By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Come celebrate our Declaration of Independence once again with the Sophienburg’s July 4th celebration and parade. The parade will begin at 9:15 so be at the Plaza early. I have invited a ghost from the past to be there. John Torrey will surely be at his old stomping grounds in spirit.
Who was John Torrey? I wrote an article about John Torrey Feb. 23, 2010. A little more detail of the John Torrey story takes us back to why and how he became such a prominent person in the settlement of New Braunfels.
There were seven Torrey brothers from Connecticut. Two stayed in Connecticut, two were killed in Texas and three, John, David, and Thomas, formed the Torrey Brothers Trading House in Houston in 1836. This trading company became a very important strategy of Sam Houston’s peace policy with the Indians. With a significant fur trade, there were several branch stores in Texas that brought the Indians and the settlers together.
The Torrey brothers in 1844 furnished Prince Carl with ammunition, swords, and arms for the soldiers that Prince Carl had organized to protect the newly arrived emigrants. John Torrey was with Prince Carl as he inspected the New Braunfels property right before the settlers crossed the Guadalupe. Later when John Meusebach became the second commissioner-general after Prince Carl left, David Torrey drew up a contract to help transport those emigrants who needed transportation from Indianola.
This connection with the Adelsverein is what brought the Torreys to New Braunfels in 1846. Here John conducted a trading business on the corner of San Antonio and Hill Sts. where he ground corn into cornmeal for the settlers for 10 cents a bushel. Then Torrey moved closer to where we are celebrating July 4th. While you’re standing around the Plaza, take a look over at the UPS building on the corner of San Antonio St. and Seguin Ave. This location is the first recorded deed of John Torrey in May 1847 when he built a store on that corner. He leased this property from Penelope Hunter of San Antonio for $30 a year. The property encompassed the corner lot all the way to the present Black Whale. This property had first been granted to Nicholas Reidel by the German Emigration Co. One of the lease agreements with Mrs. Hunter was that it was not to be used as a saloon or boarding house without her permission. That agreement didn’t last long because in a few years that very building became the saloon of Ferdinand Simon.
Now from the Plaza, you’re just a hop, skip and jump to the San Antonio St. Bridge. Before you go on to the bridge, look to the right where the Dittlinger office building is located (ADM). This was approximately where the John Torrey homestead was located.
A little bridge background: There had to be a bridge from the settlement of New Braunfels and Comaltown. The earliest bridge, known as the Pecan Bridge and described by Hermann Seele, pinpoints the location of a pecan foot bridge on an island at the juncture of the Comal River and Comal Creek. Two pecan trees, one on each bank of the Comal, had been felled onto the island. Pedestrians crossed back and forth between NB and Comaltown holding on to handrails. This bridge was at the foot of Bridge St.
The first wagon bridge built across the Comal by the city was in 1856. This bridge made of timber was located diagonally from the foot of Mill St. to the north edge of San Antonio St. After ten years another bridge was built there in 1866 only to be partially destroyed by a flood in 1869. This bridge was repaired and then completely torn away by another flood in 1870. The city built an iron wagon bridge in the same location as these two bridges, but once again a flood in 1872 washed it away.
Merchant C.C. Floege built a low water crossing in 1872 that lasted until 1894 when it was replaced by the high water structure built from scrap metal from the Chicago World’s Fair. Then in 1923 the concrete bridge now in use was built.
Now that you’re on the concrete bridge, you can look down to where the John Torrey mill used to be. In 1848 Torrey entered into a lease agreement with Hermann Speiss trustee of the German Emigration Co. to build a mill. The lease was for 1 4/5 acres for $75 a year for a parcel of land in New Braunfels at the juncture of Comal Creek (River) and the Comal Springs, the place being at the “falls”. Oscar Haas tells us that the falls was the only one on the Comal River and it is there that Torrey built a dam to use the water power for his mill. Torrey entered into an agreement with Willis E. Park to build a saw and grist mill. He later added facilities for the manufacture of wheat flour and a shop for making doors, sashes and blinds. It was destroyed by fire in 1861. Immediately Torrey put up a three story stone building. In 1863 he was joined by the Runge brothers of Indianola and they were granted a charter by the State of Texas to import cotton cloth weaving machinery, duty free. Six years later in 1869 a tornado destroyed the top floor and all the machinery. He had a roof placed over the second story and then in 1872 a cloudburst caused a flood tearing the foundation and destroying the recently rebuilt dam.
Today part of the foundation can still be seen at the Clemens Dam at the foot of Mill Street. It has been said that fire, wind, and water plotted against John Torrey’s efforts on the Comal River. Torrey, defeated, moved to land which he had bought in North Texas. After all of this explanation, I could have told you that it was where the Tube Chute is, right?
John Torrey, like William Meriwether and Harry Landa, were true industrialists. They knew what water power could do. Torrey bought a great deal of land in Comaltown. He hired J.J. Groos to plot out the Braunfels Subdivision. He gave the land on which the Comal Cemetery is located to the City of New Braunfels. Torrey Street is named after him because of the amount of land that he owned. Also Torrey Park is named after him. The mill site was honored by the State of Texas during the Centennial of Texas Independence in 1936 with an historical marker at the location of the mill.
To walk or ride in the parade, an application is required and a patriotic theme is essential. Whatever you do, come join us!