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Postmarks tell interesting history

PHOTO CAPTION: The first post office in New Braunfels, the home, hotel, and saloon of Arnold-Henkel von Donnersmark, 1847.

PHOTO CAPTION: The first post office in New Braunfels, the home, hotel, and saloon of Arnold-Henkel von Donnersmark, 1847.

By Myra Lee Adams Goff —

A young German count, Arnold-Henkel von Donnersmark, came to the New Braunfels settlement in 1845 with Prince Carl. He built a large frame building where he lived and conducted his hotel and saloon business. In less than a year he had accumulated several thousand dollars.

This is how he did it: he bought a barrel of whiskey in San Antonio, set up a tent in New Braunfels, and sold it to emigrants that had money. These early emigrants, having just arrived and not yet established homes, stayed in Donnersmark’s hotel, for it provided a comfortable place to stay. Besides, they liked the idea of being served by a member of the aristocracy. This would never have happened in Germany. (Source: Roemer’s “Texas”)

Donnersmark’s house, hotel, saloon, was located on the corner of Castell and Mill Sts. which is now a parking lot across the street from McAdoo’s Restaurant. Donnersmark’s house itself served a very important role in early New Braunfels because it was designated as the first post office. It was dismantled in 1904 by Louis Henne who then used the lot for a customer camp yard for his lumber, hardware, and tinning business.

C.W. Thomae was the first postmaster in 1846 and then Donnersmark took over in 1847.

In 1851 the post offices moved to the Adolphus Benner store. Benner was the postmaster and when he died, Mrs. Benner took her husband’s place, thereby having the distinction of being the first woman postmaster. She served until after the Civil War, when she was replaced due to the fact that she served under the Confederacy. (All of those positions were replaced if they had served during the Confederacy).

Next, post offices were in the bus station, Courthouse, Hermann Seele residence, and Pfeuffer store. Then in 1915 President Woodrow Wilson signed a law appropriating $50,000 to build a post office building in New Braunfels. This is the building that now houses McAdoo’s Restaurant. Guess who the U.S. Secretary of Treasury was at that time? William G. McAdoo! The present post office on Seguin Ave. was built in 1984.

In addition to the post offices in New Braunfels, there were about 20 rural post offices, two of which are at the bottom of Canyon Lake (Cranes Mill and Hancock). Each of these post offices had an individual postmark signifying that the letter had been mailed from there. Eventually all small sites were closed except New Braunfels, Spring Branch, Fischer, and Canyon Lake.

Originally stamps on letters were postmarked by the postmaster writing the cancellation date and place. Then cancellation progressed to hand stamping. Can you imagine the post office doing either one of those methods now? Cancellation then moved to digital postmarks.

These postmarked letters have become collector’s items, as everything does when it becomes obsolete. One can learn a lot about history by collecting these cancelled letters. Collectors look for old hand-cancelled letters and specific postmarks. I have seen a 28th Wurstfest postmark dated Nov 4, 1988, and a New Braunfels Sesquicentennial postmark of April 14, 1995, with the Sesquicentennial seal. A most interesting one to me is a New Braunfels Centennial celebration envelope which says “mailed from Landa Park.” It has a picture of the old Sophienburg, Las Fontanas, with the message “Because of these, the now famous Comal Springs, the German emigrants chose the site of New Braunfels.” The official postmark is New Braunfels.

Permission for special postmarks have been granted, like the commerative Pony Express rider in 2006. I have seen two stop stations, one in Gruene and one at the Schmidt Hotel.

Growing up in New Braunfels, I remember the socializing that took place on the post office steps on Castell St., especially on Saturday. Maybe this form of socializing had its roots in Arnold-Henkel von Donnersmark’s hotel and saloon across the street.

Excerpt from Around The Sophienburg by Myra Lee Adams Goff, Sophienburg Museum & Archives.