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Where is Freiheit?

Photograph: First bowling lanes of the Freiheit Kegel Verein, circa 1910.

First bowling lanes of the Freiheit Kegel Verein, circa 1910.

By Tara V. Kohlenberg —

The summer I graduated from high school, I think the New Braunfels city limits signs boasted a population of 19,000. The county had a whopping 34,000. Since then, the city limits signs have moved further out, taking in the wonderful little communities that existed peacefully “in the country” for more than a hundred years. One such community is Freiheit.

Freiheit was first known as the San Geronimo School community. The school was in operation before 1883. In 1891, for the sum of one dollar, Henry A. Rose donated land for a school about three and a half miles northeast of New Braunfels. Located on the east corner of Prairie Lea Road (now Freiheit Road or FM 1101) and Barbarossa Road, the San Geronimo School was named for the nearby San Geronimo Creek. It was also known as Rose’s School. It was originally a one-room school, expanding to two rooms that taught first through 10th grades. In 1949, the San Geronimo School was consolidated into the Goodwin Rural High School along with Austin Hill, Church Hill, Hunter, Thorn Hill, and Watson schools. The San Geronimo school house was moved to the Goodwin Rural High School campus. It now resides at Conservation Plaza. That still doesn’t explain the Freiheit, but hang with me.

Near the San Geronimo School, at the crossroads of Eberling Lane and Prairie Lea Road, a store was opened in about 1898 or 1990 by Robert Schuenemann, the son of pioneer Fritz Schuenemann, to serve the farmers of the area. The community was known as Schuenemann Settlement. The store changed hands among Schuenemann family and ended up with Ernst Schuenemann. In 1906, Alonzo and Bessie Nolte bought the store. In January of 1910, the Noltes leased to the Freiheit Kegel Verein (Freheit Bowling Club) a 22-foot by 108-foot strip of land adjacent to their store at the cost of one dollar for 99 years. The Freiheit Kegel Verein drew up formal by-laws and elected officers in August of that same year.

This is where I tell you that the Freiheit Kegel Verein was a 9-pin bowling club. There are many differences between 9-pin and 10-pin bowling. Bowling began in 200-300 A.D. when German monks introduced bowling as a religious ritual, whereby one’s ability to knock down cones (Kegel in German) representing sins determining the need for penance. Martin Luther called the game “Kegels” and standardized it to nine pins. Nine-pin bowling was popular up until the late 19th century. Nine-pin was outlawed to stop people from gambling, but a tenth pin was added to get around the law and now we have 10-pin bowling.

In 10-pin bowling, each individual bowler throws ten frames, in the same order each time. The individual scores count. Pins are set up in a triangle where the goal is to knock down all pins. In 9-pin, it is a team sport with six team members who throw six frames. The pins are set up in a diamond configuration with the goal to knock down all but the center “kingpin”. The team captain decides the order based on the skill of each member since the frame is not reset until every pin is down. Only the team score counts. 10-pin alleys were found mostly in saloons and places frequented by men. 9-pin bowling alleys were most often built by clubs that catered to families. Freiheit Kegel Verein became synonymous with the area, and Freiheit, Texas was born.

The first Freiheit bowling building was built by club members of wood on cedar post foundation with wood shingles. The two lanes were constructed with 1-by-8 maple lumber purchased from Henne’s Hardware. Lighting was by kerosene lamps. Heat was provided by a potbelly stove. Cooling was provided by opening hinged push-open board windows.

In 1946, the club built a new, bigger building using the two old maple lanes installed in the new building along with two lanes that were purchased and moved from a San Antonio church basement. In 1963, the club broke ground on a third (current) building on adjacent acreage. Even though it is a modern facility they still use human pinsetters.

And the store? Noltes sold the store to Max and Bertha Meyers. After Hermann Ludwig returned from World War I in 1920, he and his wife Linda purchased the store from the Meyers and called it Ludwig’s Store. There was a store and a house with dance hall between. In 1927, the dance hall burned down. The store survived the depression and prohibition. In 1949, the Ludwigs tore down the old store and built the current Freiheit Country Store out of the salvaged materials. Both the store and the neighboring bowling alley often served as a polling place for Election District #16. In 1975, Kermit and Laverne Kraft bought the store, doing away with the dry goods part and promoting the bar. The next owners were Shorty and Rosie Haas in the ‘80s, who began serving burgers and promoting the family atmosphere. Freiheit Country Store was purchased by Mike Reimer and partners in 2006. They expanded the food menu and added music, becoming a restaurant and popular music venue. While being surrounded by the New Braunfels urban sprawl, the Freiheit Bowling Club and Freiheit Country Store continue to keep the community’s past alive.

Sources: Sophienburg Museum & Archives; Sophienburg Reflections Oral History Program #849; Freiheit Kegel Verein 100th Anniversary by Karen Saur Lackey; Rural Schools and Teachers in Comal County, 1854-1956 by Alton J. Rahe; www.tshaonline.org/handbook.