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York Creek Cemetery: Endangered species

PHOTO CAPTION: Alwin Merz and wife, Annie Braune Merz. Alwin was a trustee when the cemetery was established.

PHOTO CAPTION: Alwin Merz and wife, Annie Braune Merz. Alwin was a trustee when the cemetery was established.

By Tara V. Kohlenberg

Change. One of the few constants of life. Because change is occurring rapidly in and around New Braunfels, rural cemeteries are endangered. Cemeteries and graveyards are sometimes the only connection to the history of an area. York Creek Cemetery is one of historical importance, as it documents the lives of early permanent inhabitants of the York Creek and Hunter communities.

Where the heck is York Creek, you might ask? The actual York Creek begins somewhere around Wegner Road in Comal County and travels southeast through Hays and Guadalupe counties before flowing into the San Marcos River. The creek naturally attracted farmers to the resource.

Along about 1867, a man by the name of Andrew Jackson Hunter settled his family on York’s Creek (now York Creek). He operated a thousand-acre cotton farm. The land was strategically located along a stagecoach line that ran from New Braunfels to San Marcos before the railroad.

In 1880, the townsite of Hunter was established with the arrival of the International and Great Northern Railroad. By 1883 a post office opened in Gustavus A. Schleyer’s general store, with the owner as postmaster. Schleyer’s store, a cotton gin, a grocery store, and a saloon were in operation there by 1884, when Hunter had about sixty residents. By 1890, Hunter was a bustling community of 200 that included two saloons, a barbershop, a blacksmith, a wagonmaker, a meat market, and a gin and gristmill.

York’s Creek Cemetery came into being on October 7, 1882, when Ernst Gruene, Jr. sold one acre of land to D. G. Posey, Frank Tate, and Charles Crawford to be used as a community cemetery. Posey, Tate and Crawford were the first cemetery trustees. The cemetery doubled in size in 1904, when William Simon, Sr. sold one acre of land to cemetery trustees, D. G. Posey, Charles Crawford, and William Simon, Jr. That is when they formed an association and officially named it York Creek Cemetery. They elected D. G. Posey, C. B. Crawford, and H. Wiegreffe as commissioners. A. J. Wallhoefer was elected secretary and treasurer. Currently, Mr. James B. Skarovsky and his wife, Lynn, are the only trustees of record.

There are over 180 burials recorded in York Creek Cemetery. According to existing records the earliest burial in the newly established cemetery was John B. Taylor, in 1885. Seven of the graves must have been moved to York Creek, as the death dates predate the cemetery. Most of those buried in the cemetery were born in Texas although at least 16 were born in Germany. Over half of those buried bear German surnames. Occupations of the deceased and their families included farmers, homemakers, laborers, railroad workers, blacksmiths, military, and saloon keepers. Hobart Gilmore, who was killed in 1972 Flood, is also buried there.

Walking through the cemetery, it is easy to see the various family groupings with over 68 different surnames (no way to write about all of them!). Some families are represented in greater numbers. The Soechtings have twenty-one graves. Friedrich Heinrich Andreas Söchting (German spelling) immigrated to Texas in 1852. While preparing to emigrate, he met Christine Katarina Gold, also planning to emigrate. Since married couples received special consideration, they married, before leaving Germany. They moved inland to New Braunfels and in 1866 they purchased 17.5 acres on York Creek. In 1878, they purchased an additional 338 acres for 4.90 an acre. They raised five children.. The children in turn had large families and most continued to farm in the area.

In 1850, Henry Rutherford Crawford and wife, Ann B. Wilson Crawford moved from Tennessee and purchased a 300-acre farm on Hunter Road. The couple established a school in the nearby Bonito settlement. Prior to that time, the first school was conducted in their home with their daughter, Lizzie Crawford, as teacher. Lizzie also taught at the Hunter School. In her will, she designated 500 to build the cemetery fence. Her brother, Charles B. Crawford was one of the first cemetery trustees.

Frances D’Gress Posey came to Texas at age 5 in a wagon train with his parents, brothers and aunts from Tennessee. The Posey family arrived in Texas at the Watson Campgrounds in Comal County (or could be Hays County) in early fall of 1853. That was their home for several years. Eventually, his parents, John Bennett and Amanda Posey, farmed cotton on 539 acres in the York Creek area. Frances D’Gress Posey married Mary Elizabeth Neill in 1869. Frances was a farmer and one of the first cemetery association trustees. He, his wife and many descendants are buried in the York Creek Cemetery. Posey land is now part of TXI.

John Dix Watson conveyed one acre of land in exchange for 1 for the nearby Watson School. It was located on Neill homestead land off Watson Lane. The school was closed in 1949 and combined with other schools as the Goodwin School. Mr. Watson was a Confederate veteran. He is one of seven veterans buried in York Creek

James Curtis Riley was a saloon keeper and started Riley’s Tavern in Hunter after the repeal of Prohibition. Riley’s Tavern has a Texas Historical Commission marker and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of the oldest taverns in Texas and reported to have the first liquor license issued after the repeal.

Alwin Merz was a trustee when the cemetery was established. He was a farmer married to Annie Braune Merz. Alwin’s parents were John and Elise Strempel Merz, who immigrated from Germany and farmed the York Creek area. Both couples are buried in the York Creek Cemetery.

York Creek Cemetery is a perfect example of a rural cemetery: quietly resting under huge oak trees, protected by a chain link fence with rock posts. Unfortunately, the two-acre cemetery is no longer located among the green pastures and farmhouses. The York Creek/Hunter community was sheared in half when Interstate 35 was built; and the cemetery is now surrounded by industrial warehouses just off one of the most travelled highways in Texas. Little has changed inside the York Creek Cemetery, but much has changed around this true Comal County treasure that holds so much history. It was designated a Historic Texas Cemetery by the Comal County Historical Commission 2022.

Sources: Handbook of Texas Online; The Comal County Historical Commission; Jim Skarovsky; Paul Soechting; Wilfred Schlather; John Coers; Karen Boyd.