The articles of the Verein zum Schutz detscher Einwandrer in Texas (also known as the Society of Noblemen or the Adelsverein) required that the spiritual needs of the immigrants were to be met. The calendar and customs of church life were an important part of the Germanic culture. After their arrival and founding of New Braunfels on March 21, 1845, it is said that the people broke into two groups, Catholic and Protestant, and gathered under the shade of trees to literally say, “Thank you, God, for getting us here.”
And now, a little more info on the congregations. Please use the numbered photos for reference.
The Protestants chose to meet in a grove of elms at the foot of what became known as Sophienburg Hill. By 1846, a wooden church (1) with an onion-shaped dome (Zwiebelsturm) had been constructed on the corner of Castell and Church streets (Church later became Coll). The first pastor was Rev. L. C. Ervendberg. The present limestone First Protestant Church, at 296 S. Seguin St., was begun in 1875 and dedicated in 1889. The stately church has seen several renovations but remains alive and well.
The Catholics elected to worship under an oak tree near Comal Creek. The legendary Catholic Oak still thrives. The congregation moved into a small wooden chapel in 1847. This was quickly replaced in 1849 by a larger church built of black walnut (2); Father Claude Dubois led the first Mass. The present limestone Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church, at 386 N. Castell St., was constructed around the black walnut church so that masses were not interrupted during the building process. It was dedicated in 1888. The church added a school in 1871 which educates young New Braunfelsers to this day.
As more immigrants settled in the area, other churches began appearing that reflected more specific denominations and congregations. In 1851, Theobald Kleiss, a German missionary, organized St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Neighborsville area across the Guadalupe River (roughly the Milltown area). A wood church building was constructed in 1851, on Church Hill Drive, to house the growing congregation. In 1880, the main door was moved to the end of the building, the pitch of the roof was increased and the bell tower was added (3). The neighboring Church Hill School met the needs of the parish children. St Martin’s was moved to its present location in Hortontown Cemetery in 1968. Visible from Loop 337, St. Martin’s, the “oldest Lutheran church in Texas”, watches over its past congregation.
The New Braunfels German Mission, based on Methodism, was founded in 1853 in the Comaltown home of J. Hirschleber. In 1858, the first Methodist church building was erected at 124 N. Union Street (4) and held services until 1912, when the Karbach Memorial Methodist Church was constructed at 572 W. San Antonio Street. The present First United Methodist Church building replaced the Karbach church in 1952.
By the 1860’s, German-speaking Jews began to establish businesses in the area. Families usually worshipped privately in their homes but made several trips each year to celebrate with the larger Jewish community in San Antonio. There has never been a Jewish synagogue in New Braunfels (5).
The Colored Methodist Church, built in 1900 at 225 E. Commerce Street, was organized in 1890 by H.P. Evans. Though born a slave, Evans could read and write and had a desire to begin a congregation for the African American community of New Braunfels. The church first used a house on the corner of Comal and Castell. In 1907, the church took the name Allen Chapel A. M. E. Church (6).
Rev. Lucky McQueen organized The Colored Baptist Church under a live oak tree at the corner of Houston and Camp Sts. in 1900. By the end of that year, the 14 original members were worshipping in a new church building at 355 N. Washington Avenue (7). The church was built by Sam and Tim Williams and was renamed Live Oak Baptist Church in honor of its founding. Eventually, a cast steel bell was purchased and hung in the bell tower. During renovations in 1983, the weight of the bell was found to be too much for the historic structure and it was removed. The congregation gifted the bell to the Sophienburg Museum in 2008. This small church still holds services and is a testament to the faith of the families which have called it their spiritual home for generations.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church was organized in 1926 by Sts. Peter & Paul as a mission church to serve the growing population of Mexican farm workers settling in the Comaltown community. By December 5, 1926, 40 Spanish-speaking families celebrated Mass in a new church building at 138 W. Austin Street (8). Two years later, a fire destroyed the first church. It was rebuilt along with a school building. The present O.L.P.H. Catholic church was constructed in 1969 near the original location. In 1944, the old O.L.P.H. “Sisters’ House” was dismantled and moved to the corner of Hidalgo and San Antonio Sts. to be used as the first building for Holy Family Catholic Church.
Obviously, these are not the only churches in New Braunfels, but they are among the earliest founded within the city. Other churches, founded around the same time in townships and settlements in Comal County, will have to wait for another time. You can see photographs and artifacts from these early churches in an exhibit at the Sophienburg Museum & Archives.
Today, New Braunfels residents can worship in churches reflecting many denominations and faiths. The Adelsverein did well to uphold the right of freedom of religion in their new colony which was destined to become part of this great country we call home.
Sources: Newspaper collection, Sophienburg Museum & Archives; History of New Braunfels and Comal County, Texas 1844-1946 and First Protestant Church Its History and Its People, Oscar Haas; A Journey In Faith, Gregory and Goff; The History of Sts. Peter & Paul Church and Parish 1844-1974, Monica Fuhrmann