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Historic tourism

This article was published in the March 26, 2013, edition of the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung. The regular publication schedule will resume June 2, 2013.

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Like so many young men, Ernst Gruene had heard the exciting stories of Texas, a Republic in its own right. He was ready to leave Germany and take his mother with him. Freedom was the driving force in his decision; freedom from demands of the aristocracy, freedom from conscription, and freedom from excessive taxation. Little did he know that in 100 years, he would have a settlement here in Comal County with his family name.

Gruene was engaged to a young woman, but she broke off the engagement when she heard of his Texas plans. He consulted a “marriage broker” who made an appointment with Antoinette Kloepper. They married and soon after in 1845, the couple, his mother, and two servants left for Texas. After his stepbrothers bought out his family interests, he had ample funds. He carried about $5,000 in gold coins sewed in his vest. When he was almost washed overboard (gold can be quite heavy) he gave half of the coins to Antoinette who sewed them in the hem of her skirt.

They arrived on the coast and migrated to New Braunfels on May 15, 1846. So begins the amazing story of Gruene, Texas.

Ernst and Antoinette Gruene settled in Comaltown on Rock St. (building still standing) where three children were born. He continued to buy land. In 1872 he bought the land east of the Guadalupe River called Goodwin. This is where his second son, Henry D. would build a home and start a business and this would become Gruene.

Cotton was the #1 cash crop at that time and H.D. advertised for sharecroppers interested in growing cotton. Twenty to 30 families moved onto his land and each was assigned from 100 to 200 acres. Small three or four room farm houses were built for tenants and a school provided.

The first mercantile store in the area was built where tenants could buy groceries, implements, and hardware supplies and could buy them less expensively and on credit until the harvest came in. With the mercantile store, a lumberyard was set up. Because of the success of the store, Gruene constructed a large two story building (now an antique store). It held a working bank, holding mortgages and farm financing.

Soon a cotton gin was constructed powered by water pressure from the Guadalupe River. (This first gin burned down in 1922. It is the site of the present Grist Mill Restaurant.)

The IGN Railroad built a freight and passenger depot about a mile west of the community

in the 1880s and MKT built another in 1901, allowing Gruene to export cotton and grain and import goods for his mercantile store. What is now known as the Gruene Mansion became the home of Mr. and Mrs. H.D. Gruene in 1872. It started as a one story residence and a second story was added in 1886.

A dance hall with saloon was built in 1878. That was Gruene Hall, the communities social center. H.D. Gruene became Goodwin’s first postmaster in 1890 operating out of the mercantile store. This store was on the original north & southbound stagecoach route. Gruene became a stopping point for the Tarbox Stagecoach Line.

The settlement changed its name from Goodwin to Gruene as the whole town rotated around the Gruene family. When H.D. retired in 1910 he turned over the management to his two sons, retaining that Gruene tradition. His daughter resided in Gruene and eventually his parents did also. At one time Gruene had visions of subdividing but the project never got off the ground and when he died in 1920, thoughts of the development came to a halt.

By 1924 a Chrysler agency opened its doors across the street from the big mercantile store, the site of the first store.

The boll weevil stripped the cotton crop and the tenants were hit hard and many moved away. After recovery of the cotton crop, the Great Depression hit. This brought on a decline in cotton production and an end to the tenant system. A result was the closing of the mercantile store. The two railroad stations closed and the depots were destroyed. Various businesses inhabited the buildings, but the one business that never closed during these tumultuous times was the dance hall and saloon.

Gruene has a very prestigious historic designation; it has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Gruene Historic District, the only National Register Historic District in Comal County. In addition there are several buildings with Texas Historical Commission designations: Gruene’s Hall, Gruene Mansion, Erhardt Neuse House (now Gruene Haus Country Store), Original Gruene Mercantile (now Gruene General Store) and the H.D. Gruene Mercantile (now Gruene Antique Company). There are also two THC subject markers titled Gruene Cotton Gin (outside of the Grist Mill Restaurant) and Gruene. Additionally, there are City of New Braunfels historic designations on several properties. Gruene is a prime example of “Historic Tourism”.

H.D. Gruene Mercantile built in 1904. Patricia S. Arnold, artist.