By Myra Lee Adams Goff
We know a lot about our Comal River but not so much about the Guadalupe. Did you know that the Guadalupe is 226 miles longer than the Comal? It’s a tumultuous and erratic river. The Comal, on a flooding rampage, affects New Braunfels; the Guadalupe, on a flooding rampage, affects 230 miles of property, trees, land, and people.
Here’s the really good side of the Guadalupe: it has provided hours and days of camping, boating, and summer camps. Where else but a summer camp would you have learned the words to “Doktor Eisenbart”?
I am Herr Doktor Eisanbart, Twil li wil li witt boom boom
I’ll cure your ills with healing art, Twil li wil li witt boom boom
Sing to ri ay, sing to ri ay,Twil li wil li witt boom boom boom boom!
Let’s take a trip down the Guadalupe River starting at its source in Kerr County and eventually giving up the ghost when it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. There it is a small stream in a big pond. The river in Kerr County is formed by two tributaries and the towns of Kerrville and Comfort were established nearby.
The story goes that the Guadalupe River, as far back as 1689, was called Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe by Spanish explorer, Alonso De León. Other names were applied by later Spanish explorers. At one time the river’s major contributory, the Comal, was actually called Guadalupe and the Guadalupe was called the San Ybón. It’s impossible to know what the Indian tribes who inhabited the banks called it. The Tonkawa, Waco, Lipan Apaches, Karankawa, Coahuiltican and Comanche all left evidence of their presence up and down the banks.
Missions were established along the river’s tributaries. Several were located above Victoria, one near San Marcos Springs, and one near the Comal Springs.
After the mission era, Mexicans, Europeans and Americans moved into Texas and along the Guadalupe. Martin De Leon established Victoria in 1824 and in 1825 James Kerr established Gonzales. Ben Mc Cullough surveyed Walnut Springs in 1839. This name changed to Seguin. You will remember that most of those towns, except Victoria, were stopping points for the early settlers who were following the Guadalupe from Indianola on their way to New Braunfels, now the largest town along the Guadalupe.
The completion of the large Canyon Lake and Dam interrupted the river’s flow. After forming a large lake, the river resumes its flow at the outlet of the dam. Before Canyon Dam floods were rampant but now somewhat controlled by the dam.
At this point a really beautiful part of the Guadalupe begins as it comes out of the outlet. It begins its journey to New Braunfels, passing the River Road, several crossings and tourist courts and camps. Let’s look in particular at one camp, Slumber Falls Camp.
Slumber Falls Camp developed along the Guadalupe in the early 1930s at just the right time due to the building of roads and the popularity of the automobile. The camp was a place to get away from the city and enjoy the beauty of the hill country river. In the open air cabins the sound of the water falls contributed to the enjoyment of outdoor camping.
The history of the ownership of the land on which Slumber Falls is located goes back to 1890 when Joseph Landa purchased a large parcel of the Veramendi Tract on the Guadalupe for cattle raising. There is evidence that locals already used this area for picnicking and swimming. Years later the property was owned by Harry Landa, Joseph Landa’s son. Harry sold 20 acres in this tract to Francis Schulz Lillie for $1,545. Francis Lillie, along with her husband Will and brother, Herman Schrader, developed the property into a tourist camp. Steps leading down to the river show their presence with etchings of their names in concrete steps .Retaining walls were built and together the three built 11 cabins, one at a time as they could afford them. The tourist camp was a popular spot, a place to get away from the city, enjoy the beauty of the hill country river valley and slumber in the open air cabins with the sound of waterfalls. Situated on top of a high bluff’s pinnacle on the camp property is a stunning view of the river below.
World War II had a devastating effect on the tourist industry in general, but after the war, interest resumed. In 1946 Will Lillie died and Francis sold the tourist court to her two nephews and a third party for$20,000.Then in 1954-56 a terrible drought virtually caused the Guadalupe to dry up and the tourist court was closed. The nephews decided to sell.
The Texas Synod of the United Church of Christ purchased the tract for $16,500. They held their first youth camp in the summer of 1958. Preservation of the open- air cabins, out of financial necessity, resulted in campers of today experiencing nature and camping like the 1930s. They can still slumber with the sound of waterfalls. Improvements have been made, but several of the screened-in cabins remain. Slumber Falls Camp and Recreation Center still has remnants of the tourist camp that reflect the early tourism trend, making it eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
At the base of the steps leading down to the water, the Guadalupe River rushes over rocks and past cypress lined banks to its final destination. On the way to the Gulf it picks up water from its largest tributary, the Comal. About two miles west of Gonzales, the San Marcos River flows into the Guadalupe and then the San Antonio River joins the river just north of Tivoli. Heading down to the coast and ahead of the estuary, the river forms a delta and splits in two sections referred to as the North and South Guadalupe. Each flows into the San Antonio Bay and then to its final destination, the Gulf of Mexico.