By Tara V. Kohlenberg –
Working in an archive or research library probably doesn’t top the list of dream jobs for very many people, but it is really cool to be a History Detective. In fact, there are more history detectives out there than you would think. While it is not exactly like “The Librarians” featured in the fantasy movies who work to collect magical artifacts for safe keeping, we do protect historical artifacts and documents. More importantly, we delve into the documents to bring hidden information to light.
Not too long ago, we accessioned a couple of documents called Abstract of Title by the Comal County Abstract Company for properties located in the Jahn Addition. One document is fifty-seven pages, typed, single spaced legalese, bound in a blue cover and tied with a pink string. To the common eye, it just looks, well, boring. It is in fact packed with information about the history of New Braunfels, including the original land grant and every transaction concerning that property all the way up to December 1928. I had never seen anything quite like it. I knew what a title was, but what exactly is an abstract?
From my experience, real estate transactions usually end up in title company office, across the table from a very knowledgeable woman/man, whose superpower seems to be reading upside down while pointing out where to sign. The packet we take home is several sheets of financial stuff, specifically about the transaction. I had questions. I contacted Heidi Aleman at Corridor Title, who put me in touch with Erin Campbell, Senior Vice President of Title Operations and Compliance. An abstract, she said is basically a summary of all transactions regarding any piece of real estate. She explained that every property transaction is recorded in the county courthouse, including the who, what, where and when of the transaction, along with the land survey information. The title company’s job is to research every one of those transactions as far back as possible to make sure there are no gaps in the chain of title. Erin, a self-professed Title Nerd, says that she loves the challenge of putting together the puzzle of the properties, looking for missing heirs or deeds. The historical summary she produces is called an abstract. Today, most of the property records, back to at least the late 1800’s, are digitized, which makes the job a little easier.
The 1929 abstract at the Sophienburg contains a copy of the documents from each and every transaction beginning in 1831, as recorded in Bexar County, with the grant from the State of Coahuila and Texas, by Jose Antonio Navarro, Commissioner to Juan Martin De Veramendi. It was recorded again in Comal County in 1855. In 1844, it shows the transfer of properties to the heirs of Veramendi upon his death.
March 14, 1845, is a date we should all know. It is the date of the agreement, recorded in Bexar County, for Prince Carl on behalf of the German Emigration Company, the purchase of approximately one-fourth of the Two League (a league is 4428.4 acres) Comal Tract for the sum of $1111, paid in two installments, $500 and $611. It is also recorded on May 1, 1845, that Prince Carl purchased another portion of land for the sum of $800. Further along in the abstract, is the 1869 ruling of the District Court of Guadalupe County against the Veramendi heirs in their suit to reclaim properties. The judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Now that is some serious history sleuthing!
In 1848, Johann Jahn & Andreas Eickel received from the German Emigration Company Acrelot No. 204, containing about 14 3/5 acres of land between what is now Seguin Avenue and Academy Avenue. The following year, it shows that the two businessmen divided the property. One of the most interesting things to see out of this whole thing has to do with streets. After the deaths of Johann Jahn and wife Anna in 1883 and 1904 respectively, the Jahn property went to their heirs, who in turn subdivided it and conveyed some land to the city for streets. You might need a map for this next part.
They conveyed a strip 66.5 feet wide as a continuation of Castell from Butcher Street to the end of Blocks 12 & 14 (unknown). It also gave land 60 feet wide, extending from Butcher Street to Jahn Street and parallel with Castell Street to be known as Grand Avenue (was changed to Hill Avenue in 1926). Another strip of land 60 feet 5 inches wide was given as the extension of Academy Street out to Nacogdoches Street. Land 70 feet wide extending from Seguin Street to Boenig Street, running perpendicular to Castell, was named Jahn Street. Boenig Street ran parallel to Academy from Butcher to Nacogdoches. It became more of an alley in later years. Now called Braddock Avenue, it is only one block long, between Butcher and Jahn. They also gave a strip 60 feet wide from Academy to Boenig Street that was called Elm Street. Elm was later extended and runs beside the Post Office where the mailboxes stand and across Seguin Avenue, but it no longer exists between Boenig and Academy.
This is just one abstract from one section of town. Oscar Haas, history detective extraordinaire, was the Comal County Clerk for 30 years. He had access to these types of documents every day and used them to piece together the History of Comal County. What can you find in your old documents that give clues to a mystery?
Sources: Sophienburg Museum & Archives; Corridor Title Company; Heidi Aleman; Erin Campbell.
Samples of Abstract of Title documents in the Archives.