travel along Post Road and cross over the Guadalupe River at the Faust Street Bridge, turn right on to Seguin Ave. and continue to the Main Plaza. After circling the Plaza, head out West San Antonio St. and then travel on FM 482. Later after the US 81 bridge was constructed the route changed slightly and became US 81 and then finally became IH 35.

The Texas Historical Commission has begun its survey collecting information of historic structures that were influenced and benefitted by the Meridian Highway. When the survey is complete, results will be published and made available to the public. In some of my past articles, I have written about several businesses along the New Braunfels downtown route that I think will qualify as examples of what was on the Meridian Highway. Now I will talk about one automobile business that I haven’t written about that was actually located in three locations along the route. Possibly no business benefitted more from a good highway than the automobile industry.

Becker Motor Company began in 1928 when August Becker and his son-in-law Louis Niemeyer held the Chevrolet franchise for Comal County. August Becker had been connected with the Seguin Motor Co. for several years. He and his son, Walter, bought the Forshage Building at 472 W. San Antonio St. from Jess Sippel. The Becker Chevrolet Company was founded with August Becker as general manager and owner and located in that building.

The Great Depression had an impact on the automobile business. During this time period General Motors sent cars to the dealers, whether they wanted them or not. This situation became a point of contention to August Becker because just as the new Chevrolet models were coming out, G.M. sent him sixty 1932 cars to sell. This was during the height of the Great Depression. Can you see the problem? August, his son Walter, and some of the sales staff literally went from door to door selling cars within a 30 mile radius. All the cars were finally sold but, needless to say, Becker soon changed his franchise to Dodge/Plymouth and the name of the dealership became Becker Motor Company.

For a short time Becker Motor Company moved to the Baetge Motor Sales location now the Rahe-Wright building at 162 S. Seguin Ave. and then in 1935 moved to 300 South Seguin Ave. located where the First Protestant Church parking lot is. This building subsequently held other automobile-related business like Carl Ohm Motor Co. and the last was Dietert Auto Supply owned by Darvin Dietert. First Protestant bought the property to increase their parking capacity.

The final move for the Becker Motor Company occurred right after WWII when it moved to 547 S. Seguin Ave. its last home. The building was constructed from the demolition of two warehouses from the Landa Mill property. Concrete blocks were made on the spot.

Additional adjoining property, and properties across the street were purchased by the company. In 1972 the Chrysler franchise was obtained when Ruppel Auto Co. went out of business. In 1973 Becker Motor Company was reorganized as a corporation and finally sold in 2002 to Bluebonnet Chrysler Dodge but the building still stands.

The Becker family members have in their possession a collection of photographs of the

history of Becker Motor Company. They have allowed the Sophienburg Archives to scan these photos and make them part of its vast collection. A particular one-of-a-kind collection is black and white photographs taken by George Becker with a little Kodak camera. The collection is of 18 early Dodge trucks sold to local businesses and individuals. Names are on the back. Once again, if you have been hanging around in New Braunfels long enough, you will recognize some of these names:

“Tate” in front of a Fritos truck by the business that is now the First Protestant Church parking; Pittman’s Red and White truck; Sattler Feed Store truck; county road crew in front of truck; Oscar Brehmer in front of farm truck; Ed Soechting Mobile Oil truck; Curt Linnartz in front of delivery truck; Handy Andy grocery truck; Loeps Plaza Market downtown; First NB garbage truck; Erwin Staats Meat Market truck; Hanz Schwamkrug in front of New Braunfels Sausage Factory; plus many pictures of old buildings and unidentified trucks.

Thank you, Texas Historical Commission for taking on the Meridian Highway project and adding to the information that the Sophienburg has. I think there’s no doubt that we will all benefit.

New Braunfels garbage truck, Handy Andy grocery truck, Fritos truck, and county road crew truck.

New Braunfels garbage truck, Handy Andy grocery truck, Fritos truck, and county road crew truck.

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Go downtown to celebrate the 4th of July

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Come celebrate our Declaration of Independence once again with the Sophienburg’s July 4th celebration and parade. The parade will begin at 9:15 so be at the Plaza early. I have invited a ghost from the past to be there. John Torrey will surely be at his old stomping grounds in spirit.

Who was John Torrey? I wrote an article about John Torrey Feb. 23, 2010. A little more detail of the John Torrey story takes us back to why and how he became such a prominent person in the settlement of New Braunfels.

There were seven Torrey brothers from Connecticut. Two stayed in Connecticut, two were killed in Texas and three, John, David, and Thomas, formed the Torrey Brothers Trading House in Houston in 1836. This trading company became a very important strategy of Sam Houston’s peace policy with the Indians. With a significant fur trade, there were several branch stores in Texas that brought the Indians and the settlers together.

The Torrey brothers in 1844 furnished Prince Carl with ammunition, swords, and arms for the soldiers that Prince Carl had organized to protect the newly arrived emigrants. John Torrey was with Prince Carl as he inspected the New Braunfels property right before the settlers crossed the Guadalupe. Later when John Meusebach became the second commissioner-general after Prince Carl left, David Torrey drew up a contract to help transport those emigrants who needed transportation from Indianola.

This connection with the Adelsverein is what brought the Torreys to New Braunfels in 1846. Here John conducted a trading business on the corner of San Antonio and Hill Sts. where he ground corn into cornmeal for the settlers for 10 cents a bushel. Then Torrey moved closer to where we are celebrating July 4th. While you’re standing around the Plaza, take a look over at the UPS building on the corner of San Antonio St. and Seguin Ave. This location is the first recorded deed of John Torrey in May 1847 when he built a store on that corner. He leased this property from Penelope Hunter of San Antonio for $30 a year. The property encompassed the corner lot all the way to the present Black Whale. This property had first been granted to Nicholas Reidel by the German Emigration Co. One of the lease agreements with Mrs. Hunter was that it was not to be used as a saloon or boarding house without her permission. That agreement didn’t last long because in a few years that very building became the saloon of Ferdinand Simon.

Now from the Plaza, you’re just a hop, skip and jump to the San Antonio St. Bridge. Before you go on to the bridge, look to the right where the Dittlinger office building is located (ADM). This was approximately where the John Torrey homestead was located.

A little bridge background: There had to be a bridge from the settlement of New Braunfels and Comaltown. The earliest bridge, known as the Pecan Bridge and described by Hermann Seele, pinpoints the location of a pecan foot bridge on an island at the juncture of the Comal River and Comal Creek. Two pecan trees, one on each bank of the Comal, had been felled onto the island. Pedestrians crossed back and forth between NB and Comaltown holding on to handrails. This bridge was at the foot of Bridge St.

The first wagon bridge built across the Comal by the city was in 1856. This bridge made of timber was located diagonally from the foot of Mill St. to the north edge of San Antonio St. After ten years another bridge was built there in 1866 only to be partially destroyed by a flood in 1869. This bridge was repaired and then completely torn away by another flood in 1870. The city built an iron wagon bridge in the same location as these two bridges, but once again a flood in 1872 washed it away.

Merchant C.C. Floege built a low water crossing in 1872 that lasted until 1894 when it was replaced by the high water structure built from scrap metal from the Chicago World’s Fair. Then in 1923 the concrete bridge now in use was built.

Now that you’re on the concrete bridge, you can look down to where the John Torrey mill used to be. In 1848 Torrey entered into a lease agreement with Hermann Speiss trustee of the German Emigration Co. to build a mill. The lease was for 1 4/5 acres for $75 a year for a parcel of land in New Braunfels at the juncture of Comal Creek (River) and the Comal Springs, the place being at the “falls”. Oscar Haas tells us that the falls was the only one on the Comal River and it is there that Torrey built a dam to use the water power for his mill. Torrey entered into an agreement with Willis E. Park to build a saw and grist mill. He later added facilities for the manufacture of wheat flour and a shop for making doors, sashes and blinds. It was destroyed by fire in 1861. Immediately Torrey put up a three story stone building. In 1863 he was joined by the Runge brothers of Indianola and they were granted a charter by the State of Texas to import cotton cloth weaving machinery, duty free. Six years later in 1869 a tornado destroyed the top floor and all the machinery. He had a roof placed over the second story and then in 1872 a cloudburst caused a flood tearing the foundation and destroying the recently rebuilt dam.

Today part of the foundation can still be seen at the Clemens Dam at the foot of Mill Street. It has been said that fire, wind, and water plotted against John Torrey’s efforts on the Comal River. Torrey, defeated, moved to land which he had bought in North Texas. After all of this explanation, I could have told you that it was where the Tube Chute is, right?

John Torrey, like William Meriwether and Harry Landa, were true industrialists. They knew what water power could do. Torrey bought a great deal of land in Comaltown. He hired J.J. Groos to plot out the Braunfels Subdivision. He gave the land on which the Comal Cemetery is located to the City of New Braunfels. Torrey Street is named after him because of the amount of land that he owned. Also Torrey Park is named after him. The mill site was honored by the State of Texas during the Centennial of Texas Independence in 1936 with an historical marker at the location of the mill.

To walk or ride in the parade, an application is required and a patriotic theme is essential. Whatever you do, come join us!

From the Plaza looking down Seguin Ave. The arrow points to the Ferdinand Simon Saloon, originally built by John Torrey, and now the site of the UPS Store. Across the street is Knocke & Eiband General Merchandise Store, later Eiband & Fischer. Circa 1900.

From the Plaza looking down Seguin Ave. The arrow points to the Ferdinand Simon Saloon, originally built by John Torrey, and now the site of the UPS Store. Across the street is Knocke & Eiband General Merchandise Store, later Eiband & Fischer. Circa 1900.

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Downtown renovations important

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Ron Snider has been awarded the Dr. Frederick Frueholz Comal County Historical Commission Award for his work in the restoration and preservation of downtown New Braunfels buildings. In the 1960s a trend of tearing down old buildings, remodeling them into modern buildings or using the property for parking lots caused the loss of many beautiful homes and business buildings downtown. This trend seemed to be growing but when civic minded people became aware of the trend, conservation groups began to pop up to save what was still left of the irreplaceable buildings.

Often it takes people from the outside to really see the value of what you have. Ron Snider was one of those people. Snider and his family moved to New Braunfels in1982 when he began a business called GYM-N-I, building wooden playground equipment. It was a good, safe and welcome business in New Braunfels. For years parents had been aware of the danger of certain metal playground equipment, especially on the school playground. One by one, these iron swings, slides and merry-go-rounds had been removed.

Snider grew up inner city but both his grandfathers lived on farms so he liked small towns. He had German roots and he chose New Braunfels to live in. With a background of ten years as a salesman for Lane Furniture, traveling to small towns made him aware of what was happening to downtowns especially the business districts. Beginning with the first purchase in 1996 by Snider and Darrell Sollberger under the name of S&S Properties and then with Dr. Frank Hampel as S&H Properties, he renovated eight buildings in the downtown area, built from early 1900s to the latest in the 1940s.

Seekatz Opera House

The first building to be renovated at 265 W. San Antonio St. was the Seekatz Opera House built in 1901. It was a big success as an events center, badly needed by the town. This building was severely damaged by a fire in 1941. By that time it had become the Cole Movie Theater. After that it became a clothing store but it never became what it was in its prime. After seven years of renovation, the Seekatz Opera House has once again become an important events center in downtown.

The Seekatz Opera House had a long history in downtown. In the late 1800s Louis and Otto Seekatz saw a need for a building with a stage and auditorium style seating, mostly for the traveling shows that came through town and local events such as New Year’s Eve Dances, July 4 Celebrations, Firemen’s Dances and Kindermaskenball.

Richter Buildings 1910 and 1920

In 1998 S&S purchased the two R.B. Richter buildings. These buildings had some renovations done by Ernie Lambert and Luke Speckman and the upstairs apartment had already been renovated when the purchase was made. The complicated history of these two buildings was given to me by researcher David Hartmann who knows more about the Richters than they do. Richter set up his first pharmacy at 143 W. San Antonio St. (next to the Phoenix) in 1901 and then ten years later in 1910 moved across the street to 142 W. San Antonio St. where there had been a one-story saloon. A. Moeller began construction of the building housing the pharmacy and a second floor that became the residence of R.B. and Emilie Weilbacher Richter.

Now the second Richter 1920 building. Next door at 168 W. San Antonio St. was a fachwerk house and in 1915 Richter bought the property and tore the house down. On this lot an L shaped brick wall was constructed with a large wooden floor. The back wall was plastered white and chairs were set up for an open-air theater showing silent movies. During the day, the floor was used as a roller skating rink. In 1920 the building was enclosed and a second story was added and rented out to doctors and attorneys. Downstairs was Oscar Haas Mercantile, Richters Grocery, B.F. Goodrich and Tom Oliver’s clothing store.

Palace Theater

The next purchase in partnership with Dr. Frank Hampel was a series of three connected buildings that few here can still remember. Located in the 100 block of N. Castell Ave., one of the three buildings was originally the Palace Theater, a movie theater whose grand opening was Dec. 23, 1924. Records show that it was built by A.C. Moeller (my grandfather) and Herman Moeller, his brother. The theater didn’t last long and closed in 1932, possibly because of the Depression. At that time it became the home of Ma’s Café. This café was a favorite of locals run by Ma Bloedorn and her son, Schimmel. It finally closed in 1982 after 50 years. Now these buildings are the upscale Myrons Prime Steakhouse and the Blue Artichoke.

Bingo Café

The next purchase in 2004 by S&S was the former Hinman’s Bingo Café at 277 W. San Antonio St. Homer Hinman owned many cafés on San Antonio St. He actually began his business at the age of 14 when he drove a wagon to Landa Park and sold 5cent hamburgers from a grill that he had on a wagon. His first indoor café was next to Peerless Drug Store, a very small deli called “Hole in the Wall” from 1912-1915. From 1918 to 1923 he owned the Bingo Café where his wife and two children lived on the second floor. Then from 1923-1926 he purchased the “A” Café, so named so that it could be first in the telephone book. It was across the railroad track on San Antonio St. in front of the Huisache Restaurant. Then in 1926 he ran Homer’s Lunch Bar next to the Bingo Café and then finally from 1932 to 1936 he owned the Longhorn Café across from the Civic Center.

Herald-Zeitung, KGNB/KNBT

The former Herald-Zeitung and KGNB/KNBT building at 188 Castell Ave. was purchased in 2009. This renovation took four years, as there was the relocation of the Salvation Army office involved. Today it houses the restaurant called 188 South, the Blue Moose Pizza, the office of S&H Properties and the Farmer’s Market office.

Historically the Art Deco Style building was built for Claude Scruggs in 1945.This building style was covered up in an imitation German fachwerk style. The New Braunfels Herald newspaper was first published around 1892 and merged with the Zeitung-Chronicle in 1966.The paper was renamed the Herald-Zeitung in 1979.

The Farmer’s Market

The purchase of the Herald building and the ownership of the back of the Seekatz Opera House used for parking led to the very popular Farmer’s Market. Snider built stalls and the market has grown to 60 vendors, usually 30 in winter. Ron Snider through an early influence of both grandfathers who were farmers became interested in this type of business and a recent demand for fresh produce has made this market very popular.

Odyssey of the Mind

Here’s something about Snider that you may not know: He also knows how to build robots. Here’s the story:

In the late 1980s an educational program was entered into for 6th and 7th graders called the “Odyssey of the Mind”. OM is an international competition. Student teams are given a problem to solve by using divergent skills, and creativity for the purpose of promoting team efforts. Not only teachers are involved, but parents are a must. A group of seven boys from New Braunfels Middle School chose a problem having to construct an actual robot. Guess who volunteered to help this team. Yes, you have it – Ron Snider. For six months this team met with Snider and they constructed a life-sized robot. When the competition came along, the team won first place locally, then at the regional level and finally the state winner. The next step was the world competition. Teachers, parents, and seven boys flew to the University of Tennessee and won 13th place. This was the first and last time that any New Braunfels team competed in a world competition.

And now, as you could guess, Snider has a “work in progress’. He is renovating the very popular Krause’s Café. Congratulations, Ron, anyone who can put together a robot with 7th grade boys is destined to continue great things here in New Braunfels.

Odyssey of the Mind team members L-R, Chris Snider, Ryan Haupert, Clint Kingsbury, Jason Wyatt, Carlos De La Cerda, Trey Taylor and Kelly Garza.

Odyssey of the Mind team members L-R, Chris Snider, Ryan Haupert, Clint Kingsbury, Jason Wyatt, Carlos De La Cerda, Trey Taylor and Kelly Garza.

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