Monday Feb 19

History of New Braunfels

imageOur History

Get the basics on how this Hill Country city was settled.

Of course New Braunfels is known as a summer recreation destination, home to Wurstfest, and a live music mecca, but how much do you know about it's history?


The Early Settlers of New Braunfels, Texas

New Braunfels was the first Texas colony of German immigrants, established by Prince Carl (link) of Solms-Braunfels, Germany. Settlers first arrived to the point where the Comal and Guadelupe Rivers meet northeast of San Antonio, led by Nicolaus Zink (link), on March 21, 1845.

The "Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas", also known as the "Noblemen's Society" (in German: Mainzer Adelsverein) made arrangements for hundreds of German emmigrants to settle in Texas under it's Commissioner General, Prince Carl. The first immigrants began arriving by ship at the Texas coast in December, 1844. From there, they traveled inland by wagon train to land grants purchased by the Adelsverein. On the recommendation of Ferdinand Lindheimer (link), Prince Carl bought a parcel of land with strong freshwater springs from the Veramendi land grant (link) in March of 1845.

Throughout the spring of 1845, these first settlers built a fort, divided land, and began building homes and planting crops. Soon after founding the city, Prince Carl returned to Germany, leaving John O. Meusebach (link) as manager of the settlement. By summer the settlers numbered between 300 and 400, and the community had been incorporated under the name of Prince Solms's estate on the Lahn River in western Germany, Braunfels.

It has been speculated that the Adelsverein had plans to establish a German principality in this politically and militarily weak Republic of Texas, but those hopes were dashed when, in December of 1845, Texas was admitted to the United States of America.

As the Adelsverein teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, the second wave of immigrants bound for New Braunfels started arriving along the coast of Texas in 1846. Coinciding with the the arrival of this new batch of colonists came three unexpected disaters. First, with the beginning of the Mexican-American war between the Unites States and Mexico, the oxcart teamsters who had been contracted to transport the German immigrants and their belongings were diverted to the south Texas coast to help with the war effort. At the same time, extraordinary rains brought extreme flooding to the creeks and rivers between the Texas coast and New Braunfels, making the inland passage even more diffult than it already was. Then, several hundred immigrants died in a cholera outbreak.

The settlement's manager, Meusebach, stablized the finances of the community and encouraged settlers to establish communities in neighboring areas. The largest of the new settlements was Fredricksburg, Texas, some 80 miles to the northwest of New Braunfels.

Early Industry in New Braunfels

In New Braunfels, the German immigrants took advantage of the reliable water power afforded by Comal Springs and the community's position on the road between Austin and San Antonio. These settlers wasted little time establishing the supply and processing businesses-stores, millworks, and craft shops-that soon made New Braunfels the commercial center of a growing agricultural area. Many immigrants brought artisanal and craftsman skills as well as business acumen to their new home.

Within a decade of its founding New Braunfels had emerged as a manufacturing center supplying wagons, farm implements, leather goods, furniture, and clothing for pioneers settling the hills of Central Texas. The town also figured as an important market for the expanding agricultural frontier. Its markets supplied places as close as Bastrop and Victoria and as far away as New Orleans, New York, and the Nassau province of Germany. By 1850, the thriving New Braunfels, with a population of 1,723 people was the fourth most populous city in the state of Texas, behind Galveson, San Antonio and Houston.

Early Social and Cultural Progress in New Braunfels

Along with its economic progress, the social and cultural aspects of New Braunfels proceeded as well. Congregations of Evangelical Protestant, Lutheran, Methodist and Catholics were formed in the early years of settlement and each undertook the construction of their respective church buildings. In the late 1860's, blacks formed Baptist and Methodist churches.

The first school in New Braunfels, a church school, gave way to a city school, then, in 1858, a school district was incorporated with the New Braunfels Academy. To support this school district, citizens of New Braunfels voted unanimously to tax themselves. This was in 1858, eighteen years before Constitution of the State of Texas provided for such local taxation for local schools throughout the state. New Braunfels, Galveston, and Fredricksburg were among the first Texas towns to impliment taxation to support schools. Catholic schools were established by the Sisters of Divine Providence in the 1860's. Black schools were formed during Reconstruction and schools for Hispanics were built early in the 20th century. The New Braunfels Independent School District supported five schools in the decades before 1990.

The Germans of New Braunfels also organized the Germania Singing Society, the Schuetzen Verein, a shooting club, and one of the early Turnvereinsqv or athletic clubs. All of these served to maintain the ethnic and cultural identity of the original settlers for later generations. The Neu Braunfelser Zeitung, which issued its first edition in 1852, was published continuously in German until 1957; it later merged with the English language newspaper, the New Braunfels Herald and now the city has one newspaper, The New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung.

Growth of New Braunfels in the 1880's

By the early 1880's, with an estimated population of 2,000, New Braunfels was linked by telegraph and rail lines with Austin and San Antonio, allowing its new textile factories along the Comal River to ship cotton and woolen products. Electric street lights were installed in the 1990's, when the first telephone line also ran through New Braunfels. In 1898, a permanent courthouse was opened adjacent to the New Braunfels town square. By 1900 both the International-Great Northern and the Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroads provided freight and passenger service and had helped assure the future of New Braunfels as that of a manufacturing and shipping center.

Blessed with abundant water power, flour mills, textile factories, and processing plants for construction materials provided the basis for the steady growth of New Braunfels in the twentieth century. The estimated population of New Braunfels in 1912 was 3,165, but that was to double to 6,242 by the onset of the Great Depression. The textile industry in New Braunfels was nearly devastated by the depression and the boll weevil and took a long time to re-establish itself.

New Braunfels saw a new growth spurt during and immediately after World War II as the depression-era population nearly doubled again. Approximately 12,200 people resided in New Braunfels in 1952. New Braunfels twice reorganized its city government in the twentieth century to keep up with the growth and social changes. The original aldermanic form of government was replaced in 1920 with a mayor-commission system, later to be replaced by a council-manager form. In 1947, eight suburbs of New Braunfels were incorporated within its city limits.

Tourism Comes to New Braunfels

The twentieth century brought tourism as a major industry to New Braunfels. As water and steam were replaced with electrical power in the late 1800s, land along the Comal and Guadalupe rivers within the city limits became available for public use. By 1936 the city had reserved much of this land for parks by purchasing Cypress Bend and Landa parks. Landa Park had first opened in 1899 as a private resort area, and, promoted by the International-Great Northern Railroad, had begun to develop as a tourist destination for weekend excursions from San Antonio.

Tourism in New Braunfels accelerated in the decades following World War II, when Interstate Highway 35 was completed and when local merchants and investors began to capitalize on the natural and historic attractions offered by the city and its environmen, particularly the recreational potential of the Guadalupe River and, after 1964, of Canyon Lake.

The opening of Natural Bridge Caverns and Wurstfest, a German-heritage celebration, in the early 1960s also facilitated the growth of a tourist industry that by the mid-1980s supported some thirty hotels and motels, as well as resort condominiums, around the city and Canyon Lake.

Post-War Growth in New Braunfels

A roughly 30 percent increase in the population of New Braunfels for several decades after World War II was fueled by a combination of tourism and the continued vitality of the industrial secor of New Braunfels. The proximity of New Braunfels to San Antonio was another factor in the growth of the city, with Comal County becoming part of the San Antonio Metropolitan Statistical area in 1973.

With textile and construction-materials producers leading the way in employment, by the mid-1980's, New Braunfels had fourteen major industries that had more than 75 employees. Growth was fueled by seven major financial institutions.

In the 1970 census New Braunfels registered 17,859 residents; in 1980 it posted a gain to 22,402. Hispanic-surnamed residents constituted 34.3 percent of the population and blacks 1.6 percent. In 1990 New Braunfels had a population of 27,334 and extended into Guadalupe County. The population grew to 36,494 in 2000.