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1881 bird’s-eye view of New Braunfels


Photo caption: Detail of 1881 Birds Eye View. A newspaper reporter in Augustus Koch's time wrote that Koch's maps depicted "every street, block, railroad track, switch and turn-table, every bridge, tree, and barn, in fact every object that would strike the eye of a man up a little way in a balloon."

Photo caption: Detail of 1881 Birds Eye View. A newspaper reporter in Augustus Koch’s time wrote that Koch’s maps depicted “every street, block, railroad track, switch and turn-table, every bridge, tree, and barn, in fact every object that would strike the eye of a man up a little way in a balloon.”

By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —

Created by Augustus Koch in 1881, the “Birds Eye View of New Braunfels” is so much more than just an etching of early New Braunfels. An aerial view of the city lying nestled between the rise of the Balcones Escarpment and the black dirt farmlands, it is almost photographic in its detailed rendering of buildings and streets. It is also a phenomenal piece of late 19th Century city marketing.

Augustus Koch was one of a handful of skilled artists/draftsmen who walked the American landscape after the Civil War. These men drew at least 1,800 town and city maps by the 1920s. Augustus, born in 1834 in Birnbaum, Prussia, was well-educated when he arrived in America. He enlisted in the Wisconsin Infantry in 1861, was commissioned in 1863, and became an engineering officer to an African-American regiment. While in the army, he produced maps of Vicksburg and other places which were used for battle planning.

By 1868, Augustus had begun his career as a panoramic map maker. Koch had been mentored by Albert Ruger, another German immigrant in Wisconsin, who was one of the earliest panoramic map makers in America. Augustus produced views of Cedar Falls, Iowa (1869), 8 views of towns in California (1870-71), and views of cities in Tennessee, Illinois, Texas, New York, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota and Maine (1872-1875). In the 1890s, Koch made views for cities in Virginia, Washington, Georgia, Florida, Missouri, Colorado, and Minnesota. By the end of his career, Augustus had drawn 110 birds eye views of cities and towns in 23 different states. He had crisscrossed his way across America several times. Can you imagine the changes and growth he saw?

To produce a birds eye view was an intensely painstaking process. Koch first sent an agent, or went himself, to a prospective town to drum up business. He would talk with local businessmen and civic groups and get them interested in a map of their community and commit to buy subscriptions for the finished map. Augustus began with a large basic sketch set on a street grid. He often looked at photographs and other maps of the town if they were available. He and his assistants then walked every street making sketches of each building and noting details in field notes that included compass directions and the relationships of blocks to one another. Simple figures of people, wagons and trees were added to the grid map to make up a conceptual drawing to show new would-be customers and sell more subscriptions. To insure better accuracy in placement, smaller houses were rendered rather alike — accuracy was more critical than aesthetics. Important buildings were drawn in much more detail.

Augustus then worked with a lithographer to produce a final drawing which was transferred and etched into a limestone slab that was inked and used to print the highly detailed image. It took at least two weeks to sketch out the map before it went to the lithographer. The finished prints were delivered directly to the subscribers. Koch had to work quickly so folks would stay excited. Time was indeed money.

Most birds eye views show the town center and street grid. The street grid was always drawn at an angle to allow a better view of the buildings. The more details of buildings captured in the drawing, the more folks would buy it to see their home or business. The most important feature of the town was usually front-and-center in the drawing. Civic and personal pride was leveraged at every turn to encourage more buyers.

The 1881 Birds Eye View of New Braunfels is drawn from an elevation of about 2000 feet. It has a high horizon line so that more detail can be placed in the body of the print. Important buildings or businesses who paid for a subscription are emphasized. In the New Braunfels view, Koch highlights both the history and the progressive nature of the town. Center front above the title label, Augustus drew the old Sophienburg building, the original site of the city’s government by the Adelsverein; it was destroyed by wind in 1886. Koch conveyed the city’s growth and prosperity by adding the railroad tracks; steam engines belching smoke come in from two sides, one train carrying passengers and the other carrying goods. The rail line had been completed in 1880.

Koch drew many important buildings in meticulous detail and highlighted them in a numbered legend. These were specifically chosen to show off the town. The inclusion of the County Courthouse and prison proclaimed law and order. The tall-steepled churches and the cemetery depicted a town of morals and decency (note that the First Protestant church has a bell tower which was not completed until 1889). Factories, mills and cotton gins emit plumes of smoke indicating that industry is booming. Train stations and hotels showed that New Braunfels was big enough to encourage tourism and business trips. The inclusion of the New Braunfels Academy expressed the citizens’ passion for education. Amenities such as good bridges, wide plazas and orchards lent an air of comfortable living and prosperity.

These specifics are not random. Koch intentionally illustrated New Braunfels at its best. People were proud to hang the view in their homes or businesses and be able to point out their buildings. The city leaders used the panorama to sell the city to new businesses to promote growth. New Braunfels now stood out from other towns; Koch had drawn birds eye views of San Antonio and Austin and now New Braunfels was among the big guys.

The Sophienburg Museum sells prints of the 1881 Birds Eye View of New Braunfels in Sophie’s Shop. You can purchase your own sepia-toned or colored print. Be it Landa’s Rolling Mill, Rennert’s Brewery or the Turnverein’s equipment fields, you will have fun recognizing buildings and places and finding out more about New Braunfels history from Augustus Koch’s unique incredible view.

Sources: “Patterns of Progress: Birds Eye Views of Texas”, Amon Carter Museum, 2006; View and Viewmakers of Urban America: Lithographs of Towns and Cities in America, by John William Reps, p 184-186; Brenham Daily Banner May 29, 1881; Geographicus Rare Antique Maps, Koch, Augustus (October 15, 1834-1901); News+Media, “Cover Artist: Augustus Koch”, Saturday Oct. 1, 2016; Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc., “Antique Maps by Augustus Koch”; https://texasartisans.mfah.org/digital/collection/p15939coll5/search/searchterm/WM-TA-KochAugustus; https://www.Geologywriter.com; https://preservingperkasie.com; https://www.illinoistimes.com/springfield/a-matter-of-perspective/Content?oid=11439594; https://www.boisestate.edu/sps-cihp/atlas-2/idyllic-settlement/