By Myra Lee Adams Goff
“O wie herrlich, o wie schӧn
Ist es in die Schule Gehn.”
(Oh how splendid; oh, how lovely
It is to go to school)
With this song, Hermann Seele inspired his first students in New Braunfels. It was August 11, 1845, and the location was below the Sophienburg which was the headquarters of the Adelsverein. In his book of recollections, “Die Cypress”, Seele described in detail his first day as a teacher.
Prince Carl had given the responsibility of the establishment of church and school to Rev. Louis Ervendberg who, in turn, asked Seele to teach in the Adelsverein’s school. The basic subjects were reading, writing, and arithmetic taught in both German and English.
A small cedar log house built by Seele and his friend, Heinrich Herbst, was within walking distance of where the school was to be held under elm trees below the Sophienburg. Seele soon left this house (Lots 130 and 131) and moved to his farm on the Guadalupe. It is believed that part of Seele’s house is still on the property at 308 E. San Antonio St. The complicated history of this property will be the subject of another column.
Fifteen boys and girls were registered for instruction by Seele, whose salary was $8 a month. Early in the morning the civil guard fired a cannon at dawn awakening the town and then again before six in the morning, the Adelsverein’s bell on the hill summoned the people to work.
Walking past the log church on Church St. (later Coll St.), Seele greeted the pastor and when he arrived at the spot where the school was to be held, the children were already there, greeting him with “Guten Morgen”. He proceeded to arrange them according to how much they knew. This he judged by the schooling they had received and also from where they came in Germany. The children spoke different dialects but he insisted that in school the children were to speak Hoch Deutsch (High German).
Besides the basics, Seele also taught Anschaungsunterricht (a mouthful meaning nature study). Only a few reading books were brought from Germany and since only a few slates had survived the journey, arithmetic was done primarily in the head. Slate pencils had been carved from limestone from the shallow waters of the Comal and Guadalupe. We used to call this material soapstone and it was in abundance at Camp Warnecke.
The larger students used a plank fixed on posts as desks. This plank had been built for the officers of the Adelsverein to sit on during the church service held in the same area. At recess they played games like hide and seek and then ate cornbread and beefsteak. This was followed by berries growing in the area – dogberries, cherry plums, and Mexican berries.
There were few interruptions to the instructions except an occasional bird in the treetops. Also an occasional settler who would go up the narrow path to the Sophienburg to get provisions from wagons loaded with supplies that were distributed to the settlers. Later, on provision days, the trail was crowded and the students were distracted. When this occurred, Seele let the children go to get the supplies for their families.
One interruption occurred when calves that were turned loose threatened to join the students. The children whose families owned the calves were allowed to take them home and the other children helped. Then the instructions began again when everyone returned.
After the school day was over, Seele went home to finish his chores. He washed his clothes in the nearby Comal and hung them on the bushes to dry. A bath in the crystal waters ended the day.
The last school elm tree lived on until 1955 when it became a nuisance in the middle of the road and had to be removed. The Sophienburg has a big slice of the tree and a pair of bookends. How appropriate!
School teaching was Seele’s first job in New Braunfels. He became a lawyer, served as mayor, state representative, and Civil War major. He was a playwright, singer, and church secretary for German Protestant Church for 57 years. We owe a great deal to the man, known as the “soul” of New Braunfels. What’s in a name? (Shakespeare) The German name “Seele” actually does translate as “soul”.