By Myra Lee Adams Goff
As far as New Braunfels history is concerned, the most important historic place is and always has been the Sophienburg Museum and Archives. This organization is now working on historic designations for the site of the Sophienburg Hill.
Here’s a thumbnail history of the place: In 1842 a group of German counts and princes met at Biebrich on the Rhine and formed the Adelsverein, or the Society for the Protection of German Immigration in Texas and later known as the German Emigration Company. Their purpose was to relieve over-population in Germany and establish a market for German goods. Besides, the newly established Republic of Texas was very generous in awarding land to immigrant agents.
A member of the Adelsverein, Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, was chosen as commissioner-general to go to Texas to buy land. He was born in 1812 near Braunfels in Hanover, Germany. He was definitely an aristocrat trained in the military. After several failed attempts at purchasing suitable land, he bought the Comal Tract from the Juan Veramendi heirs, sight unseen for $1,111. By this time, the emigration movement back in Germany was well on its way and the first emigrants from Germany had arrived on the Texas coast.
On March 21, 1845, Prince Carl and the first group of immigrants to Texas crossed the Guadalupe River. He helped the settlers set up their temporary location on the cliffs overlooking the Dry Comal Creek where the Sts. Peter and Paul Church property is now located.
Needing a separate area for a fort and headquarters of the Adelsverein, he chose a plot of land on a slightly elevated hill south of the township. “South” in the 1840s referred to the area that we now describe as the land on the south side of Academy Street. This plot of land was known as the Vereinsberg. In German, Verein means “organization” and “berg” means “hill”. Nicholas Zink, an engineer, was chosen by Prince Carl to plat the land of the town and set up land for the headquarters of the Adelsverein.
Prince Carl named the proposed building that was to be on this property “Sophienburg.” Notice the spelling. Since “berg” in Vereinsberg means hill and “burg” means castle, a confusion was born about the property being berg or burg. Obviously the prince had a dream of a castle for his intended back in Germany, Princess Sophia of Salm-Salm.
Prince Carl wanted to build a burg on a berg. She rejected the berg and the burg because she never came to Texas. Enough already!
On the Vereinsberg, the Prince resided in a hut of woven branches until a double block house could be built by the Smith brothers of Seguin.
Dr. Ferdinand Roemer described these first buildings this way: “All the houses of the Verein officers lay on a hill which arose to a height of eighty feet in the immediate rear of the city. The most prominent house was a one-story wooden building about fifty feet long, whose shingle-covered roof supported the pillars projecting on both sides, thus forming a gallery. It contained three rooms, a large middle room or hall and a small room on each side.” He further stated that the middle room was the assembly hall and dining room and furnished as a pleasant resort.
Two large folding doors opened to the north and south, allowing a gentle wind to circulate freely through the building. The view from the north side looked out over the scattered houses in the town and the forested hills in the background. The view from the south was uninhabited prairieland. This first building was located on the property where the present Sophienburg Museum is located.
In back of this main building was another house containing a kitchen and the dwellings of several petty officers of the Verein. Close by was another log house for the men who had charge of the Verein’s mules and horses. There was a pen made of strong posts for the animals. Across the pen another log house served as a magazine and warehouse.
Magazine Street as we know it, was named after the Verein’s magazine which housed the ammunition.
Immediately behind the buildings was a gentle open pasture which served as a common pasture for horses and cattle of the residents of New Braunfels.
Prince Carl left to go back home to Germany on May 15, 1845. Before he left, he celebrated a lavish dedication for the Sophienburg. He supposedly laid a cornerstone, which, incidentally has never been found. He drew a furrow in the earth where he felt the headquarters building should be built. It never was. During the ceremony, salutes were fired from the four cannons and in the absence of a German flag, the flag of Austria was raised. Meanwhile, down on the Plaza, settlers assembled and raised the Republic of Texas flag. They then organized two companies for the purpose of protecting the settlers against Indian raids. Was this an indication that the settlers were really rejecting the aristocracy? The Austrian flag flew where the aristocrats were partying on the hill and the Republic of Texas flag was flown by the settlers on the plaza.
Prince Carl was only in New Braunfels during this trip from March 21 to May15, 1845, a little over two months. Did he want to get back to Princess Sophia or get away from the financial woes that were building in the colony? The Verein had heavy expenditures which resulted from advancing money to a great number of immigrants in New Braunfels, the transport from the coast, and salaries for the officers and officials.
John O. Meusebach was chosen to take the place of Prince Carl and when he arrived, the Prince had already left. When Meusebach looked for a castle (burg) he found instead a double log cabin on a hill (berg). You see, even Meusebach was confused about the berg or burg.
Meusebach discovered that the Verein had a $19,000 debt. He inherited a great financial problem and the settlers were not happy with the situation. An insurrection in New Braunfels took place where a mob armed with clubs and pistols came up the Vereinsberg to Meusebach’s headquarters and demanded him to fulfill the promises made to the colonists. Resolutions were made but financial problems continued.
The Adelsverein eventually declared bankruptcy and various lands were liquidated including the Hill property.
Over the years the property known as the Hill underwent many owners, many mortgages and litigations. Eventually the property belonged to Johanna Runge of Travis County who sold it to the Sophienburg Memorial Association in 1926. S.V. Pfeuffer, president of the association, bought the property from Mrs. Runge for $5,000. And what happened to the main building? Christian Klinger, an original settler, lived there selling small goods and telling stories until the building collapsed in 1886 as a result of the storm that destroyed Indianola.
These excerpts are from Fritz Goldbeck’s poem, “The Sophienburg” was translated by Ingrid M. Ingle:
The prince was not a business man
He wanted the best for his people
That was unusual
The upper class is not always like that
For that he was not forgotten
Even so he rests long since in his grave.
His monument can still be seen
Here in the prairie country.