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Days of yule and yore in downtown NB

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Have you seen our beautiful lighted Comal County Courthouse? The Grand Dame of Main Plaza buildings is 108 years old (1898). In December of that year the courthouse was inspected and given the seal of approval by the Commissioners Court. A translation of the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung done by Robert Govier, Ph. D. for the Sophienburg states:

“On Christmas Eve a splendid picture was made by our new Courthouse whose many rooms were lit by electric lights in such a manner that the warm glow emanated from its many windows, reaching far into the night from the three story building.”

From that same translation you can get a fair picture of what downtown NB was like at Christmas time. Druggist Bruno Voelcker, on the corner of San Antonio and Castell, had the latest gift – a KODAK. He states, “You can get pictures with it.” Then hop over to the Phoenix Saloon (now Color Express) and buy fresh pigsfeet. Round up your day by watching the Fire Dept. Band marching “snappily” down the street and listen to their concert on the plaza.

Much later, in the 1940s, Bill (Willie) Vollmar, propriator of Vollmar’s 5¢ to $1 Store, located where the Art League is now, is given credit for bringing Santa Claus to town. After an appearance on the plaza, the jolly old guy would make his headquarters at Vollmar’s store.

Vollmar was born and raised in Seguin and he and his wife Alice moved to NB in the early ‘30s. First he was a shoe salesman at Jacob Schmidt and Son and then was manager of the Values Store. In 1932 he had saved enough money to buy the store from his employers and he opened Vollmar’s 5¢ to $1 Store.

The Vollmars had no children of their own, but they loved them. The Christmas season was special to “Uncle Willie”. My friend, Pat Langston (was Patsy Harmon), who lived downtown in her early years, summoned up a picture of her first visit to the live Santa at Vollmar’s at the age of five. Having seen only pictures of the fat, jolly elf in magazines, she was shocked by a six-foot very thin version. Oh well, he brought presents.

Langston has later mementos in her mind about Vollmar’s Store. How many of you remember perfumery like the “over the hill” Tigress, Woodhue, and Tabu? Then there was that remarkable Tangee lipstick that came in pink only, but turned different colors on different people. She can picture the candy cases as you entered the store with its array of tempting candy. During the summer, she was allowed to buy a new tin bucket with a shovel for her family’s annual vacation to the coast.

Some people just make you laugh and Willie Vollmar was one of them. He could tell comical stories for hours and was president of just about every club in town. He sold his variety store and started working for Krueger Motor Co. At Christmas, he would dress up in a Santa costume and deliver new cars and then visit children and grandchildren that he knew from the past.

The Sophienburg’s Weihnachtsmarkt was a huge success. That gorgeous tree in the foyer of the Civic Center reminds me of a tradition that has evolved from the first tree mentioned by the pioneers of NB on the coast of Pt. Lavaca to the present day variety. Records say that Prince Carl provided a Tannenbaum (Christmas Tree) using a live oak tree decorated with candles and gifts for the children. When the settlers came from the coast to NB, juniper trees lit with candles were used, which were a little closer in shape to the fir trees of the old country. Artificial trees with electric lights eventually replaced the dangerous candles. Of course, the first lights were not like the lights of today. If one light burned out, all went out and hours were spent looking for the culprit light. Then came the beautiful trees brought from more northern states and the artificial trees that look real and lit with tiny lights. You can hardly tell if one lights goes out because the rest stay on.

Why not come to Sophie’s Shop for a German Christmas ornament or a historic NB Bandstand ornament?

Above is a pen-and-ink rendition of the first Christmas tree on the Texas coast in 1845. The artwork is by Patricia Arnold from the book "Journey in Faith: The History of First Protestant Church" written by Rosemarie Leissner Gregory and Myra Lee Adams Goff.

Above is a pen-and-ink rendition of the first Christmas tree on the Texas coast in 1845. The artwork is by Patricia Arnold from the book "Journey in Faith: The History of First Protestant Church" written by Rosemarie Leissner Gregory and Myra Lee Adams Goff.