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We owe a lot of what we know to Oscar Haas

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Almost 70 years ago (1947), local historian Oscar Haas was asked by the Texas State Historical Association to compile the origin and history of all name-places in Comal County. Haas’ histories and thousands of others are what make up the Handbook of Texas that can be accessed online. One of these places was the small settlement of Neighborsville across the Guadalupe River from New Braunfels. This settlement was founded by Jacob deCordova, who called himself “The Wanderer.” You will know why when you read his story his story.

Jacob Raphael de Cordova was born in Spanish Town on the island of Jamaica in 1808 to Raphael and Judith deCordova. His father was a coffee grower and exporter. During the Spanish Inquisition, many Jewish people were forced out of Spain if they did not convert to Catholicism. The Jewish deCordova family moved to Jamaica. Jacob’s mother died when he was born and he was reared in England by an aunt. In the 1820s, Jacob and his father moved to Philadelphia. Jacob was well educated and learned English, French, Spanish, German, Hebrew and several Indian dialects. He, no doubt, had a “gift of gab.” In Philadelphia, Jacob married Rebecca Sterling and they eventually had five children.

At age 25, he moved back to Jamaica and founded a newspaper, the Kingston Daily Gleaner. He and his wife left there after three years and traveled to New Orleans where he became a merchant, shipping goods to Texas during and following the Texas Revolution. His next “wandering” took him to Galveston, and then to Houston. Here he was elected a representative for Harris County to the Legislature of the State of Texas. After losing the election for his second term, he moved to Austin and then began traveling all over Texas acquiring land to sell. He had a land agency with his brother that surveyed and performed land transactions. It was one of the largest to operate in the Southwest. DeCordova was hired to lay out the town of Waco in 1848-1849. He was also an expert map maker and compiled a map of Texas in 1849 with cartographer Robert Creuzbaur. He was an avid writer of immigrant guides and travel books, and also published newspapers, the Texas Herald out of Houston and the Southwestern American out of Austin. He became well-known by giving lectures all over the United States and even Europe, to attract settlers.

In the 1850s the family moved five miles outside of Seguin where he built a large house for his wife and children. He named it “Wanderer’s Retreat.” A retreat became necessary during the Civil War when he experienced financial issues. The land business slowed and he had overextended himself. He died in 1868 and was buried in Kimball on his land near the Brazos River.

There are many places in Texas named for or by deCordova. There is the De Cordova Bend on the Brazos (south of Fort Worth), the De Cordova Bend Dam (Lake Granbury), Cordova Road (Guadalupe County), Jacobs Creek (Comal County), Cordova Creek (Comal County), Jacobs Well (Hays County) and then there is Rebecca Creek (Comal County) named after deCordova’s wife, Rebecca, Wanderer’s Creek (north Texas running into the Red River), and Phineas Creek, named for his brother (Brazos tributary). He was known as the “Texas Champion Creek-Namer.”

Neighborsville

By 1846, when the legislature formed Comal County, immigrants arriving looked for land. Besides New Braunfels and Comaltown, many settlements emerged in the county outside of New Braunfels. Because of the good farm land on the east side of the Guadalupe River from New Braunfels, settlements developed such as Hortontown (Horton’s League). On the same side of the Guadalupe River as Hortontown but to the south, Neighborsville was established.

In the early years, if you were traveling up from the coast to New Braunfels, you would travel on the east side of the Guadalupe River, crossing into New Braunfels at the Nacogdoches Road crossing or you would use the ferry a little farther up river at the confluence of the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers. Seguin Street (avenue now) was the main street in New Braunfels but you had to cross the Guadalupe first to get there.

Now let’s look at DeCordova’s connection to Neighborsville. In 1851, the land that became Neighborsville was surveyed and a map made by J. Groos for Jacob deCordova. The location was across the Guadalupe River from New Braunfels and deCordova was considered the founder. The land was actually laid out into acreage plots. There were five streets originally laid out that included Benner, Broadway (still there), Rusk (still there), Shaw (changed to Churchill) and Jacobs (changed to Wright). There was also a Seguin Street that changed to Horton Avenue but I drove over to the area and could not find it. The Nacogdoches Road or Camino Real ran right through the middle of the area and the Guadalupe River with the river crossing was one of the boundaries. DeCordova thought the settlement would be ideal right on the Guadalupe River near the Camino Real crossing. If you drive on Churchill Drive, you will see the El Camino Real de las Tejas National Historic Trail signs showing the road as an original route where the first immigrants crossed the river. (You can see the signs also on Nacogdoches Road.)

In order to imagine the area as deCordova saw it, you have to remove the old Mission Valley Mill Plant, the railroad, Loop 337, and the US 81 and IH 35 north to south highways.

The land was situated in the northwest end of the Esnaurizer Eleven Leagues grant and was bound on the north by the Horton League. Hortontown was the next-door-neighbor. In 1830, General Antonio Esnaurizer petitioned the Governor of Coahuila and Texas for a grant of land. He wanted to establish farming and ranching between the San Marcos River and the Guadalupe River. Someone had to take possession of the land to survey and administer the grant. First, Juan Martin de Veramendi was appointed, then James Bowie and finally Jacob deCordova. The Esnaurizer grant begins in Seguin, follows the San Marcos-Austin Road almost to San Marcos, then follows the Austin-New Braunfels Road to the Guadalupe River. It then goes to a mile below McQueeney and then back up around the Clements and Branch leagues to Seguin. DeCordova received land as payment for his services.

Guadalupe County once extended north-east of the Guadalupe River right up to the Nacogdoches Road crossing but in 1853, thirty-one settlers from Neighborsville and Hortontown petitioned the legislature to be a part of Comal County. If you are looking for records between 1845 and 1853 for this area, you might try the Guadalupe County Courthouse.

“For $1 and in consideration for advancement of Religion and Education,” Jacob deCordova conveyed two acres of land for the St. Martin’s Evengelical Lutheran Church and Churchill School. This beautiful quaint little church can be seen as you drive down Loop 337 and at one time was located next to the Churchill School that is part of the New Braunfels Conservation Society campus. The church was moved to its current location in the Hortontown Cemetery in 1968.

In 1935, after seventy years, the bodies of Jacob and Rebecca deCordova were moved to the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, an honor afforded only to those who made an outstanding contribution to the state. Jacob deCordova was one of those citizens.

Jacob deCordova

Jacob deCordova