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Summer camps on the Comal

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Growing up in New Braunfels, I was well acquainted with the name Giesecke. I knew the names of all the watering holes from early age on – Landa Park pool, Camp Ulbricht, City Park (later Cypress Bend Park), Camp Warnecke, and Camp Giesecke. Camp Giesecke across the street from Camp Warnecke (now Surfenberg) changed its name to “The Other Place” long after I plunged into the icy 71 degree Comal River.

The name Giesicke is not an easily pronounced name. Like most German names, the accent is on the first syllable and it sounds something like “Gee sick ee”. Later owners changed the name from Camp Giesecke to The Other Place because tourists were constantly asking if they were at Camp Warnecke. “No, this is the other place.” And that’s what it became.

Fredrick Ernst Giesecke was owner of the 60 acres on the Comal River. He was born in Latium, Texas, on a farm near Washington-on-the Brazos in 1869. He was the son of Capt. Julius Giesecke, Fourth Texas Confederate Cavalry, and his wife Wilhelmina Groos. After the Civil War, Capt. Giesecke moved his family to New Braunfels in 1873. He became the technical manager of the New Braunfels Woolen Mills. After this mill declared bankruptcy, Capt. Giesecke became one of the owners of the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung and their bookkeeper. The Sophienburg is the owner of the original desk made by Jahn furniture maker for Julius Giesecke. When he moved out of the mill, he took the desk with him to the Zeitung office.

The house in which Julius Giesicke’s family lived is still standing at 276 E. Coll St. on the Comal River. It was built in 1881. Growing up near the Comal probably had an effect on Julius’ son, Fredrick. He entered school in New Braunfels after the move from Latium and graduated from the NB Academy in 1882. Then he entered the German-American school in San Antonio.

Fredrick enrolled in Texas A & M College and received his first degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1890. Throughout his college years, he was head of his class and maintained the highest military rank at A & M. He won both the physics and mathematics medals. During his senior year at age 19, Fredrick began teaching at A&M and became head of the department. When Fredrick married Hulda Gruene in 1891, he designed their home of the campus. Hulda Gruene was the daughter of Ernst Gruene, Jr., a prominent family in New Braunfels.

In 1910 Fredrick and Hulda purchased a 60-acre piece of property that that had been the Reeh farm. The location of the land can be described more easily using today’s landmarks. Across the river from New Braunfels and across from the old Woolen Mill, the Comal River makes a bend towards the Guadalupe River forming a peninsula. The property went all the way to San Antonio Street on the northwest side. This area later became The Other Place and Camp Warnecke property. Camp Warnecke became part of Schlitterbahn, making up the 60 acres. The Gieseckes would use the property as a family summer retreat. Since both sets of grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Ernst Gruene, Jr. and Mr. and Mrs. Julius Giesecke lived in New Braunfels, this would give the four children an opportunity to be with their grandparents.

At first, the only way to get to the town of NB from the Gieseke property was by a suspension foot bridge until a permanent bridge was located in the same spot at Garden St. The bridge still stands.

Professor Giesecke started a summer school on the 60 acres for A & M and UT students to prepare them for college entrance or for those with a deficiency. On the peninsula, the family and faculty lived in small cabins and Giesecke built his house on the tallest point on the peninsula. That house is the only one still standing and has never been flooded. It is on The Other Place property. The students stayed in tents on the river and helped in the construction of small cabins that were added gradually.

Some of you might remember the water wheel (gone with a flood) at the rapids area at Camp Warnecke. In the late 1800s, Harry Landa had created the first electric power plant. Electricity did not extend across the Comal River into the Gieseke property. Gus Tolle furnished the water wheel and his wheel was to furnish electric power for lights. Giesecke borrowed a motor and generator set from A & M College the first summer. The light produced from the waterwheel was unsatisfactory because the paddles were water-logged on one side and the wheel ran with a lope that caused the lights to dim and flare up with each revolution. The second year, Harry Landa had a power line run to the camp from his power plant at the entrance of Landa Park.

Drinking water was hauled from the headwaters of the Comal. Classes were held in the shade of the trees along the river where blackboards and seats were arranged according to the direction of the light. The A & M football squad trained there for two seasons under Coach Chas. Moran. (100th anniversary edition of the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung in 1952)

In 1912 Professor Giesecke left A& M College and accepted a position as head of the University of Texas, Austin, Dept. of Architecture. He wanted his three daughters to be educated there and also his son would be able to do graduate work. Aside from teaching at U.T. and running the summer school, Giesecke had time to study at the University of Illinois and receive his PhD.

Realizing that 60 acres was a lot of land, more than he needed, he sold all but four acres to Otto and Martha Warnecke, who developed the famous Camp Warnecke, home of the rapids. Eventually 103 cabins were built on this property plus a screened dance hall and a restaurant run by Martha Warnecke.

In 1927, Dr. Giesecke was back at A & M College and became the director of the Engineering Experimental Station. He was also a professor of architecture and appointed as the college architect. As architect he was responsible for designing over 15 buildings on campus, most of which are still standing.

When Dr. Giesecke died in 1935, his daughter Alma Hodges managed the property and moved from the Camp Giesecke home that had been turned into a motel, to the original Julius Giesecke home on E. Coll St. She managed Camp Giesecke until 1946 when the camp was sold to Dr. Stanley Woodward, Jack Krueger, and William Hovestadt. The new owners named the camp “The Other Place”. The present owner is Woodward’s daughter, Sarah Shea and her husband Barry.

As I have said many times before, “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.”

The water wheel on an early postcard of Warnecke’s.

The water wheel on an early postcard of Warnecke’s.