By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Sophienburg Board member Tobin Hoffmann invites you to the Sophienburg’s July 4th parade and celebration on the Plaza. A big group of the members of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association will be gathering in New Braunfels and they will be in the parade. Plenty of folks will be showing their patriotism. The short parade will begin on Castell Ave., turn left on San Antonio St. and end at the Plaza with speeches and the rousing patriotic sounds from the popular Community Band. Hoffmann is a good choice for July 4th chairman. He has vivid memories of parades, picnics in Landa Park, and fireworks.
Before the July 4th celebration was taken over by the Sophienburg in the late 1970s, it was sponsored by the Volunteer Fire Department. In the early days, a parade on July 4th culminated in water competitions on the Plaza. A real crowd-pleaser was water polo in which a beer keg was suspended from a cable. Two fire department teams faced each other, each team holding a fire hose in “tug of war” fashion. They would turn on the water, point the hose at the barrel and “let ‘er rip” trying to move the barrel over the line. If you were at the Plaza, you were guaranteed to get wet.
The New Braunfels Volunteer Fire Department has an interesting history. There was no fire department for 40 years and the biggest early fire was in 1861 when the Torrey Mill on the Comal River was destroyed and no one could do anything about it. Oscar Haas’ translation of the “Zeitung” reveals this: In 1866 the City Council passed an ordinance that no combustible material could be used for roofs, thus NB became known as the “City of Tin Roofs”. Mayor Hermann Seele recommended that fire equipment be ordered, but this didn’t happen due to an inability to raise funds.
Over 10 years later, a firefighting contraption called a “Feuerspritze” was purchased. It was an upright square box mounted on a two-wheeled cart, equipped with pressure pump and two pulling ropes. It was pulled by six men and pushed by six men, with eight men operating the pump shaft where they got water from private wells.
This primitive method ended in 1886 when the city water works system was installed and wooden water mains were dug up to the Plaza. According to Battalion Chief Darren Brinkkoeter 20 locations for fire hydrants and trenches had been identified. Two hose carts were purchased, one of which is in the Fire Department Museum. In addition, Mayor Joseph Faust announced that the City Council had taken steps to acquire hoses and asked for the formation of two volunteer fire companies. Forty young men showed up at Lenzen Halle and on June 10, 1886, the New Braunfels Volunteer Fire Dept. was organized with one hook and ladder company and two hose and reel companies.
The Hook and Ladder Co.’s elected officers were Capt. Joseph Roth, and Asst. Capt. Richard Weber. Hose and Reel Co. #2 elected Capt. William Schmidt and Asst. Capt. Carl Jahn. Hose and Reel Co. #1 elected Capt. Richard Gerlich, and Asst. Capt. John Sippel.
The Volunteer Fire Department was more than a fire-fighting organization. They sponsored the July 4th parade, conducted a Maifest, sponsored dances, put on costumed shows, had a band, and for years were the most active of all social organizations. In 1918 a professional Fire Department was organized and by 2001 the Volunteer Fire Department disbanded.
Just like old times, leading this year’s July 4th parade will be a 1950 Ford Pumper Truck. There won’t be any water displays but it willbe exciting. While you’re thinking of all those military heroes past and present, give a thought to the Fire Department, Police Department, the Volunteer Fire Department, and all those helicopter pilots.