By Tara V. Kohlenberg —
Who would believe that a Union soldier residing in New Braunfels for a mere three months could leave a lasting mark on our city? Nicolaus Dittlinger did just that.
In December of 1865, Nicolaus Dittlinger arrived in New Braunfels with his wife and youngest child, taking a room at the Schmitz Hotel. Dittlinger, originally from Germany, made his home in Cape Giradeau, Missouri, where he and his brother built and operated their business before the Civil War. It was at the end of the war that he contracted tuberculosis and headed south to warmer weather in hopes of regaining his health. That never happened. Nicolaus Dittlinger died in March 1866 at the age of 38. Before she departed for Germany, his wife had a limestone marker cut and inscribed with his name. An iron enclosure was placed around the grave, and she planted a wild rose in the enclosure. The rose bloomed faithfully each April. Mrs. Dittlinger died a short six years later.
Wait … what kind of legacy is that? Dead in three months? Family in Germany?
Fast forward a few years. After graduating from school, the orphaned Dittlinger son, Hippolyt, borrowed money in 1876 to travel from Germany to the United States to check on his father’s holdings. After learning that everything was decimated by the war, he traveled to New Braunfels to pay respects to his deceased father. The April Texas weather was beautiful and very inviting. Hippolyt decided to stay. Mr. Schmitz, the owner of the hotel where his father had died, offered him a place to stay until he could find work.
Hippolyt found employment in Scherff’s Store on the Plaza doing a little of everything. He slept in the store as a night watchman, then in the morning, groomed and fed the horses. He loaded beer barrels, swept the store, helped customers and after closing, kept the books. He then moved to Tips, Clemens and Faust Mercantile where he became a partner. The twenty-year partnership was very successful. What began as a general merchandise store, grew to include a grist mill and cotton gin. In 1887, H. Dittlinger, Peter Faust, and John Faust petitioned the city council to run a cable from Clemens Dam on the Comal River to power the mill. The grist mill grew into a real flour mill. The cotton gin, run by the same power, prospered and grew into an export business based in New York.
Dittlinger Mills (now ADM) was established in 1886 by Hippolyt Dittlinger and Peter Faust. Dittlinger bought Faust out in 1901. The mill was originally water powered, obtaining its power from Clemens Dam across the Comal River. Take-off from the water turbine was by a metal rope drive, one of the longest known in the United States, comprising a loop about 1500 feet long, extending from the north end of the dam across the river to the mill on the south side. The mill was changed to diesel power in 1914 and eventually completely changed to electric power.
By 1930, Dittlinger Mills bought the retired Landa Flour and Feed Mill (now part of Wurstfest grounds). Dittlinger re-tooled the Landa Mill entirely to process poultry and stock feed, greatly increasing the feed production capacity.
In 1904, Hippolyt took his wife and children to meet his remaining sister and aunts in Germany. He was taken with the 2000-year-old buildings erected by the Romans that were still standing strong. He recognized lime mortar as a very important building material. Once back in New Braunfels, he and his engineer studied how to develop a lime plant, just like the one his father Nicolaus had built in Missouri.
The lime plant opened in 1907. Dittlinger hired migrant laborers from Mexico to work the plant, providing them with year-round work. The company built small houses to replace their tents and shacks. The Lime Company also built a combination church/school, two stores and a dance hall. The community was known as Dittlinger Village or La Calera. He was also instrumental in organizing Holy Family Church.
In 1925, the Dittlingers travelled to Rome for the Holy Year or Jubilee as declared by Pope Pius XI. While in Europe, they visited Schloss Braunfels, the castle of Prince Carl’s family, where they received a print of Prince Carl to “hang in our museum.” Hmmm. New Braunfels didn’t have a museum. The Dittlingers graciously kept it until a museum could be built just across the street from their very grand home in 1933. The generosity of the Dittlingers toward the Sophienburg Memorial Association over the years has been incredible. Hippolyt, known as the “father of industry in New Braunfels” died in 1946 at the age of 87.
The Dittlinger Family’s love of New Braunfels was visible again in 1967 when Mr. & Mrs. Alfred Liebscher and Bruno Dittlinger gave $80,000 in memory of their parents, Mr. & Mrs. Hippolyt Dittlinger, for the construction of the new modern library on a lot adjacent to the museum and Emmie Seele Faust Library. The Dittlinger Memorial Library served the city of New Braunfels for thirty years before becoming the home of the Sophienburg Museum & Archives.
Oh, yes, remember that wild rose? In 1985, while conducting a survey/inventory of all cemetery headstones to be published in a book, there was a rose bush growing on the grave of Nicolaus Dittlinger. Turns out, it was a very rare antique rose. Cuttings were taken and propagated, with the first Dittlinger Rose bushes planted around the library in 1993 and again when the new library was built. I thought it sad that none of those existed anymore. Then, I drove to the cemetery. There is an old, old wild rose growing on that grave — 156 years? That’s some legacy.
Sources: Sophienburg Museum & Archives
Caption: Special guests at the Dittlinger Rose Dedication at the Dittlinger Memorial Library, April 1993. L-R: Bill Schumann, County Agent; Hippolyt Mengden, a Dittlinger grandson; Maria Liebscher, Dittlinger granddaughter; Christine Brown, who donated the roses; Ethel Canion; and Sue Ragusa.