By Keva Hoffmann Boardman –
So, I read an article by Daniel Vaughn about just where and when Texas got its first barbecue joint. Vaughn has been looking into the history of Texas barbecue for many years. According to his research, there was a big post-Civil War wave of butcher shops across the state and this eventually led to commercial barbecue. The first mention of commercially smoked meat occurs in the October 25, 1878, Brenham Weekly Banner; the advertisement states that a butcher in Bastrop had a ready stock of barbecued meats and cooked sausages at his stall. When, I wondered, did this crowd- pleasing favorite make its debut in New Braunfels?
Submerging myself in the historic newspaper collections at the Sophienburg, I came up with some clues to follow.
Barbecue, or in most cases smoked beef and pork, was very popular in Comal County. As early as July 4th, 1855, barbecue was reported as the featured entrée at large community gatherings. On this occasion, it followed a day of patriotic parades, singing, target shoots, gymnastics and dancing. Later that same year, barbecue becomes a part of political rallies and improving voter turnout. Who wouldn’t listen to a politician prattle on and on if you had a heaping helping of FREE BBQ on your plate?
Throughout the 1870s and into the 1900s, barbecue always made an appearance at club socials, school festival days, more political rallies and new business openings. In July 1906, H.D. Gruene opened his brand new two-story red brick and wood store with a community barbecue consisting of five steers and one hog along with an undisclosed number of barrels of bread and pickles. The newspaper said “thousands” consumed the fare in “less than and hour”.
Prior to 1900, there were several local men who are mentioned repeatedly in the newspaper for their BBQ-ing skills: William Wolfshol, Walter Rauch, Charles Jonas and a Mr. Allen. These guys were in demand by various individuals, groups and dance halls to provide barbecue for consumption during events.
I digress. My original question is when did we get a barbecue joint in NB? Turns out, that like that first barbecuing butcher in Bastrop, the first “advertised” local barbecue man in New Braunfels was also the owner of a meat market.
In 1890, Harry Mergele bought the butcher shop of Carl Waldschmidt. In 1901, Harry opened a new meat market in Wetzels’s Store on Seguin Street. For more information I listened to the “Reflections” oral history recording of Edna Mergele. Harry was her uncle. Her grandad Otto and dad Charles were also butchers.
The family lived on Comal Street. They kept their livestock — – steers, hogs and other animals — – on property up on Sophienburg Hill near Carl Schurz Elementary. In other words, pretty dern close to where the Sophienburg Museum is located. On specific days of the week they slaughtered animals and then took the meat to the little Marktplatz on Comal Street to sell. The butchers in town had erected a shed at the west end of the plaza with slatted sides to provide air flow to keep the meat cool.
Edna remembers that prior to 1910, they had a building in their backyard that had three rooms: half was divided into two rooms with floors, the other half was one room with a dirt floor. In this room, they would bring the slaughtered animals from “the Hill” and would clean and prepare the meat for sale. They would make “meat” sausage year round, but would only make blutwurst, liverwurst and hogshead cheese in the fall. Her father Charles also ran a saloon which sold beer, soda water, homemade bread, butter and brick cheese. Charles was a well-known barkeep and worked at several saloons in New Braunfels.
Uncle Harry Mergele’s meat market got a telephone around February of 1903. He advertised that you could now just phone in your meat orders by calling number 33. But, it’s the advertisement that appears in the NB Herald on September 14th, 1906, that made me smile. “BARBECUED MEAT. Every Saturday and Sunday at Harry Mergele’s meat market.”
So there you have it. As far as I’ve been able to find, this is the earliest mention of commercially produced barbecue in New Braunfels!
If, in fact, Harry was the first to realize the profit potential of barbecue, he was definitely not the last. In the early 1900s other meat market owners joined him in setting up their own barbecue pits.
Thank God, they did.
Sources: “The First Barbecue Joint in Texas,” Daniel Vaughn; Sophienburg Museum & Archives historic newspaper collections; “Reflections” program #120, Edna Mergele.