By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —
Legend, lore and local memories hover over this old house. The structure is one of the oldest permanent dwellings in Comal County. Old it is, and certainly old to be so far out of New Braunfels. The current address for the place is 7600 FM 2722. Back in the day it was about 13 miles north out Bear Creek Road on the way to the Sattler. The Sattler community then included Mountain Valley, Walhalla, Hidden Valley and Marienthal.
Exactly when it was built is a mystery. Gottfried Preusser came to Texas in Sept 1845, with wife Louise Busch and five children. His eldest, Johann Georg was old enough to get his own land grant from the German Emigration Company. Did Gottfried build the house? History tells us his next child, Johann Phillip, got married in 1855. One account has Phillip (we will call him that because I get confused since all the sons have Johann as their first name) living in a log cabin and building the house in 1858. Another version states that Phillip and wife Katherine moved in with Gottfried and Louise and “add three rooms to the existing structure.” I found land grants at the Texas General Land Office for Johann Georg and Johann Phillip Preusser for land in the 1860s, some that constituted the Preusser family ranch. There is nothing about Father Gottfried. We don’t even know when Gottfried and Louise died or where they are buried. It is an historical pickle.
What we do know is that the house is a wonderful early example of German building style in Texas. It began as a small 1½ story rectangle, comprised of two rooms made of large squared-off logs put together with rustic dove-tail joints. A porch, first only over the front door, ran along the whole front side and a rock lean-to style kitchen with rock chimney ran along the back side. Originally roofed with cypress shingles, it eventually got a tin roof attached with handmade square nails. It had the typical high pitched-roofline which broke and came over the two additions at a flatter angle. You see this silhouette on quite a few homes around NB and Comaltown. A wooden stairway was attached to the outside of the house to allow access to the ½ story above for storage and sleeping. Know why the staircase was outside the home?
The log walls were chinked and a coating of lime plaster was added to the front wall. The Preussers burned caliche in a lime pit/kiln located nearby and mixed the lime with sand and goat’s milk to make the “whitewash” or plaster coating that was smoothed over the logs.
Later owners included: Pete Nowotny, August Vollmering, and Emma Vollmering Rieber. Emma Rieber, known by many Comal Countians as Tante or Aunt Emma, became closely identified with the Preusser home. By the late 1950s, she was running a sort of café/hunting camp-like-business on the premises. Open on Saturdays and Sundays in the winter, she reserved the right to not open. In fact, she posted a sign on the front door that claimed she had the right to go hunting at any time during deer season. It was reported, “When hearty Emma, who is 58, bags a deer…she hoists it up onto her broad shoulders and carries it from any corner of the 114 acres back to the house.”
In 1961, Tante Emma reopened the rock chimney that had been bricked-up for many years. She kept in place the kitchen utensils that had been hung on pegs and square nails by Phillip and Katherine Preusser. She whitewashed and hand-painted verses and original sayings on the interior walls. One sign discouraged folks from asking for free food or drink by telling them “to seek credit on the second floor of the hotel in the vacant lot.” She was an exceptional cook, a valued friend, and a celebrity of sorts to Ausländer who wrote about her in Houston and San Antonio publications.
A gifted storyteller, she regaled her guests with Preusser family memories — — stories of Indian attacks (“see the arrow points still stuck in the walls?”). Family members have also told stories of Grandma Katherine shooing the children up to the attic via a ladder and trap door in the ceiling of the kitchen when Indians came to steal cattle and horses. They also tell tales of how she made friends with the Indians, trading them fresh-baked bread for ground cornmeal, bear meat, venison and other game.
Katherine’s no-nonsense approach to trouble stands out in family folklore. Phillip had built a cotton gin powered by horses prior to the Civil War. While operating the gin, his left arm below the elbow was crushed. The injury didn’t allow him to join the Confederacy. There were several men in local families who did not side with the South and they went into hiding in nearby caves. Friendship trumped ideology, and Katherine took them food and water. She would also bring them luxuries like soap and hand-spun/woven clothing.
Emma Rieber in many ways embodied Katherine’s true pioneer spirit. She was a unique, witty, strong-minded, self-sufficient, “take -no-_ _ _ _-from-nobody” kind of girl. Born in Comal County, into the large family of an itinerant blacksmith, she chopped cotton in East Texas at age 10. At age 14, she was a skilled blacksmith. She had only a 3rd grade education, but had been taught about the land and nature by her father who had turned the Preusser land into a game preserve.
The home no longer looks like folks my age remember, but it is still back in there behind a wall of trees and a fancy gate. It is totally remodeled but I’m pretty sure that some of those big hand-squared logs still anchor the home to the land and the rich and colorful history of Comal County.
Sources: “Comal County Historical Survey Committee, Pioneer Homes Tour” program for Sunday, Jul 14, 1968; Organized German Settlement and its effects on the Frontier of South-Central Texas, Hubert G. H. Wilhelm, 1968; Preusser Family file, Marjorie Cook collection, New Braunfels Herald and Herald-Zeitung collections.