By Tara Kohlenberg, Sophienburg Executive Director —
You might remember the article written a couple of weeks back about Karl Klinger and Sophienburg Hill, where I mentioned that the old Sophienburg Verein Headquarters was destroyed by a storm. It wasn’t just any storm and now you get to hear the rest of the story…
In 1844, Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels sought a safe landing place on the Texas coast line for the colonists who would be arriving soon from Germany. He found a beach on Matagorda Bay which he named “Carlshafen” (Carl’s Harbor), after himself. Indian Point was founded short way from that beach. Because of the naturally deep harbors, Indianola, as it would come to be known, grew out of an “immigrant camp” to become a major port in Texas. Thousands of immigrants from Europe passed through the port, including those traveling to New Braunfels. Within 25 years of its founding, the town had stagecoach service, railroad service and major steamship service. Goods of all kinds, cattle, canned meats, silver bullion, even camels passed through the port. In 1875, the booming port town, with a population of nearly 6000 had a major change of luck. The Hurricane of 1875 slammed into Indianola, with winds reported at 130 miles per hour. Over 270 lives were lost and three quarters of the town was destroyed.
Some eleven years later, Indianola was only partially recovered/rebuilt when it was almost completely obliterated by a Category 4 Atlantic cyclone on August 20, 1886. Residents had little warning and no sea wall. Winds were clocked at 102 m.p.h. at the Signal Service before the building collapsed, igniting a fire from a kerosene lantern inside. It may well have looked like the end of the world. Winds blew, fire raged, and a tidal surge of eight feet submerged the town. Hundreds died. The Galveston Daily News received a letter via ship captain pleading for help, “Dead bodies are strewn for 20 miles along the bay. Send us help, for God’s sake.” Indianola never recovered.
Some 150 miles inland, the powerful storm made her presence known for several days afterward. Even New Braunfels experienced her wrath. While researching information for the Sophienburg Hill marker dedication, I ran across this English translation of a New Braunfels Zeitung article:
New Braunfels Zeitung – August 26, 1886 — STORM: Not since September 12, 1869 has our city experienced a storm such as we had on Friday, August 20, 1886. This previous one was confined to the city limits, while this one was going through the middle of the state, 250 miles wide, with wind speeds of 50 miles and gusts as high as 85 miles per hour.
The day before, we regretted that the strong SE winds had blown the clouds away and we were happy that at 5am the winds from the E began to bring rain, unsuspecting that this would be the forerunner of the arriving storm. With the winds changing from E to NE the force increased over the city and country. From 8 AM rain was pouring and an ever-increasing deluge. By 10 AM water was flowing in the streets and a broken wing of the Claessen windmill announced the ruin, like the rattle of passion week, mainly Good Friday. (an unknown analogy)
Twigs and branches were torn from trees, and shingles and metal roofs were flying through the air, until by noon the storm reached its peak. Whole trees with their roots were torn from the ground, metal roofs were curled and carried like paper hundreds of feet through the air. Houses and roofs collapsed like playing cards and match sticks. This went on until 3 PM. In the afternoon, the wind changed to the SE, gaining new strength: the destruction continued. Only then did individuals dare to clear through trees and debris to observe the destruction this storm had caused, and to protect the loved ones from further damage. And what a picture of destruction did they see – we can only report a fraction and some individual cases to our readers.
The tower of the Catholic Church tumbled; the freight depot was a pile of lumber. In Seguin street, Dr. Koester’s roof and gallery, Podewills’s roof and the balcony of Perryman’s house all destroyed. Jahn’s furniture shop was moved; the roof of Mrs. Klappenbach’s store, and parts of the Protestant Church, and from Bernhards’s addition all torn down. Mexican huts, parts of the carousel, Claessen’s windmill and a part of the stables are destroyed. On San Antonio street, the roof of Senator Pfeuffer’s new house was thrown to the market and the gable of Landa’s flour mill was torn down. Voelker’s gallery collapsed. Seele’s Hall was without a roof as well as Sippel’s ice house, and Hoelke’s storage building was blown over.
In Mill street the Knibbe’s house, Reinarz and Fedner’s roofs. In Comal street Emil Mergele and Julius Rennert’s roofs and buildings were damaged and W. Roether suffered great damage. In Castell street, the roof of Ludwig’s Hotel and Pfeuffer’s all but the office were turned over. John Sippel’s new house lost the roof and the Sophienburg changed from a ruin to a pile of rubble.
In Comaltown, the roofs of Matzdorf Hall, and Johann Mueller’s grainery and Mrs. Benner’s Store were destroyed. From the collapsing house at the former ferry, people fled just in time. Kessler’s farm lost a building because of fire, two others were damaged. In the cemetery, more than 20 headstones were toppled or destroyed.
According to the National Hurricane Center, the “Great Indianola Hurricane of 1886” is on record as the 6th most intense hurricane to ever hit the U.S. behind “The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935” at number one, followed by Camille (1969), Irma (2017), Katrina (2005) and Andrew (1992). We’ve recently seen what Harvey and Irma did. Can you imagine not knowing what was about to hit Indianlola? We’ve also seen the resiliency of people and their desire to help those in need. An October 1886 issue of the Neu Braunfels Zeitung listed more than twenty individuals that contributed to the Indianola emergency fund. No wonder the New Braunfels community is growing. We come from good people, inviting good people to come here.