By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Research for this year’s July 4th article led me on an unexpected journey into the past. My aim was to inform you, the reader, of the history of a certain piece of property at the Main Plaza, observable when you watch the Sophienburg’s annual parade and Independence celebration. That property is the present UPS store that looks amazingly like a filling station. That’s because it was. Before that, it was a mercantile store, a tavern, a residence, and a fruit stand.
Here’s the history of that piece of property: In 1847 a small wooden building was leased to John Torrey in the exact location of that UPS building. The provision was that he would not open a saloon or a boarding house, and it became a mercantile store. John Torrey, along with his brothers owned a trading post near Houston on the Brazos River and he was the one that provided the provisions for the emigrants to New Braunfels from the coast. Guns and swords were sold to Prince Carl for his Mounted Company. Consequently, John Torrey accompanied the settlers to New Braunfels. He stayed here, engaged in many merchandise and industrial businesses and after industries on the Comal were destroyed by flood and once by fire, he left the town forever.
Now here’s where I got off the track. Seeking information about the Torrey Brothers’ Trading Co. near Houston, I ran across Dr. Ferdinand Roemer’s story in 1846 about his trip to the trading co. He describes the topography of that particular area of Texas as much like the region between Austin and New Braunfels. Instead of dense forests, there were prairies covered with mesquite trees and occasional oak groves. One evening, he and his companion observed a prairie fire which they thought the Indians had started in order to drive the game in a certain direction for hunting and to burn off dry grass.
The next morning the trading post appeared before them with seven rough unhewn log houses. The largest house contained pelts received in trade from the Indians, most of which were buffalo robes, buffalo rugs, and deer hides. Some of the buffalo hides were painted artistically, which determined their value. Some were sold in Houston and most shipped to the Northern States and Canada. Indians also brought in skins of raccoon, cougar, beaver, antelope, bobcats and gray wolves.
Mules were another article of trade by Comanches which they captured on their annual raids to the northern provinces of Mexico. These mules were tamed and sold as pack animals.
In another house were the goods that the Indians received in trade, mainly woolen blankets, woolen cloth colored scarlet and blue and used to make breech cloths. There was also printed calico for shirts and thick copper wiring used in making ornaments for arms, legs, and knives. Then there were glass beads, powder, lead, and tobacco.
The rest of the houses were dwelling places for those who worked at the post. There was even a gunsmith appointed by the government who repaired guns for the Indians.
The trading post was also where captives (particularly children) were brought by the Indians for sale. Roemer observed three boys for sale. Delicacies such as dried buffalo meat, and smoked buffalo tongue were for sale as well.
Now fast forward to our Main Plaza. Following Torrey’s store, around 1898, the small building became Ferdinand Simon’s Tavern and then Mrs. Yettie Wiedermann’s Plaza Fruit Store. Then in 1925 A.C. Moeller built a two-story brick building for the Wiedermanns right next to the fruit stand (now Comal Flower Shop). The Wiedermanns moved their business to the bottom floor of their new building and lived upstairs.
By 1932 the wooden building had been torn down and Al Leissner assumed the Texaco dealership that same year. Leissner ran the Texaco station until 1945 when he sold it to Al Schnabel.
NB is fortunate to have such an obvious center of town like Main Plaza, one that is recognizable and incidentally hard to navigate. That indeed makes it memorable. Remember, July 4th celebration at the Plaza at 9:15 a.m.