By Myra Lee Adams Goff
When I think of Botanists in New Braunfels, I immediately think of Ferdinand Lindheimer. Lindheimer was given property on the Comal for his botanical garden. No doubt his accomplishments were many, but there were others in the field who contributed much to the beauty of our town. One in particular helped make NB the “garden spot” of Texas and that was Otto Martin Locke, Jr. He was a third generation New Braunfelser and a third generation horticulturist. He died in 1994 so some of you may remember him.
Here’s his family story:
Johann Joseph Locke, hailing from Prussia, arrived in NB in 1852 and in four years bought two 10- acre plots of land on the Comal Creek, what is now Town Creek and running to the Landa Street area. It eventually also covered the area from the RR tracks to the hill. Seeing a need for ornamental trees, as well as fruit-bearing trees, he put his knowledge of horticulture to use and began the first nursery in New Braunfels.
For 30 years the business thrived and then was taken over by Johann’s oldest son, Otto Martin Locke, Sr., who named the nursery “Comal Springs Nursery”. He was responsible for developing and producing fruit and pecan trees, vegetables and ornamental shrubs. Large orders were shipped by train. One order of 50,000 peach trees was sent to Mexico.
Many pecan trees around town were grown and grafted by Locke. I grew up knowing that the 10 pecan trees in our yard, the soft-shelled Daisey Pecan, were developed by Locke.
In 1906 Locke planted 50 to 60 thousand roses and developed the Bonita Arbor Vitae, which is a variety of evergreens. Other plants developed by him were Heidemeyer apple, Strington apple, Ferguson fig, Comal cling peaches, Dixie peach, November peach, Daisey pecan, Fall City tomato, Germania rose, Locke’s pride pear, Perfection pear, Old-favorite pomegranate, McCarthy plum, and Guadalupe dewberry. Locke was granted the first state permit for irrigating using state waters (Comal Creek).
The Otto Lockes trained their four boys in the nursery business in NB, Poteet, and San Antonio. The boys were Emil, Herman, Walter and Otto, Jr. It was this youngest boy who made the biggest impact on the whole town of New Braunfels.
Otto Martin Locke, Jr. and his wife, Etelka Rose Locke, acquired property between W. San Antonio St. and Hwy 81 S. in 1928, after the death of his father. They began the Otto Martin Locke Nursery that they operated until Otto’s death in 1994. At the time that Otto and Etelka moved to their new property, Herman and Thekla Locke and their son Howard, formed the Locke Nursery and Floral on part of the old property in the area of present streets: Lockner (Locke Nursery),Howard (Howard Locke),and Floral (obvious).
When Otto and Etelka Locke bought the property on W. San Antonio, it was a cotton field. Etelka was famous for her gardens, once planting 5,000 tulip bulbs in the 1940’s. (For pictures of theses tulips, log on to Sophienburg.com and click on column). She planted the garden around the Lindheimer House on Comal Ave. and the McKenna Memorial Hospital. Otto planted a chestnut oak for the Arbor Day ceremony at the Landa Park office. They used no pesticides on their ten acres, using only chameleons, lizards and snakes to eat the bugs.
Otto Locke’s love of animals as a child grew into a business. He became famous nationally and internationally as a major importer and exporter of exotic native animals and birds for zoos around the world. Inquiries came for birds, snakes, and armadillos. He traded his stock for monkeys, exotic snakes, lion cubs, alligators, crocodiles and even kangaroos. Animals were shipped to many countries and continents- England, Mexico, Germany, Singapore, Australia, Africa, Calcutta, and India. He supplied many snakes for Hollywood. Locke Nursery provided the closest thing to a zoo that New Braunfels had, for these animals were all on display. Children’s trips to the nursery were a real treat.
Looking toward the old nursery from I.H. 35 S., you see the remnants of the old sign, “Locke Nursery”, and thousands of overgrown trees, helping us remember a thriving business for 138 years. But…
“We’ll never smile at a crocodile again”.