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Henne Hardware survives 148 years downtown

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

I walked into Henne Hardware and the bell rang above the door alerting the clerk that someone had entered. I was immediately greeted by two cats named Clifford and Eugene, so named by owner of the store, Paul Martinka. These cats, or at least their names, will bring back memories to those of you who remember the Henne family. Clifford and Eugene were the last of that family to own the business and that was years ago. Perhaps Paul named the cats after the Hennes to remind him of the roots of that store. Cliffy and Gene certainly brought memories to me and it will to a lot of you that were hanging around in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

The roots of Henne Hardware, as were so many of the stores that have local roots, began in Germany. Johann Henne, his wife, Henrietta Deppen, and their five children boarded the ship Hercules with 152 other passengers from Germany and arrived in Galveston in August of 1845. From there they were taken by schooner to Indianola where they engaged wagons to move inland to New Braunfels. They were fortunate to have survived the first Texas winter that took so many lives on the coast, on the inland trek, and in New Braunfels.

Johann was a tinsmith and in 1846 he bought a lot on San Antonio St. for which he paid $120. He opened a tinsmith shop and had a thriving business. Electricity wasn’t in homes and streets until after the 1900s, two years after Harry Landa introduced electricity to NB. Until that time there was a big demand for tin oil lanterns inside and outside. Just imagine San Antonio St. without any electric lights or lights from the inside of buildings. Repairs on the Austin, San Antonio Stage Co. coach lamps were made at Hennes. Tin roofing was made a necessity in 1893 after a city ordinance was passed requiring tin roofing in the city.

In 1857 Johann died and when he did, his son, Louis Henne, took over the tinsmith business. He was only 17 years old at the time, but it became his responsibility to take over the business and support his mother and siblings. He was the only child of Johann and Henrietta that married. Louis then named the business Louis Henne Co., Tin and Sheet Iron Ware, Stoves, House Furnishing Goods and Mitchell Wagons.

With time, Louis Henne began other businesses such as a lumberyard on the corner of Castell and Coll Sts. and a plumbing business. In 1893, right next to where the tinsmith shop was located, Louis built a beautiful Victorian-style business building sitting right in the middle of the business district where it remains today. It was built by contractor Christian Herry. Herry came from Germany to New York after serving two years in the German army during the Franco-Prussian war. He had the reputation of being a master at building trusses of cathedrals, building them on the ground and raising them completed into place. He came to New Braunfels in 1881 and one of the first projects was the addition of frame wings to the limestone New Braunfels Academy.

The building still retains much of its original décor, inside and outside. The walls are brick, the flooring is oak and the ceiling is pressed tin. The inside of the store is ornate, as the Victorian architecture called for. Still on hand are some original display cases and nail bins. There are revolving cabinets for small articles. The shelves containing merchandise reach from floor to ceiling. Way up at the top, next to the ceiling, the original old shelves hold antique items and then under those shelves are newer items. The sliding ladders are still there in order to reach the top shelves. The ladders slide on steel runners. Near the cast-iron cookware section, you can look up and you can also see some wooden water pipes used in early New Braunfels. Now where else can you see that?

Before banks were well established, mercantile stores provided those services. The office area at the back of the building with its large built-in safe is a reminder of this practice. Cash registers were not used. Still visible are the remnants of the money trolleys.

There is also an elevator going upstairs and downstairs into the basement. Many of the immediate downtown buildings have basements. I had heard that the basement at Hennes was a favorite spot for card-playing men. Going down a steep set of stairs into the basement, I can see how a secluded area, half the size of the building, would be an intriguing place to get together to socialize. Glass tiles from the sidewalk let in a small bit of light. In the basement is a well about 25 feet deep that fills with water according to the amount of rain. Paul Matinka pointed out it reflects the water table and when there was lots of rain, the well would fill up and even spill over. The well was dug before the building was built.

Over the years, Louis Henne acquired more property on the block where the store is located. His family’s two story home was built at the back of the property on Mill St. He also maintained a camp yard for customers who came into town on weekends by wagon. They would camp there and return home the next day. It was one of several such campgrounds complete with wagons and campfires and of course, lit by tin oil lanterns. The large barn-like building behind the store was the lumber storage.

Louis Henne was the only one of his seven brothers and sisters that married. He married Emilie vom Stein and they had five children. He was active in the formation of the Volunteer Firemen’s association. One of Louis’ sons, Adolf, succeeded his father as head of the store when Louis died in 1912. Adolph remodeled the store, adding the show windows and adding interior shelving and display cases. He carried on his father’s interest in fire prevention. When he died in 1945, the business went to his three sons: Clifford, Eugene, and Norman. Clifford and Eugene took over the store and they were the last Hennes to own the store. Clifford became the sole owner in 1962.Ten years later the business was sold to Donald Stott and James Goodbread and then to the Bob Schima family. The present owner bought the business in 1996 and the property in 2000.

Paul Martinka has managed to have merchandise that you can’t find anywhere else and even some that is no longer available. Look for well-made unusual toys for Christmas. There is a very large collection of cast- iron cookware and pottery from Marshall, Texas. Martinka has devoted his time to maintaining historic Henne Hardware.

Interior of Henne Hardware after the 1912 remodel with Louis Henne inset. Photo courtesy of Paul Martinka.

Interior of Henne Hardware after the 1912 remodel with Louis Henne inset. Photo courtesy of Paul Martinka.