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Waisenhaus Orphanage on the Guadalupe

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Do you believe everything you read? Do you believe everything you hear? If your answer to these two questions is “no,” you must be thinking like an historian. A good historian reads material and thinks “there must be more” and hears information and thinks “where’s the proof?”

One of our best historians is Brenda Anderson Lindemann who has provided us with lots of history of Comal County. Her latest interest is the first orphanage in Texas, the Waisenhaus, located 3.5 miles from New Braunfels, on the Guadalupe River. Most New Braunfelsers know about the origin of the orphanage. There were 76 orphans to begin with that were left stranded here in New Braunfels because their parents either died at the coast, on the way to the colony, or in New Braunfels. Nineteen orphans were not claimed by family or friends and three of these died. The remaining sixteen orphans were raised by Pastor Louis Cachand Ervendberg and his wife, Louisa. We know the “fairytale” version of the orphanage story and how totally happy they all were.

As time has gone by, different historians have added to the knowledge of the orphanage. Brenda is going to tackle a segment of the story that has been little researched and even less written about. She is looking for information about what became of the orphans and who their descendants were.

Brenda has a personal interest in finding out about the orphans because she is the great-great-granddaughter of one of them, Lisette Schmidt. She knows quite a bit already about Lisette from family history. She wants to know the personal stories of the orphans because she is not satisfied with the fairytale version. She wants to know the real human story. Lisette Schmidt came to Texas with her parents, one brother and three sisters. All of the family members died in 1846 except Lisette and her sister, Nathalia. These two sisters were raised at the orphanage by the Ervendbergs.

According to family tradition, Louisa Ervendberg became their second mother. Lisette later married Hans von Specht, who had been hired by the Adelsverein to be the bodyguard for Prince Carl in Texas. Specht became an Indian fighter with the Texas Rangers. In 1853 he married Lisette Schmidt. He leased land at Honey Creek. A flood in 1869-70 destroyed their home and the couple moved to Spring Branch. On their 922-acre ranch, they raised 10 children. The couple was well-known in the Spring Branch area.

The following is a short synopsis of the Waisenhaus story: In the spring of 1846, a cholera epidemic broke out along the coast where the immigrants were waiting to be transported to NB. The conditions were so bad that the disease spread like fire over dry grass. Many headed by foot to the colony, bringing this dreaded disease with them. Hundreds died along the way. Many died in NB and were buried in the New Braunfels or Adelsverein Cemetery in a mass grave. As a result of this highly contagious disease, 76 orphans were left to fend for themselves without parents. Brenda has the names of all of these orphans.

The pastor of the German Protestant Church and his wife were given the responsibility of taking care of the orphans. The Adelsverein built a small log house for the pastor on the property of the present First Protestant Church. The orphans were housed in a large tent next to the pastor’s cabin. This must have been one of those very large supply tents provided by the Adelsverein. All but 19 of the orphans were claimed and in a short time, three more had died. While Louise Ervendberg was taking care of her own children and the orphans, Pastor Ervendburg was busy supervising the construction of a log church for his flock.

In 1848, Ludwig Bene, Hermann Spiess, and Louis Ervendberg incorporated the West Texas Orphans Asylum for the protection and support of orphan children. A piece of property was purchased outside of town and a building to house the orphans was constructed. Early stories of the orphanage were filled with happy fairytale like stories. Here they did have a home, not a tent. There was plenty of food. Family stories of celebrations and happy traditions began. The boys were taught agriculture and the girls learned homemaking skills. Wonderful birthday celebrations and gift giving became a part of their life. They were schooled by the pastor.

Pastor Ervendberg was experiencing financial trouble. When he accepted the position of pastor of the settlers, his salary was to be from the “good will” of the congregation and supplemented by the Adelsverein. But the Adelsverein declared bankruptcy in 1847 and could no longer supplement his salary. In four years, the total amount of congregation money was $200. In 1850 Ervendberg submitted his resignation to the church. By submitting his resignation, perhaps the pastor thought it would help the congregation see the necessity of a steady salary. This did not work.

After advertising for a pastor, Gustav Wilhelm Eisenlohr of Ohio submitted his application to the German Protestant Church. At the last minute, Ervendberg submitted his name also as a candidate. The vote was 70 for Eisenlohr and 28 for Ervendberg. Sadly, Pastor Louis Ervendberg left the church that he had founded.

According to family tradition, he took refuge at the Waisenhaus. Now he would have more time to work with his botany experiments. Ervendberg’s longtime friend, Ferdinand Lindheimer ordered silkworm eggs from botanist Asa Gray at Harvard for Ervendberg. As a result, he mastered the technique of producing silk. Another project was growing tobacco and making cigars.

But the fairytale was about to break apart. There was trouble between Louisa and Louis. Louisa noticed that Louis was taking a strong interest in one of the orphans, Franzeska Lange, age 19. When confronted with this possibility, the couple decided that the best course of action they could take was to both leave the orphanage and start life over together. The plan was that Louisa was to take the three girls and travel to Illinois. Louis was to keep the two boys with him, close up their business at the Waisenhaus, and join them in Illinois. While Louisa kept her end of the bargain, Louis left the orphanage with the two boys and took Franzeska with him to Mexico. It was not only an end of the marriage, but an end of the orphanage. So much good can be attributed to both the pastor and his wife, we should honor the positive aspects of their lives.

Brenda Anderson Lindemann will be the featured speaker at the September 10th meeting of the Ferdinand Lindheimer Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. The meeting is at 9:30am at Forke Store at Conservation Plaza, 1300 Churchill Drive, here in New Braunfels. The meeting is open to the public. She will be speaking about the orphans and would like to meet with anyone who thinks they are descended from one them. Here is the list of the 19 orphans:

Augustine Bitter, Daniel Fromme, Christian Guenther, Wilhelmine Koether, William Kretzer, Heinrich Kreikenbaum, Franzeska Lange, Louise Lange, Lisette Schmidt, Nathalie Schmidt, Carolina Schuessler, Anna Marie Stendebach, Peter Walter, George Walter, Fredrich Walter, Philipp Heinrich Weber, Friedrich Weber, John Wessinger, and Lena? (later Spiess).

This historical project has just begun.

Photo of Lisette Schmidt Specht and Hans von Specht from the Brenda Lindemann photo collection.

Photo of Lisette Schmidt Specht and Hans von Specht from the Brenda Lindemann photo collection.