By Myra Lee Adams Goff —
Have you ever thought about how photography has changed your life? Photographs are a wonderful boost to your memory. Maybe you can’t remember a birthday party or who was there or pictures of friends you had long ago or what your great-grandparents looked like. But times have changed now that everyone who has a phone also has a camera. Think about how easy it is to whip out your phone and be a “Johnny on the spot” photographing everything around you. Immediately you can become a detective, a photographer or an historian.
No one in New Braunfels has a collection of photographs like the Sophienburg Archives. Naturally there are fewer pictures from real long ago. There are events that took place in our town of which there are no photos and there are thousands of photographs that we do not yet have in the collection. So when an old lost photo that we have never seen before shows up, it’s time to celebrate. That happened about a month ago when the archives was given a copy of an old photo of the ferryboat that operated in the area near Guada-Coma (Guadalupe-Comal confluence). The ferry transported many immigrants over the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers in New Braunfels. Doug and Penny Cooper, owners of the property at the confluence of the two rivers, shared a copy of an old photograph of the ferry and she and others believe that this is the only actual photograph found. There have been several paintings. Incidentally there is an historical marker on the Cooper’s property dedicated to the ferry operation there.
Researching historical properties brings out some new facts about old places. Even looking at photos magnified on the computer reveals little details never seen before. The ferry was located up river from the Nacogdoches Street crossing that was originally shallow and had a limestone bottom. The remnants of that crossing can be seen while standing on the Faust Street Bridge. When the river was running high, the ferry up river was used.
Viewing the rivers from the confluence property, the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers each have different colors. One river is very blue and one is blue green. You can tell where they merge. Before Canyon Dam was built, I remember that the Guadalupe was warmer than the Comal and cloudy. Now they are both clear.
The property at the confluence of three acres was given to first New Braunfels settler Adolph von Wedemeyer by the German Immigration Company in 1845 to build and operate a ferryboat. The crossing of the Guadalupe River had been a busy spot for hundreds of years before the first settlers arrived in 1845. Caravans from Mexico hauled supplies to missionaries in the east crossing the river at the foot of Nacogdoches Street (or the Nacogdoches Road site of the Camino Real). When the river flooded, one had to wait a long time before crossing. When New Braunfels was founded, this old route was very important for supplies and settlers to be brought from the coast.
Wedemeyer sold the land in 1847 to Justus Kellner who died soon thereafter. His widow then married Carl Bardenwerper and they took over the ferry until 1866 when it was sold to Florenz Kreuz.
Historian Ferdinand Roemer describes arriving at the site of the ferry in 1846 in the evening. A horn hanging from a tree signaled the ferry operator on the other side of the river to come pick him up. After waiting for a quite a long time, someone finally called out that the river was too flooded to cross and to wait until the next morning. Roemer camped outside in a rainy norther and the next morning two young men arrived and guided the ferry across.
In June of 1872 the ferryboat washed away in a flood. The Kreuz family then built a larger ferryboat that they named “Flora.”
Back in the 1700s the Spaniards who owned Texas made treks through what became the state of Texas, using the El Camino Real (king’s highway) trail. Martin de Alarcon, governor of the province of Texas in 1718, crossed the Rio Grande and headed towards what became San Antonio. There he established the Villa de Bexar (San Antonio) and founded the Mission San Antonio de Valero (Alamo).
The diary of Martin de Alarcon was translated by Dr. Fritz Leo Hoffmann, who was in my mother’s graduating class of New Braunfels High School, 1924. In 1935, Hoffmann was Professor of Languages at the University of Colorado. He said that Alarcon fixed the Royal Standard (flag) of the King of Spain at the junction of the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers and took possession of them. He and his men camped in the area.
Oscar Haas discovered a story dating back to the early 1860s stating that a large elephantine beast was discovered in the area of the junction buried way beneath the surface. A well was being dug and a shoulder bone of the beast was discovered. He estimated it to be about 30-feet long and 20-feet high. Stories of remains of at least three mastodons were found on the banks of the Comal River.
In 1968, Mrs. James Haile, owner of the junction property at the time, received a Texas Historical Marker as a historical site, certainly an important designation.
The Cooper’s old photograph was enlarged on a computer and painted by watercolor artist, Patricia Arnold. It is unknown when the photo was taken but could be as old as 1860. It now becomes part of the Sophienburg’s vast collection.