By Myra Lee Adams Goff
When the Faust St. Bridge received the prestigious Texas Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Award recently, all attention was on the bridge itself. But the Faust St. Bridge was more to New Braunfels than that; it was the way that hundreds of NB citizens got to the textile mill.
The bridge was the first high-water bridge in Comal County. On April 5, 1887, when the County took bids for the bridge, it was not in the city limits. The King Iron Bridge Mfg. Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, got the contract and the total cost including land for right-of-way and engineering costs was $33,269.The bridge built along the Camino Real provided an access across the Guadalupe on State Hwy. 2 from San Antonio to Austin. (Source: Comal County minutes and Oscar Haas)
In 1921 the trustees of Planters and Merchants Mill of San Antonio bought the land on the other side of the Guadalupe River located in the Esnaurizar Eleven League Grant from Louis and Bertha Meyer. A charter was granted two years later for the construction of a mill. The trustees built the local textile mill for the manufacture of fine cotton ginghams. Eventually the Planters and Merchants Mill became the New Braunfels Textile Mill, then the Mission Valley Mills s and then the West Point Pepperell.
The interest in textile mills flourished after WWI when materials became more plentiful. During the war, all textiles were devoted to the war effort. Major S.M. Ransopher set up the mill and brought with him R. B. Vickers and Howard McKenna with experience from textile mills in New England to help him run the mill. Both Vickers and McKenna became lifetime citizens of NB.
In 1929 Planters and Merchants declared bankruptcy and closed for about a month. In receivership, it was operated by Col. Ralph Durkee. The mill reorganized in August of 1931 under the name of New Braunfels Textile Mills. The William Iselin Co. of New York plus local citizens purchased stock in the plant. One of the new directors, Harry Wagenfuehr, sold stock locally. Reopening the mill was a real boost to New Braunfels.
In 1977 Herb Skoog from Radio Station KGNB-KNBT and the Sophienburg Reflections programs interviewed well-known business man in town, Haney Elliott Knox, about the history of the textile mill. Most of you know that Elliott Knox Blvd., which used to be Hwy. 81, was named after him. Active politically, Knox was elected mayor of NB in 1967. He and McKenna both served as chairmen of the McKenna Memorial Hospital.
H.E. Knox came to New Braunfels right after graduating from Texas Tech University in 1935 with a degree in textile chemistry. Knox said the primary reason for Tech’s offering this degree was the large cotton and wool crops in Texas at the time. Walter Dillard was running the mill and Howard McKenna was plant superintendent. Knox began as a laborer in the dye house at $12 a week.
In those early ’30s, patterns of the materials were determined by artists or customers. Styles changed rapidly and there was always a spring and fall line. There were about 300 employees. Over the life of the mill, thousands of families had textile mill connections.
After WWII the mill was expanded. They even started a retail operation about 1946. Bluebonnet Ginghams was the trade name and principal product. The operation moved into the Dacron business about 1955. Polyester, nylon and cotton blend changed the original product to a blend. Another change was Sanforizing ,the mechanical process of shrinking goods, thereby getting rid of the pre-wash of the past.
Big customers were Montgomery Ward, Sears, and J.C. Penney. In 1932 H. Dittlinger Roller Mills began sacking their flour in Bluebonnet Gingham. The sacks were in many colors that could be made into all sorts of articles of clothing. Because of the high quality of the cotton, these pieces of clothing made good “hand-me-downs”.
The bridge and the mill are a history lesson in themselves. From the center of the Faust St. Bridge, look up river and see the dam leading to the mill. Above the dam, submerged by the higher water was the settlers’ crossing at the foot of Nacogdoches St. The dam changed the Guadalupe forever.