By Myra Lee Adams Goff
From Union St., turn onto Common and drive straight to the Guadalupe River. At the bridge and on the east side of the river, as far as you can see, look left and right. You are looking at Hortontown. Down river to the right of Hortontown was Neighborsville. These two areas are referred to by these names only historically. Beginning in 1846, when sickness was rampant on the coast and in New Braunfels, and emigrants were still arriving, Hortontown was settled to avoid going into the sickness- infested town. Neighborsville followed a few years later. Both areas were originally in Guadalupe County but were added to Comal County and also to the City of New Braunfels.
From the bridge, you will notice a gradual incline up to Loop 337. Turn right on the loop, and right before the railroad overpass, turn left on Church Hill Drive. Across the road from Conservation Plaza, a church was built in 1852. It was the St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and next to it, in 1870, a school was built. The Church Hill School served the children of both Hortontown and Neighborsville.
Hortontown was named after Albert C. Horton who came to Texas from Alabama in 1835. He became an active supporter of the Texas Revolution. From 1836-38 he served as senator in the 1st and 2nd congress of the Republic of Texas. He became the first Lt. Gov. of the new state of Texas. Leopold Iwonski became the agent for Horton’s land grant.
The settlement of Neighborsville was laid out by Jacob de Cordoba who designated a lot for the establishment of the church and parochial school. In 1870 the church congregation decided to build a separate building for their school. And that school became the Church Hill School.
The Church Hill School was built of 18” thick hand- cut limestone blocks brought by wagon from a hill country quarry. The doors and floor are also original. The appointments are from other rural Comal County one-room schools.
Martha Rehler, Exec. Director of the Conservation Society, took me on a tour. There is nothing as empty as an empty classroom. Going into the abandoned school, that strange feeling returned. A classroom needs children.
There were wooden desks of all sizes with a hole in the top for an ink bottle. They still had those when I was in elementary school. Our fountain pens had a little bladder that had to be filled with ink. What a mess! In this old classroom the teacher sat in the back of the room by the door. I’m surprised she didn’t notice the initials carved in the older students’ desk, probably by a pocket knife which I’m told, was every boy’s toy. Slate boards were on each desk taking the place of paper. The large chalkboard (black, later green) had the lesson for the day in German script (Fraktur).
Other relics are a long table from the Ursaline Academy in San Antonio displaying photographs of groups of school children. Water was drawn out of a well or a cistern and put in a portable water fountain. There are two large bells. The smaller of the two at one time stood in front of the Guadalupe Hotel (Plaza) which was a stagecoach stop. The bell was used to welcome arrivals. The larger was a school bell to call students.
Rehler gave me a “Texas Public School’s Report Card from 1925 that parents had to fill out about their own child. It was for a 7th grade girl going into the 8th grade. I put myself in my mother’s shoes, evaluating her only chick on a scale of 1 to 100. Knowing that I was a “city girl” in New Braunfels, I would have failed miserably. I would have a “0” in canning, care of stock, care of poultry, cooking, gardening, general farm work, milking, providing fuel, sewing, and sweeping,. I would have done fairly well in dusting, washing dishes, obedience, neatness, reliability and special work. In my case, special work would have been socializing.
The St. Martin’s Church, originally adjoined to the old Church Hill School, was moved in 1968 next to the Hortontown Cemetery on Loop 337. The school remained and was eventually donated to the Conservation Society in 1975 to be used as a museum.