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Waisenhaus believed to be first orphanage

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Can you think of three words that would describe what was important to your mother’s generation? How about your grandmother’s? Go back one more generation and it’s easy because that generation of immigrant women spelled it out: “Küche, Kirche, und Kinder, or “kitchen, church and children”. Written accounts bear this out. We know a lot about women’s lives from Luise Ervendberg.

One hundred sixty five years ago on March 21, 1845, the first settlers crossed the Guadalupe, making their way to their first encampment in New Braunfels. Along with this group came Louis and Luise Ervendberg. Louis had been hired by Prince Carl to tend to the religious needs of the colonists. The Adelsverein organization that promoted the emigration project from Germany paid for the erection of a small log hut for the Ervendbergs and next to it the first log church of the German Protestant Church.

The next year from May to July of 1846 torrential rains flooded Texas. Sickness broke out on the coast while the emigrants were waiting for transportation inland. Some emigrants decided to walk to New Braunfels, only to be stranded on the other side of the flooding Guadalupe.

Some of the emigrants that arrived in New Braunfels brought disease to the settlement. To take care of the sick and not expose them to the other inhabitants, pavilions with thatched roofs were set up near the river. Dr. Koester and others checked on them, but nothing was available to help these poor souls. Church records show 348 deaths that year alone.

Meanwhile in town, 60 orphaned children were being taken care of by the Ervendbergs. Tents had been set up on the church property. Eventually all but 19 children were claimed by friends and relatives. These 19 children, ranging in age from four to fourteen, would become part of the Ervendberg family.

Bursting at the seams, Louis Ervendberg requested land so that he could raise food for the family. In 1848, the Western Texas Orphanage Asylum was incorporated by Ludwig Bene, Hermann Spiess, and Ervendberg. The building was of cedar timber filled in with sundried adobe brick and covered with pine clapboard. Three and a half miles from the middle of town on the Guadalupe River, the orphanage was known as the Waisenhaus, believed to be the first orphanage in Texas.

Due to salary issues, Ervendberg resigned as pastor of the church in 1850, devoting full time to his now family of 26. We have family accounts of life at the orphanage through descendants, mainly through daughter Augusta and the seven Timmermann sisters of Geronimo.

A school house was set up for both the boys and girls. Louis taught geography, language, math, religion, and science in particular. He had requested silk worms from his botanist friend Asa Gray, and thread and cloth was produced. They grew tobacco, rolled the leaves into cigars and sold them in town. The boys did all the farming. They fished and gathered clams from the Guadalupe, and hunted deer and wild game.

The girls learned from Luise the things that were important to her. Remember the Küche, Kirche und Kinder? They learned to cook and sew. They gathered grapes, wild plums and honey. Twenty small loaves of bread had to be baked each day and cheese and butter had to be made.

The Waisenhaus eventually was inherited by Kaleen Acker, a g-g-granddaughter of Luise Ervendberg. She and her husband Herbert Acker moved into the orphanage in 1954. When Kaleen died, Herbert stayed on. Recently he turned the property over to his niece, Ramona Acker Peck. She and her husband plan to renovate and preserve the Waisenhaus.

Although Ramona Peck is not an actual descendent of the Ervendbergs, she has another interesting connection. She is the g-g-granddaughter of one of the orphans, Christian Guenther. This turn of events is a plus for historic preservation.

Augusta Ervendberg Wiegraeffe shortly before her death in 1940.

Augusta Ervendberg Wiegraeffe shortly before her death in 1940.