By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Hanging in the Sophienburg Museum is an original stone lithograph that is the first known view of early New Braunfels. The painting from which the lithograph was made was by an artist named Conrad Casper Rohrdorf in 1847. Most of you have seen this panorama, as it has been used in many publications and displays that have to do with our history.
This lithograph entitled “Panorama der Stadt Neu-Braunfels” was purchased by the Citizens National Bank of NB from an Austin collector of rare maps and documents and given to the Sophienburg in 1986.
Casper Rohrdorf was born in Switzerland in 1800 and studied art at several prestigious art schools. He was well known in Europe, not only as a painter, but also as a copper engraver, taxidermist, and naturalist. This interest as a naturalist lead Rohrdorf to join a group in Germany called the Naturforschende Verein (group of naturalists).
The Naturforschende Verein with Rohrdorf as their leader came to Texas to collect specimens to bring back to Germany for the purpose of enticing Texas emigration. They landed in Galveston in January of 1847. Early on there were money problems and strife within the group. Immigrant and writer Alwin Sörgel said the group “collected bills, filled up on food, soaked their heads with spirits, bedded down in blankets and preserved their hands and explored the nature of laziness”. Obviously, Sörgel was not impressed with the group and apparently Rohrdorf felt the same way, as soon he separated himself from them. He and Sörgel then traveled together, Rohrdorf the painter and Sörgel the writer.
Soon Rohrdorf came to New Braunfels and joined the staff as an artist of the Adelsverein. It was there that the panorama was commissioned and from his headquarters on Sophienburg Hill the panorama was painted.
While in New Braunfels, Rohrdorf heard of trouble going on at Nassau Farm, the Adelsverein’s plantation in Fayette County. This large plantation had been purchased by Count Boos-Waldeck (a member of the Adelsverein in Germany) on behalf of that organization in 1843, two years before the land around the Comal was acquired.
Nassau Farm was under the control of the colonial director; first Prince Carl, then John Meusebach, and then Hermann Spiess. Because Nassau Farm was far away from the other Adelsverein properties, it was difficult for the colonial director to control. Therefore, by 1847 when Rohrdorf was in NB, Hermann Spiess was made aware of thugs and criminals taking over the farm. Spiess and other members of the Adelsverein went to Nassau Farm to reclaim the property and Rohrdorf went along.
This was a fateful decision on Rohrdorf’s part, as there was a shoot-out on the farm and Rohrdorf was killed by a bullet through the temple. The whole bazaar story will have to wait for another time.
Rohrdorf left behind a wife and child in Germany. The Adelsverein paid his debts, sold his belongings, and sent the money to his family. In his property were 45 paintings, a vast collection of plants, and 350 birds. (I’m assuming they were stuffed since he was a taxidermist)
Former colonial director John Meusebach immediately bought the NB panorama for $25 and sent it to the Adelsverein. In Berlin, an artist named Baron zu Wied was commissioned to alter the painting to “make it more interesting”. The intended use was to promote immigration to Texas. Wied added some unusual plant life to the painting, namely desert flora and a banana tree. If you come see the lithograph, I’ll bet you can pick out what was added.
The Adelsverein had 32 lithographs made of the painting which they sent to cities in Germany and Texas. The whereabouts of the original painting, the original lithograph or any other Rohrdorf paintings are unknown.
Rohrdorf was only in Texas nine months, but left a lasting impression.