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4th of July Parade That Wasn’t

By Tara V. Kohlenberg —

That place we call HOME, New Braunfels, has long been a “go to” place for summer vacations. It seems especially so for the holidays, like the upcoming July 4th. Each year the excitement grows as Main Plaza is draped in her patriotic finery and the stars and stripes appear on homes, businesses and cars. Anticipation of family gatherings, parades, homemade ice cream, ice cold beverages and fireworks is part of the what makes the Fourth special. And, the anticipation for such wonderful things also makes us look to the water and the weather. Will it rain on our parade? Will it not? Will we have enough water in the river to float? As of this writing, we are in Stage 2 water restrictions with scant few rain showers in sight. Not perfect, but not terrible.

New Braunfels has a long and storied history of July 4th celebrations. Overjoyed at becoming Americans, the original Founders celebrated their first Independence Day in 1846 with cannon fire and revelry. That tradition continued until the end of the Civil War when one of the cannons exploded. Later celebrations were taken on by the fire department. In 1978, Mayor Margaret Naegelin invited city councilmembers to her home for coffee before travelling to the Plaza in antique cars, where they enjoyed ice cream and lemonade while the Courthouse bells played. Mrs. Naegelin, also the president of the Sophienburg Museum and Archives, unknowlingly initiated the first Sophienburg Old Time 4th of July Parade and Patriotic Programs in Downtown New Braunfels. This year we celebrate 40 years of sponsoring the celebration. But what about the one that didn’t happen?

It was dry in 2002, with much talk about the lack of rain; at the end of June, New Braunfels got relief in the form of 3-8 inches of rain over several days. Everyone kept their fingers crossed the rain would stop in time to let the parade and fireworks display go on as planned. By Wednesday, it was decided that the annual fireworks display in Landa Park would be postponed until Saturday to give the grounds time to dry out.

Above Canyon Dam, it was a different story. It had already rained more than 15 inches, filling Canyon Lake to near capacity. Officials expected the waters to flow over the spillway on Saturday. On Wednesday, the Corps of Engineers proactively closed Canyon Lake for the July 4th weekend, as well as, all of the parks until August 1st. The rivers remained open.

In town, Anna Lee Hicks and her parade committee were ready for the July 4th parade. The Main Plaza Bandstand was draped in her finest attire and the streets were dry. It was going to happen! Then the calls came. Anna Lee Hicks, Sophienburg Board Member, got calls from both Mayor Adam Cork and Comal County Judge Danny Scheel at 4:30 a.m. asking her to call off the parade! What we didn’t know was that the past week’s rains totaled closer to 34 inches in the Hill Country above the lake, all of it flowing into the Guadalupe River and Canyon Lake. By the morning of the 4th, warnings had gone out to Canyon Lake and Guadalupe River neighborhoods to evacuate. KGNB/KNBT aired the interview with Hicks’ announcement of the parade cancellation, asking everyone to stay home and stay safe. She remembers that some people (she believes from Canyon Lake area), having already gathered for the parade, took it upon themselves to make a circle around the Plaza in their own makeshift grass roots parade anyway! She still wonders if they made it home safely.

On Thursday, July 4th, 2002, at 4:29 p.m., the waters poured over the 1,260-foot long spillway of the Canyon Lake Reservoir for the very first time since the dam was completed in 1964. It was slow at first. Early Wednesday calculations had predicted water over the spillway to be no more than one foot with the flow not to exceed the 5000 cubic feet per second maximum release from the reservoir. By Thursday morning, however, the continuing rains in the upper river basin changed that prediction drastically. In reality, the water flows were seven feet above the spillway at 67,000 cubic feet per second. At conservation pool level (909 mean sea level), the lake stores 378,852acre feet of water. Just under one and a half times the amount of water stored in Canyon Lake went over the spillway in approximately six weeks. For those of you reaching for your calculators, allow me. That is over a half million ACRE FEET of water rolling down the Guadalupe River in an uncontrolled fashion. The results were both amazing and devastating. Approximately 48,000 homes and 9 lives were lost. Businesses were lost. The newly built pavilions at Canyon Lake were all but demolished. Trees, rocks and soil churned under the force of the water, leaving behind a gorge at least a mile long, hundreds of yards wide and fifty feet deep in places. On the plus side, the Comal County evacuations were mostly successful. According to former County Judge Danny Scheel, there were no lives lost in Comal County due to early preparedness. And the Gorge? Well, it is a new beautiful window to the earth’s strata as old as 111 million years. Quite the educational tool.

So, it was in 2002 that the Sophienburg Museum and Archives didn’t host a parade, but we did capture the information and are sharing the story. With New Braunfels recently being listed as the second fastest growing city in the United States, it becomes more important (and more difficult) to cherish our heritage, traditions and history. This year, the Sophienburg turns 85 years old. As the Guardian of History and Keeper of the Traditions, our gift to the community (as it has been for the past 40 years) is The Annual Old Time 4th of July Patriotic Parade and Program. It is little, and home grown, and very Pollyanna-ish — and we like it that way. We invite you all to bring your families, your camp chairs and your patriotic spirit to a Grand Old Flag Waving Birthday Celebration on Main Plaza for the greatest nation on earth. (Find more parade information on our Facebook page or website https://sophienburg.com/)

2002 flood photos splashed across headlines.

2002 flood photos splashed across headlines.