Tara V. Kohlenberg —
Ninety years ago, on October 8, 1933, New Braunfels celebrated the grand opening and dedication of the new Sophienburg Memorial Museum and Library, erected in honor of those pioneers who founded New Braunfels.
It was a grand affair for the entire community. There was a morning parade from Main Plaza to the Sophienburg, headed by the American Legion Drum & Bugle Corp, Boy Scouts and fire department. All were treated to the music of the Old Heidelberg Band while lunch was served by pretty girls in German costume. After the official dedication and customary speeches praising the pioneering spirit of our ancestors, the beautiful new museum and library building was opened to the public for the first time. The party continued into the evening with entertainment by the Music Club String Ensemble, the Echo Singing Club and a musical pageant depicting the important events in the founding of New Braunfels.
You may have raised an eyebrow upon reading the word “Library” with Sophienburg Memorial Museum, but the Sophienburg has long been entwined with the public library. For several years, in a series of locations, people could pay a membership fee to use a local small library (see Emmie Seele Faust Memorial Library, April 1, 2018, Sophienburg.com). It was not until the new museum built a dedicated library room in 1933 that there was truly a free public library.
By 1937, it was clear that the library needed its own space. A new public library building for the city of New Braunfels became a reality in October 1937. Mrs. Emmie Seele Faust, daughter of Hermann Seele, offered a large donation to build a memorial library. The Sophienburg Memorial Association donated a parcel of the Sophienburg Hill property for the new library, with the understanding that when it ceased to be a library, it would revert back to the Association. Built in the same rock style, the Emmie Seele Faust Memorial Library opened adjacent to the Sophienburg Memorial Museum on W. Coll Street in the fall of 1938.
As it is with the ebb and flow of life, so it goes for organizations. The Sophienburg Memorial Museum grew and flourished in place, filling the empty space left by the library room vacancy. In 1968, the city built the Dittlinger Memorial Library on property once the site of the Ernst Gruene home, located directly behind Emmie Seele Faust Library and Sophienburg Museum buildings. Since the Emmie Seele Faust building was no longer used as a library, per the agreement, it reverted back to the Sophienburg Memorial Association and became the Archives building.
The collection and archives continued to grow. By 1975, the Museum’s need for space prompted renovations and addition of the Cedar Room. In 1992, the Association purchased the 1929 New Braunfels City Hall building on the corner of North Seguin Avenue and Mill Street to house the ever-growing Archives. At that time, the old library building became storage for the artifact collection.
Now, all these years, the museum was run by one or two employees and a whole host of members and volunteers spread out in three buildings. Money was derived from memberships and a small Weihnachtsmarkt fundraiser, but it was almost always a struggle to have a steady income. The museum gift/book shop helped contribute to the coffer a little, but the page turned in 1998, which was the first year the museum participated in Wurstfest. Any items, mostly German themed, that were left over from Wurstfest and Weihnachtsmarkt came back to the museum, taking the gift shop to new heights. Our beloved Sophie’s Shop was born… but it didn’t get that name until 1999. Whether in the museum, online, or at Wurstfest, Sophie’s Shop serves to make money for the sole purpose of supporting the non-profit museum operations.
Following the completion of a new city library, the City of New Braunfels gifted the Dittlinger Memorial Library to the Sophienburg Memorial Association in 2001. Renovations to the Dittlinger Library building, creating an archives library and museum exhibit hall, would take money, so a capital campaign was held and the Old City Hall building was sold.
In 2004, Phase I is completed and the Archives, which has been closed for a couple of years, opens in their portion of the renovated building. The Museum exhibit space opened a year later. The original museum building became storage for the collection.
The Sophienburg Museum and Archives was created by the community as a memorial to our founders. She has always given back as a supportive community partner. She has been there to not only support New Braunfels’ anniversary celebrations, she captures and catalogues the history to share with future generations. The Sophienburg Memorial Association presents the annual Fourth of July Patriotic Celebration in partnership with the City of New Braunfels. The Museum presents programs such St. Nicholas Eve and Fiesta Patria celebrations.
In 2009, Sophienburg Museum and Archives proudly became the anchor for the Sophienburg Hill Historic District to help protect the rich architectural history of New Braunfels. As proof of the Association’s dedication, the Emmie Seele Faust Memorial Library was fully restored to its original historical splendor.
The Sophienburg continued to be recognized for excellence in protecting the history of New Braunfels. In 2017, the Sophienburg received two Texas Historical Commission honors: a Historical Site designation for Sophienburg Hill, and a Recorded Historical Landmark designation for the Emmie Seele Faust Library.
This year, the Sophienburg Memorial Association celebrates 90 years of preserving New Braunfels History. The Sophienburg Museum and Archives is an integral and vital part of New Braunfels. “Guardians of History, Keeper of the Treasures and Stewards of the Stories”.
Join us in celebration, Sunday, October 8, 2023, on the campus of the Sophienburg Museum and Archives, 1-4 p.m. All are invited.
Sources: Sophienburg Museum & Archives; LaVerne Pearce; Nancy Classen; Anna Lee Hicks.