The Comal River
The Comal River became famous when "Ripley's Believe It or Not" featured it as the shortest river in the world. The 2.5-mile river rises from Comal Springs in Landa Park where it fuels a swimming pool, past Schlitterbahn, and meets the Guadalupe River in the heart of downtown New Braunfels. The Comal is more popular with tubers and swimmers, while the Guadalupe is more choppy and rapid and is favored by canoeists. The Comal is one of the largest springs in Texas with 8 million gallons of water flowing through every hour. The water is pure, clear and cold, about 23-29 Celsius.
Spanish explorers 'discovered' Comal Springs in 1691 and found many Indian tribesliving there, who referred to it as Conaqueyadesta meaning 'where the river has its source'. In an excerpt from his diary, Espinosa, who accompanied Domingo Ramon's expedition in 1716, described it this way: "Groves of inexpressible beauty are found in this vicinity. The waters of the Guadalupe are clear, crystal and so abundant that it seemed almost incredible to us that its source arose so near. It makes a delightful grove for recreation."Comal is the Spanish word for basin, which somewhat describes the local geography. The springs were later visited in 1764 by French explorer St. Denis, and eventually became a stop on the El Camino Real.
When German immigrants arrived, they called Comal Springs Las Fontanas and purchased the 1,300 acres around it for $1,111. By 1860, they had installed several mills, wool and cotton factories, a paper mill, an ice plant and a brewery along the springs. They also harnessed the water for their public water supply and electrical power.
From 1896 until the Depression, the park was a private recreational area owned by Harry Landa. The City of New Braunfels then bought the springs in 1946 and turned it into a municipal park.
The June 22, 1844 issue of the New Orleans Republican carried the following news item concerning a mass German immigration project to Texas: "His Serene Highness, the Prince-zu-Solms-Braunfels, near relative of the King of Prussia, with four individuals on his way to Texas, as we hear, whether he repairs for the purpose of inspecting lands which have been sold or granted by the Government of the Country to an emigration's agent or speculator, who has been negotiating in Europe, for the transport of German Emigrants."
Prince Carl of Solms Braunfels landed at Galveston in July 1844 and traveled on horseback through the territory of Texas to acquire exact knowledge of where best to locate the German immigrants who were to follow in a few months. The Prince met with Rev. Louis Ervendberg in East Texas and invited him to serve as Protestant minister for the German immigrants. On July 24, the Prince found Captain John Coffee Hays, who was Commander of a Texas Ranger Company and employed by the Republic of Texas to make surveys on the frontier. "Captain Hays is an honorable and trustworthy man," the Prince reported, "and perhaps the only one from whom accurate information of the mountainous regions can be obtained."
In December of 1844 Prince Carl arranged for a landing port for the immigrants at Indian Point which he named "Carlshafen" which was a site on the Texas coast very near to where Indianola was established in 1849. It wasn't until March 6, 1845, that Prince Carl returned to San Antonio and through Ranger Captain John Coffee Hays became knowledgeable of some available land situated 15 miles above Seguin on the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers.
On March 15, Prince Carl entered into an agreement with Maria Antonia Garza and her husband Rafael E. Garza for 1,265 acres of the Veramendi land at a sum of $1,111. Of that sum Prince Carl agreed to make an initial payment of $500 cash with the balance to be paid in 30 days.
On March 18 Prince Carl crossed the Guadalupe at the ford of the military road El Camino Real from Nacogdoches to San Antonio (now Nacogdoches Street in New Braunfels) with 25 men to inspect the land he had purchased for the first settlement in Texas of the German Emigration Company. That night they camped on the Comal at the foot of present Bridge Street. A snow storm during the night deposited snow in their tents "which could be rolled in the hand, but by noon had melted." He wrote, "Taking this as a good omen, we established our German colony here to which I gave the name New Braunfels."
New Braunfels was founded on March 21, 1845, Good Friday. The first wagons of immigrants crossed the Guadalupe and they were placed in an encampment erected on a bluff overlooking the Comal River. The area is now the site of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church.
In the Guadalupe River bottom cannibalism thrived in the 1840s and on the nights of May 4 and 5, 1845, Tonkawa Indians consumed the cooked and fried flesh of a Waco Indian. As the Tonkawa squaws returned from the orgy the following morning, they met a number of settlers. The squaws pounded their stomachs and grinningly said that they hoped by eating the warriors flesh their off-spring would be as brave as the Waco warrior had been.
The founding of New Braunfels, often referred to as the "City of a Prince," had a major impact upon the immediate area as well as opening West Texas to a civilized economy. The many artisans and craftsmen among the 6,000 settlers generated industry and commerce for the entire central Texas area. In addition to economic growth this early colony brought religion, organized public education, and other socioeconomic benefits to the area.
Attracted to the new settlement were William H. Merriweather from Tennessee and John Torrey from Galveston. Both men built mills powered by water on the Comal. J.J. Jahn arrived with the first settlers in 1845, bringing tools to make handmade furniture which developed into a thriving little industry. The Louis Henne Company can be classed as a continuation of the first shop to manufacture handmade tinwear.
School has been held uninterrupted in New Braunfels since the morning of Monday, August 11, 1845. Hermann Seele began teaching the children of the new settlement in both English and German under the elm trees in the grass prairie at the foot of Sophienburg Hill. Religious services were also held under the same elm trees where Seele began teaching the three Rs to the children.
The First Protestant Church was established under the laws of the Republic of Texas on October 5, 1845. A large percentage of the new colonists were Catholics, but there was not a priest available immediately. However in 1846 Bishop Odin visited the new colony and secured a site for a church. The first recorded baptism was performed by Bishop Odin January 20, 1847. The Sisters of Divine Providence took over the school in the fall of 1871 and have been in charge since that time.
St. Martin's Lutheran Church is said to be the oldest Lutheran Church in Texas ... built in 1851. The First Methodist congregation was organized in New Braunfels on March 7, 1853 and the First Baptist Church building in New Braunfels was constructed in 1905.
New Braunfels is known for its financial stability due to the many industries established over the years. The tourist business grew considerably during the 1960s and '70s with new motels and new attractions such as Natural Bridge Caverns, Canyon Lake and world famous Wurstfest.
In the '60s the community became aware of the value of its heritage and began extensive projects to preserve the culture brought over from Germany. Landmarks and historical sites are now getting serious attention as evidenced by the revitalization of the Sophienburg Museum, restoration of the Ferdinand Lindheimer Home, the development of Conservation Plaza and the creation of the Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture. The old is being preserved but modern local government is bringing the latest in facilities and services to its citizens