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New Braunfels Conservation Society gets windfall

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

A windfall of big proportions happened to the New Braunfels Conservation Society. They now own a piece of property that is known as the Arnold-Rauch-Brandt Homestead that goes back to the mid-1800s, located northwest from New Braunfels in an area known as Mission Valley. The house, barn and smokehouse are on a ten acre tract that Conservation Director Martha Rehler says “literally stood still in time.”

This historic piece of property shows how Gottlieb and Maria Arnold and their descendants lived and utilized everything possible in the way of materials available to construct buildings and make use of the land.

The year was 1846 when the widower Gottlieb Arnold and his three children first arrived in Texas from Germany. They were lured by the generous land policies of the state of Texas. After arriving in Galveston, he moved to Guadalupe County where in 1848 he married Maria Koch. In 1854, Gottlieb received a 160 acre Comal County land grant from the State of Texas. On this land, Gottlieb and Maria farmed and ranched and raised nine boys and one daughter. Land in the hill country was not suitable for large scale farming but small plots were cleared for gardens. Notice the photograph of Hulda Arnold Rauch, granddaughter of the Arnolds sitting next to a large pile of rocks that she cleared from her garden. There is still evidence of the rock piles presently.

The last child born to Gottlieb and his wife was Friedrich Arnold and he became the only occupant of the family after the death of his parents. His niece, Hulda Arnold married Albert Rauch and they had five children. Albert died and he left Hulda and the children without a place to live. Friedrich took in his niece and five children, Edna, Elvira, Hedwig, Almon and Agnes, and they lived on the ranch.

Time went on and eventually Agnes Rauch married Arno Brandt. They continued to live on the ranch in order to help Agnes’ mother and uncle. Agnes Brandt was the last descendant of Gottlieb and Maria Arnold to live in the home. Agnes died in 2010 and her family was able to furnish much information about how the family lived. The family said that the Producers Co-op was one of Agnes’ favorite places where she bought supplies for her productive garden. She set up the garden wherever the cows had last been. The gardens were restricted by rock fences many of which are still on the property. The rock fences held in the livestock. Wells and cisterns provided water and there was no indoor plumbing. Electricity was added much later.

The New Braunfels Conservation Society received the property in March of 2015 after five years of negotiations. Members of the Conservation Society, along with their director Martha Rehler, spent countless hours cleaning, identifying and deciphering, hundreds of objects in the house. Those members who are responsible for the clean-up are Randee Micklewright, Luke Speckman, Marvin and Ann Gimbernardi, Pam Brandt, and George Holmans. The inside and outside of the house reflected what it was like to live in the 1800s.

Very little modernization had taken place. Electricity in the form of hanging lightbulbs was added recently. The full and intact limestone barn and smokehouse are in perfect condition. Rattlesnakes had inhabited the barn but soon felt unwelcome when cleaning began. A smokehouse was an absolute necessity in the 1800s due to the lack of refrigeration. Artifacts like old tools have been left there for years. There were molasses tubs and a hand-dug well.

The limestone home began as a one-room structure and eventually evolved from one room to six rooms. The front doors and porches face southeast to take advantage of prevailing breezes. Doors and windows appear to be original. The walls are from 10 inches to 2 feet deep and many are double walls filled with rubble acting as insulation. Window openings are larger on the inside than the outside, making a large window sill and allowing light to filter in. Many windows are original glass. Stenciling at the top of the walls is still visible and the floors are likely long-leaf pine.

There was no bathroom inside the home. With no toilet, one just took a toilet seat outside anywhere. For a shower, there is a spigot in the kitchen with a hose attached to it over a pan to catch water. The house is warmed with free-standing wood-burning stoves.

Inside the house there are dozens of deer horns and cases full of canning supplies. A light bulb hangs over the sewing machine. Christmas decorations, including artificial snow made from shaved asbestos, fill one wardrobe. There is a large collection of vintage clothing, material, feed sacks and hosiery from the mills in NB. Antique toys and trophies from the Comal County Fair are there.

Winding from the bottom floor to the attic are steps that lead you to massive amounts of artifacts and personal items that show the home life of the families. It became obvious that even if the items were no longer used, they were saved. The family kept everything in case it would be needed at a later time. Collections evolve from that philosophy. Books, magazines, material for sewing, old clothes, and a curious item that workers were contemplating: a football unassembled and wrapped up to reassemble at a later time? There are milk separators, sausage stuffers, ax handles, lye soap, deer heads and large 1860s pottery jugs made by the famous Wilson Pottery in Seguin.

As you might expect, canning jars and 14 boxes of powdered sugar waiting for the next canning season. Numerous Pabst Blue Ribbon and Grand Prize beer bottles and a powder puff box full of rattlesnake rattles were real finds. Mice and raccoons for several years have lived in the attic, leaving piles of evidence of their presence.

The Arnold-Rauch-Brandt Homestead is one of the few remaining properties showing German immigrant farm life in the Texas hill country. A mile off the main road, the Conservation Society hopes to make it a living example of early farm life open to the public. The property shows the resourcefulness of this family and the love of family, plants and animals. Conservation is applying for the homestead to be a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark and hopes to share it with the public soon.

940s photo of Agnes Rauch Brandt and Hulda Arnold Rauch in front of the house.

1940s photo of Agnes Rauch Brandt and Hulda Arnold Rauch in front of the house.

Hulda clears her garden of rocks. Several of these piles of rocks are in the garden area.

Hulda clears her garden of rocks. Several of these piles of rocks are in the garden area.