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Railroad transforms community

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

The next time you drive downtown, take a look at the old IGN train depot at the intersection of San Antonio Street and Hill Avenue. Although it’s now a museum, with just a little knowledge and imagination, you can transport yourself back to the olden times known as the Railroad Era.

Back when Texas was the Republic of Texas, in 1836, the first congress chartered the first railroad company, the Texas Rail Road, Navigation, and Banking Co. to construct railroads where needed. This was ten years after the first US railroad was chartered. The company lasted two years but the railroad was never built. Other companies were chartered, but still no railroads.

In 1847, Gen.Sidney Sherman acquired lots in Harrisburg, acquired northern capital and established the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado as the first railroad in Texas. By the end of 1861, there were nine operating railroads in Texas, mostly in East Texas. One was the International & Great Northern (IGN). Jay Gould was the controlling stockholder. This name would come up later in New Braunfels history. Politics played a big part as far as where railroads would locate.

After the Civil War and Reconstruction, new lines formed and some merged. In 1875, New Braunfels, as well as other small towns, saw the advantage of a railroad going through their town. Brian Weidner, who has done extensive research on railroads in NB, states that in the New Braunfelser Zeitung, editor Anselm Eiband, began writing about attempts to offer the railroads cash and property to build in NB.

In the meantime the International & Great Northern Railroad in 1879, requested right-of-way land to build a depot in NB. The railroad was able to acquire town lots 10 & 17 from Ferdinand and Anna Nolte. Lot 10 faced San Antonio Street and Hill Street and Lot 17 faced Mill Street. The railroad was in business! The first freight passenger trains entered NB in the fall of 1880.

The first ticket office was a store front owned by Mr. Nolte’s business on San Antonio Street. IGN constructed a small depot and the old store front was removed.

The era of the railroad brought tremendous changes to the economy of Texas and to New Braunfels as well. Many small towns that were overlooked by the railroad completely disappeared. A big advantage of the presence of a railroad was that goods could be brought in and local goods could be sent out. Tourism flourished in towns, like New Braunfels, that had natural beauty.

Remember Jay Gould? The story goes that his daughter, Helen Gould, visited the Harry Landa estate in 1898. According to Landa, Miss Gould liked the beauty of Landa Park so much that she proposed to him that the IGN build a spur track into Landa Park, which they did.

The second railroad line into NB, the Missouri, Kansas, Texas Railroad, while extending their tracks from NB to San Antonio, also built a station plus spur track into Landa Park. The railroads were helping New Braunfels become a tourist destination. In his book, “As I Remember”, Harry Landa made this comment:

“Beer, bathing, boat riding, bands, and dancing, and other recreations were enjoyed by picnickers and Landa Park became one of the most popular resorts of the Southwest.”

The president, Theodore Roosevelt, made a political speech from the rear of a Pullman car passing through NB, and the whole city turned out to see this spectacle complete with a children’s choir, a decorated station and an assembly of young women dressed as Roughriders.

Pressure was on by the public for the railroad to build a larger, better depot to accommodate all the visitors who were arriving. In 1907 the firm of Moeller, Mordhurst & Blumberg were contracted to manufacture cement blocks to build a new depot. Adolph Moeller was responsible for building many public buildings and Victorian homes in NB, and Mordhurst was the one who produced the cement blocks and also decorated the graves with concrete-filled shells. There are at least five homes still standing that were built of Mordhurst’s cement blocks in New Braunfels and also many graves in Comal Cemetery.

Brian Weidner’s research reveals that the new station was made of concrete-colored tiles with red grout between the tiles. There were ornamental wrought iron details supporting the roof. The large entrances were surrounded by diamond latticed glass transoms and side panels. Look for these features. You may have to get out of the car to see all the details.

The construction of the interstate highway system had a big effect on the railroad and its station. Eventually by the 1960s, passenger service was discontinued and then replaced by Amtrak.

The city was given the IGN station by the railroad in 1986 with a yearly lease on the land. The same year, the city leased the station and property to the New Braunfels Historic Railroad & Modelers Society who run it as a free museum to the public.

This 1895 photo shows the IGN train and old depot. That was 15 years after the IGN entered New Braunfels. The new depot taking the place of the old one was built in 1907 and still stands.

This 1895 photo shows the IGN train and old depot. That was 15 years after the IGN entered New Braunfels. The new depot taking the place of the old one was built in 1907 and still stands.