Growing up as a child in Houston, my family would spend summer vacations in New Braunfels, one of the old German communities nestled on the edge of the Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio. Blessed with artesian springs and the cool waters of the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers, the town became a tourist destination in the early 20th century and advertised itself as “The Beauty Spot of Texas.”
My parents began going to New Braunfels around WWII and they first stayed at Camp Giesecke, an old tourist camp situated on the horseshoe bend of the Comal River. The camp had small cabins that were more like screened-in porches built on stilts with no air conditioning. The ice man would deliver a block of ice to each cabin in the morning and place it in the ice box.
Camp Warnecke, across the street, was another of those old-time river camps; its main attraction was the Warnecke Rapids on the Comal.
So my parents introduced us to New Braunfels on our family vacations and we thought it was the most wonderful place in the world, and for kids, it probably was. We looked forward to that trip all year. I can remember leaving Houston early in the morning (to avoid the heat) and heading west on U.S. 90, with great anticipation of stopping in Schulenburg for breakfast at Bob Adamcik’s Café or Frank’s Restaurant.
In the 1960s, when I have the most memories of New Braunfels, our family stayed at the Stockade Cedar Lodges on the tiny Comal River. It was a great place for kids because of the large swimming pool. The weather was always hot, but the broiling sun didn’t matter to us because we were in the pool or the river all day.
The Stockade featured air cooled cabins using a water cooler contraption that sat in one of the windows and kept the rooms cool and comfortable. Each cabin had a kitchenette but no telephone or television. But who needed TV, computers or video games?
The grounds of Camp Landa, a more modern resort facility, adjoined the Stockade and sometimes our group of kids would go there to try out their swimming pool.
My mother would prepare a light breakfast and lunch in our cabin because there weren’t many restaurants in those days, and certainly no fast food chains. But I do recall going to eat dinner at Krause’s, which featured German food, and Ol’ Bossy, an iconic ice cream store run by the Ol’ Bossy Dairy and Creamery.
Ol’ Bossy, which was downtown, had an old-fashioned soda fountain and grill, and it seems to me they made the best hamburgers, malted milks and ice cream I’ve ever tasted. It was a true New Braunfels landmark and very popular with tourists and local residents. The juke box would be blaring out the latest tunes from Jan and Dean, Jimmy Clanton, Connie Francis, the Chiffons, the Beach Boys, and of course, the Beatles.
Downtown New Braunfels was compact and orderly, but very active. The castle-like Comal County Courthouse overlooked the picturesque town square with its band shell, statues and shade trees.
Landa Park was the big attraction for picnics and swimming in the spring-fed pool; the water was icy cold. Some evenings the family would ride up River Road to see the Guadalupe River.
Many times other families we knew from Houston would be at the camp, and one of the parents would pack us into the station wagon and take us to spend the day at Aquarena Springs in nearby San Marcos. Sometimes the kids would go to see a movie—most likely a Walt Disney film– at the classic, neon-lit Brauntex movie theater (downtown by the passenger train station) or play miniature golf at the park.
New Braunfels was loaded with character, charm and small-town appeal.
Unfortunately, that New Braunfels has disappeared forever. Today, the town seems way overcrowded … a minitropolis booming with tourism, commercial growth and traffic. It is disturbing to see double-length buses bumper-to-bumper hauling sun-burned tourists clinging to their inner tubes from spot to spot along the overburdened Comal River. It is even more distressing to hear news reports of drunken college students tubing the rapids and thoughtlessly discarding their trash and beer bottles on the once-pristine river bank or in residents’ yards.
The courthouse still stands tall and majestic, but New Braunfels is practically a suburb of San Antonio and a busy eight-lane interstate freeway cuts through the town connecting San Antonio and Austin. The usual franchise restaurants cluster at the freeway exits.
Ol’ Bossy is no longer in business—probably too old-fashioned for modern tastes. The Stockade Cedar Lodges and Camp Landa are long gone and the property is now a part of Schlitterbahn, a huge water park. Camp Warnecke’s buildings are still there, but they are also part of the water park.
I suppose growth is good for the New Braunfels economy but sad for those of us who have nostalgic memories of this special place. Let’s hope the current residents appreciate and protect the town’s unique heritage.
New Braunfels, thanks for the memories!
NOTE: New Braunfels was founded in 1845 as one of the original German settlements in Texas. Thousands of German immigrants arrived at Galveston and moved over land to the area, and by 1850 it was the fourth largest town in Texas and the seat of Comal County. Agriculture and the mills were the main industries, but today it is a popular tourist destination. The Comal County Courthouse, built in 1898 in the classic Romanesque Revival style, has been enlarged over the years but maintains the same front and overall architectural style. The historic Brauntex Theater is now a performing arts center.
New Braunfels and the Comal County Courthouse were featured in the PBS television documentary, “The Golden Age of Texas Courthouses,” produced by Sunset Productions in association with Texas Foundation for the Arts.
James Bailey is a Houston-based writer and director of documentaries focusing on Texas history and Texana. He is a member of the Harris County Historical Commission, the Rice Historical Society, the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, and Texas Foundation for the Arts. He is a native of Houston and a graduate of Baylor University.