By Myra Lee Adams Goff
“Sprechen Sie sausage?” I love it! It’s this year’s Wurstfest advertising gimmick. I want to add another expression for those of you that are so inclined: “Sprechen Sie history?” Well, maybe not, but if you are interested, read on. A good way to find out what Wurstfest is all about is to read the book “Wurstfest, New Braunfels, Texas; The First Fifty Years” by two long-time Opas, Alton Rahe, with photographs chosen by Darvin Dietert. This book was written to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Wurstfest.
Let’s take a walking trip through the Wurstfest grounds beginning at the entrance on Landa St. Outside of the gate to the left is a historical marker dedicated to Wm. Meriwether, the first to purchase the property from the Veramendi family. The marker, however, commemorates Meriwether’s invention of snake wire fencing. Right behind this marker stands the Maibaum Maypole dedicating the 150th Anniversary of New Braunfels by the NB German-American Society. It depicts 20 important German contributions to the city.
To your right outside of the gate is a brick building that was once the Landa Power and Light Company. Landa installed generators in the building run by water power and sold electricity to the community. Also on our right is the rock, original Landa Flour Mill building.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE AREA:
The property on which Wurstfest finally located belonged to Maria Veramendi Garza and her husband, Rafael Garza. Maria originally inherited it from her father and then sold the 480 acre Comal Tract to Wm. Meriwether from Tennessee in 1847. In three years, Meriwether’s slaves dug a canal parallel to Landa Park Drive, continuing into the millpond and then spilling down several tail races or spillways into the Comal Creek (now considered the Comal River). Here he set up a sawmill and gristmill, and later a cotton gin, using water power. The only remnant of Meriwether’s mill structures is the Meriwether Mill House at 133 Landa, behind you to the left.
In 1860, Wm. Meriwether sold his holdings to Joseph Landa. Landa and his son, Harry, eventually operated flour and cottonseed oil mills, an ice company and an electric light company, all using hydro-electric power. Landa sold the entire operation in 1925 to J.E. Jarrett who soon declared bankruptcy. Dittlinger acquired Landa Roller Mills and Feed Mills from a bank in Dallas that had obtained the mill in bankruptcy. The rest of the property was closed in 1933, and in 1936 the city acquired the land that would become Landa Park. The city purchased the Cotton Oil Mill in 1946. The Wurstfest Association later purchased the Landa/Dittlinger Roller Mill property.
BACK ON OUR TOUR:
Looking behind you from the Landa Street entrance is a Landa Industries warehouse where a railroad spur from the IGN main railway crossed Landa Street and followed the path you are now walking. The spur ended at Elizabeth Street and had several smaller spurs providing access to some of the buildings. The tracks were removed from the grounds in 1978.
Continue through the gate and you will see the millpond on the left and at the end of the millpond, the spillway gates on the left and the spillway on the right. At one time there were as many as four waterfalls or tail races generating hydroelectric power for the mills and plants. The two buildings on the left after the millpond are the Power Plant and Landa Steam Power Plant now owned by New Braunfels Utilities.
After passing the big tent, you will see the Wursthalle which was the Landa cottonseed storage for the Landa Cotton Oil Company. Next to the Wursthalle on the left is the Kleinehalle (which also includes Circle Arts Theater, the Wurstfest Offices and the Spass Haus) which was the Landa oil mill. The Landa Recreation Center was the Landa cottonseed oil storage building and the NB Park Department rock maintenance building was once the Landa cottonseed hull storage.
Rahe traces the beginning of the sausage festival to the present. Dr. Ed Grist, local veterinarian and NB meat inspector, was well aware of the fact that Comal County had an extraordinary number of companies and individuals who made their own sausage. In August of 1961 Dr. Grist presented his idea about a sausage festival to the City Commissioners and Mayor Joe Faust proclaimed the week of December 11-16 as Sausage Festival Week. A city sausage band organized for out of town advertising, and Joe Chapman, owner of the Smokehouse, mailed out 5,000 invitations to friends announcing the festival.
The first event was to be held in Landa Park, but because of rain, was moved to the National Guard Armory. It was then held in Landa Park for the next two years. In 1963 the festival moved to a downtown hole left by the burned out Eiband and Fischer building on the plaza (burned in 1947 and left that way for 16 years). 1967 began the move toward the present property. Half of Wursthalle was leased for the event and tents were set up on the grounds.
The not-for-profit corporation has enjoyed enormous success over the years and helps many organizations by allowing them to sell food and souvenirs. Speaking of souvenirs, Sophie’s Shop of the Sophienburg has a new pewter Christmas ornament, a spoon with the Wurstfest Opa. Every time you look at it hanging on your tree, you can remember the “Spass” (fun) you had at Wurstfest and “Ja, wir sprechen history”.