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New Braunfels treasure celebrates 90 years

Photo caption: June 12, 1933 Cornerstone Ceremony.

Photo caption: June 12, 1933 Cornerstone Ceremony.

By Tara V. Kohlenberg —

A 90th birthday is an event well worth celebrating. My beautiful friend was born in 1933, the same year as Willie Nelson and Carol Burnett. It was the worst year of the Great Depression, when twenty-five percent of the labor force was unemployed, the U.S. bank system failed, and the Texas Rangers brought down Bonnie and Clyde. It was also the year that Adolf Hitler became absolute dictator of Germany. It was a tough time to be brought into this world.

My friend was raised in New Braunfels by loving family and friends, who worked to provide the very best for her. As she grew, she focused on learning as much as she could about her community. Her studies allowed her to become a skilled artisan and storyteller, weaving the threads of history into a beautiful tapestry for all to see. She has contributed greatly to her beloved community, becoming an important figure in the public eye. With age, she has amassed many treasures, which she promises are not for herself, but are heirlooms to share with her family. She loves to tell the story about how she was named after some great-aunt, a princess of some kind, but in my contacts, she is simply listed as Sophie N. Burg. She is a grand lady who lives on the Hill and this month she is 90 years old.

The Sophienburg Museum and Archives, in many ways, is a living breathing entity with so many secrets to share. While I know she is not human, the story of her birth is still pretty cool. German immigrants arrived in 1845 under the auspices of the “The Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas” or the Adelsverein. Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, Commissioner General of the Verein, named the acreage after his homeland — New Braunfels. He set up camp on a little hill above the newly formed colony. On that same hill he built a log cabin structure and named it Sophienburg (Fort Sophie) in honor of his betrothed, Princess Sophie of Salm-Salm. The property continued to be known as Sophienburg Hill long after the land was sold to satisfy debts. The Sophienburg Hill has been the subject of many early artists.

In 1925, H. Dittlinger traveled with his family to Rome to participate in the Jubilee of 1925, called by Pope Pius XI. They also visited the ancestral castle of Prince Carl. There, the Dittlingers received a portrait of Prince Carl with the request that it be placed in our city’s museum. The Dittlingers graciously agreed to keep it until a museum could be built.

On February 18, 1926, fourteen community organizations along with local government officials met with the purpose of discussing the building of a museum. The Central Committee appointed one representative from each organization. They included Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce, Women’s Civic Improvement Club, American Legion, Legion Ladies’ Auxiliary, Child Welfare, Boy Scouts, Protestant Frauenverein, Catholic Mothers’ Society, Echo Singing Society, Echo Home Association, Methodist Missionary Society, New Braunfels Band, New Braunfels Choral Club, Mayor Blumberg, County Judge Carl Roeper, Fire Chief Walter Staats and the local press. S.V. Pfeuffer was elected president; George Eiband, Vice-President; B.W. Nuhn, Treasurer and Louis Scholl, Secretary.

In the months between February and July of 1926, the Central Committee negotiated to purchase portions of the Sophienburg Hill property. Mrs. Runge, wishing to just complete the sale, discounted the $7000 price and settled for $5000. The Central Committee worked very hard to secure subscriptions (pledged funds) from New Braunfels residents to support the project.

Project instigator S.V. Pfeuffer died and the museum project languished. Then, 1929 struck a blow to anything requiring money, as no one had any. Progress seemed to just stop. The Committee picked up speed again when new officers were elected in October of 1930. Early in 1931, the Committee worked on drafting by-laws and designing a building plan. By 1932, the mayor granted permission for temporary use of the City Hall basement to display relics and artifacts of pioneer days.

On March 10, 1933, the Executive Committee, along with Constitution and By-laws, Finance and Building committees, consisting of members R. Wagenfuehr, R. S. Jahn, B.W. Nuhn, Emil Fischer, Mrs. G. Eiband, Mrs. H. Dittlinger, John Faust, Martin Faust, I.A. Ogden, M.C. Hagler and Rev. Charlton, passed a Resolution of Incorporation for the Sophienburg Memorial Association, Inc. The resolution further specified the purpose as perpetuating the memory and spirit of the pioneers of New Braunfels, to encourage historical research and to erect suitable structures to preserve places made historic by the founding and development of the city. By-laws were accepted and Board Officers were elected on April 5, 1933.

Later that same month, the Board accepted a bid of $4,563.60 submitted by W.C. Long. The cornerstone was laid in May of 1933 with the official public cornerstone ceremony held in June. The fortress-like building was designed by local architect Jeremiah Schmidt. Design specs called for irregular rock, a fireplace, two front columns and flagstone front steps. One room of the museum was to be designated a library. The whole community took ownership of the project, bringing treasured rocks to contribute to the building’s exterior, including petrified wood, fossils, geodes, crystals, honeycomb rock, granite and more. On October 8, 1933, the Sophienburg Museum was dedicated and opened to the public.

The Sophienburg Museum and Archives is 90 years old. Special birthday exhibits and events will be coming throughout the summer. We will celebrate the 90th anniversary of the dedication and opening of the Museum on October 8, 2023. I hope that you and yours will celebrate with us this year. Our Sophie is a very grand lady, and she sits like a jewel perched on the edge of Sophienburg Hill. What a treasure!

This edifice may rightfully be termed an expression of the citizens of this community … Let us dedicate this memorial to the memory of the pioneers of the past who made our beautiful city possible; to the living of the present, that they may enjoy it, and to the generations of the future as a reminder of a noble heritage.

— R. Wagenfuehr, President of the Sophienburg Memorial Association, 1933.

Sources: Sophienburg Museum and Archives.

Photo caption: June 12, 1933 Cornerstone Ceremony.