By Tara V. Kohlenberg —
Every child passing through the Texas Public Education System receives an introduction to history. I say an introduction, because they may not remember all of it, but they are definitely shown it. Elementary students begin learning about their own community history in third grade, eventually adding two years of Texas history and two years of U.S. history, followed by World history and government in high school.
I first really dove into history when my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Christianson, told us that “history” is just that, “his story,” the story of man. (She also taught me how to write outlines, but that’s a story for another time.) She made history come alive for me and I was hooked. There are rewards for those hooked on history. Each year, The Sophienburg Memorial Association awards the Myra Lee Adams Goff Sophienburg History Scholarship to a local graduating senior with an interest in history. The 2019 scholarship recipient is Canyon High School Senior Ross Bedgood. Ross is the son of Steven and Amie Bedgood and will be attending Southwestern University. We are extremely proud to publish his essay in our column today, lightly edited for length and clarity. Enjoy!
The Comal County Fair:
The Resilient Historically Significant Event That Keeps on Giving
When determining an event to be a historically significant one, some consider only those caused by natural disasters or war. However, an established event and its impact on a community throughout time, meets the criteria. The Comal County Fair is one such event.
It is opening night of the 2018 Comal County Fair and I am waiting for my friends. I take in the sights, sounds, smells and excitement the fair offers. I begin to wish I could go back in time and visit the fairs. Then I feel someone tap my shoulder. Thinking it was one of the guys, I turned and…
It was 1894 and I was on a train from San Antonio headed to the first Comal County Fair in New Braunfels, Texas. A man sitting next to me said, “I am Frederick, your fair guide for the next 124 years. He explained how he felt the fair was going to be a success because of the trains bringing people and the community had supported a fundraising fair for the Krankenhaus, the hospital, last year.
When the train stopped, we were on Harry Landa’s property, the sight of the first fair. There were displays of plants, food, livestock, sewing, artwork and so on. It was all I had imagined it would be and more.
Quickly, Frederick motioned for me to follow him. “We’re now on the 11 acres of the Guadalupe River purchased by the Comal County Fair Association in 1898. Just like 1894, it did not disappoint. However, due to financial difficulties, the property was sold to the City of New Braunfels in 1905 with the stipulation that the fair would use the property for the next 50 years.
With the fair of 1908, the stores closed at noon and it was declared New Braunfels ISD Fair Day. The exhibits increased and awards were given for flowers, fruit, handmade men’s suits and so forth. The livestock was in abundance.
For the years 1910-1922, Frederick said he could not find any information about the fair. He thought it might be because of WWI, but did know the land became a dumping ground for the city. I felt sadness and wondered how the fair recovered.
When we entered the year 1923, Frederick’s sparkle returned. He began to explain to me how Comal County Fair Association regrouped into a corporation and was ready for the start of the fair. As we slept, the grandstand burned to the ground, but the fair opened for business and we visited the small house filled with tiny furniture, clothing and other essentials and listened to the Edison playing records. The following two days were rained out.
The next few years were good times, but then I saw Frederick’s demeanor change. “Frederick, you’re not looking so happy. What now?” I asked.
He replied, “Son, we are all in hard times. It is the Great Depression. You see how the fair is not bustling? It had to do away with the queen’s contest, give no cash prizes, lower admittance prices and exhibitors are let in free. It is relying on local cowboys for the rodeo and local musicians for entertainment.” It was a somber time.
I enjoyed the 1933 fair. It was celebrating ’Real Beer’….no more ’Busto’ or ’near beer.’ This fair was filled with dances, the Heidelberg Orchestra playing German music, a football game between New Braunfels and Yoakum horse racing, rodeo and carnival.
Frederick zipped us past the WWII years of scaled back fairs to the 1946 Centennial Celebration, which had been postponed a year due to war. Its highlight was the automobiles that people were becoming interested in. And there was the Greater United Shows Carnival. Frederick was not much of a carnival rides person, I rode the Merry Go-Round, Tilt-A-Whirl and Ferris Wheel and then we watched the horse races. What an adventure I was experiencing!
Frederick said that 1952-1954 were some tough times for the fair. After not being able to have livestock in the parade or at the fair due to Anthrax in 1948, floods and polio spread fear in 1952 to the point the grounds were sprayed with disinfectant. In 1954, the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers almost dried up causing dust issues and few agriculture entries. “But never fear,” said Frederick, “the fair kept on going.”
The 60s were amazing. First it was the rodeo spotlighting Leon Adams riding a Brahma bull through a hoop on fire followed by tied-down calf roping, barrel racing and more. I realized one had to be really tough to participate in these rodeo events. Next, in 1962, came Night in Old New Braunfels and concerts by Canyon, Smithson Valley and New Braunfels High Schools. A quick stop in 1965 allowed us to meet Bobbie Specht, the first rodeo queen. In 1967, we met the first Fair Queen since 1931, Jacque Sahm.
Becoming tired, Frederick informed me that there were only two more stops, one in 1974 and 2001. In 1974, we listened to a country singer by the name of George Strait, who was a rising country star. For 2001, I found Frederick and I at the Comal County Fair Parade. It was just a couple of weeks after the terrorist attack and the parade overflowed with patriotic themes and patriotism swelled from the crowds. It was a time of hope, determination and pride.
Finally, we reached 2018! I thanked him for being a knowledgeable history guide. I now understood that the Comal County Fair was a historically significant event because it had withstood droughts, fire, floods, wars and tough economic times. It continues to give to the community of New Braunfels and Comal County. Thank you to the citizens for organizing the Comal County Fair Association on January 4, 1893. My friends have arrived and we are going to enjoy a night at the fair.
(Information used in the paper came from a report by Myra Lee Adams Goff, author of It’s Fair Time, History of the Comal County Fair.)