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What’s the connection between von Coll and Clemens Dam?

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Did you know that there was a connection between Jean Jacques von Coll, the Adelsverein’s bookkeeper, and the tube chute at Clemens Dam? It’s not inner tubes. Give up?

In my last column, I wrote about why von Coll came to Texas. (See Sophienburg.com, July 12, 2011) This one’s worth reading again before you go on. Here’s the rest of von Coll’s story and how the dam fits into this picture.

Hired by the Adelsverein to be the bookkeeper of the emigration organization, von Coll was one that led the first emigrants from the coast inland.

He wasn’t just the bookkeeper but also keeper of the supplies, a very important and dangerous responsibility.

One time, he squelched an attempt to change the name of the settlement from “New Braunfels” to “Comal”.

Prince Carl had named the settlement after his home, Braunfels, in Germany. The emigrants were unhappy that the Adelsverein had not kept its promises, so they decided to change the name.

Von Coll told them that supplies would be cut off to anyone who voted for “Comal.”

They backed off. You can just imagine his situation when supplies ran out.

Soon after arriving in 1849, von Coll married Margareth Schertz in the German Protestant Church by Rev. Louis Ervendberg. They had two daughters, Kathinka and Elizabeth.

They built their home on Coll Street, which still stands (across from Carl Schurz School) and is presently owned by Hollis Woosley. The home was furnished with intricately carved wooden doors, walnut floors, and furniture made by the craftsman J.J. Jahn. (Herald Zeitung, Dec. 14, 2006).

Von Coll owned a saloon on the Main Plaza. Ferdinand Roemer observed the place in 1847 and said, “Dispensing alcoholic drinks is a very lucrative business throughout Texas, and especially among the German immigrants. The taste for whiskey, which the German peasants and artisans unfortunately bring with them, is stimulated by the warm climate.”

Then the terrible tragedy happened in this very saloon.

A disgruntled settler came in complaining loudly about how the Adelsverein was a criminal organization. Von Coll took exception, the settler attacked him with his knife and when von Coll raised his arm to defend himself, the settler grabbed his gun and killed him.

Margareth von Coll was left a widow with two small children – 3-year-old Kathinka and 1-year-old Elizabeth.

She then married Heinrich Guenther who raised her two children as his own.

Time goes on and daughter Kathinka von Coll married William Clemens Sr.

Clemens was born in Germany and came to New Braunfels with his parents.

He became a successful banker, merchant, and politician.

In 1881, four wealthy Galveston merchants joined Clemens in purchasing the Torrey Comal water, since Torrey’s dam had been destroyed by a flood. (People used to be able to buy the water). This group constructed a dam and wheel chamber and the plan was to build a textile mill.

The mill never happened and the dam sat idle, but in 1887, the City of New Braunfels entered into an agreement with the owners to install a turbine in the penstock of the dam to pump water for the city’s first municipal waterworks. By 1907, as the city grew, the city purchased water from Fritz Klingeman at the headwaters of Comal Springs, assuring the local water supply.

Clemens was a successful businessman. He was one of the first stockholders and chairman of the board of the First National Bank organized in 1890.

His political life started after the Civil War with local political positions. He entered state politics, first as a member of the House of Representatives of the Texas Legislature in 1879 and then in 1890 as a State Senator.

So there you have it: the strange connection between Jean Jacques von Coll and the tube chute at Clemens Dam.

Von Coll and Clemens Dam

Inset: Senator William Clemens. Larger photo: The Clemens home on San Antonio Street (where the Handy Andy grocery store now stands). From left, Kathinka von Coll Clemens, Senator William Clemens, William Clemens, Jr. Walter Clemens in back, Johann Wilhelm Clemens, father of the Senator and their servant Charlie Bradley. Photos belong to descendant Mary Adele Schneider.