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GRUENE, TEXAS

Texas' Most Successful Ghost Town

Comal County, Texas Hill Country

On the Guadalupe River
3 Miles N of New Braunfels
Population: Estimated at 20

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Gruene Texas - Gruene Hall
May 2013 photo courtesy TxDOT

History in a Pecan Shell

Gruene is now included in the "greater New Braunfels" city limits. Before it became a thriving tourist Mecca, tiny Gruene was once thriving as a center for cotton farmers. Original settlement dates to before the Civil War and a town center developed under the name of Goodwin. In 1872 the Gruene family bought a large tract of land here and made agreements with a dozen or so families to share crop the 6,000 acres. Henry D. Gruene built a store to supply his cotton-growing sharecroppers in 1878.


Location, Location, Location

The store was also on the Austin-San Antonio stage line and had the best ford of the Guadalupe River for miles. It was only natural that Mr. Gruene should expand his business to include a cotton gin and when the local people needed entertainment, Mr. Gruene provided a dance hall. In the 1880s the International-Great Northern Railroad arrived and the town was thereafter known as Gruene although the post office remained as Goodwin (See postmark below).

Gruene was thriving as the 20th Century arrived and provided ginning, banking and shipping for Comal County's cotton farmers. The town had depots for both the Katy and I&GN railroads. But nothing lasts forever and the boll weevil hit Gruene hard in the 1920s. The store and depots had already closed even before the Great Depression rolled around. Fast becoming a ghost town, the last nail was driven in the town's casket when it was bypassed by the highway after WWII.

It sat for years as a time capsule until it was discovered and developed in the early 1970s. It has since been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. (See How Gruene, Texas was Saved from Oblivion by Cheryle Fuller)

See
  • Gruene as it appeared in 1975
  • How Gruene, Texas was Saved from Oblivion by Cheryle Fuller
  • How the Gruene water tower got its dent
  • Gruene, Texas Landmarks & Images

    Gruene dance hall interior, Texas
    The dance hall
    Photo courtesy George Shaffer
    Gruene Texas - Gristmill
    November 2012 photo courtesy TxDOT
    H.D. Gruene store, Gruene Texas
    TE photo, 2000
    Gruene TX Water Tower
    November 2012 photo courtesy TxDOT

    Gruene as it appeared in May 1975

    Photos originally appeared in
    August 1975 issue of Texas Highways Magazine.
    Courtesy TxDOT Photo Archives

    Gruene TX - Hadlock & Fox
    May 1975 photo courtesy TxDOT Photo Archives
    Gruene TX - old house
    May 1975 photo courtesy TxDOT Photo Archives
    Gruene TX shed
    May 1975 photo courtesy TxDOT Photo Archives
    Gruene TX shed
    May 1975 photo courtesy TxDOT Photo Archives
    Gruene TX
    May 1975 photo courtesy TxDOT Photo Archives

    Love for an Old House Saves a Hill Country Town
    and Creates a Landmark

    How Gruene was Saved from Oblivion


    By Cheryle Fuller

    When I was on a camping trip to the Hill country in late August 1974, our original intention was to look at land for sale in Wimberley, and camp on the Guadalupe River. The next day when we decided to swim just downstream from the dam. I decided the water was much too cold for a bikini, so we went for a drive down the river road, turned into what is Preiss Heights and eventually onto Gruene Road. We crossed the charming bridge and proceeded through the town, which did not take long.

    I noticed a house with it’s front door wide open sitting by itself in a field. I instructed my husband to turn around so we could explore it. When we got closer I yelled "stop the car" and jumped out and climbed onto the rickety porch. After many minutes my husband followed me in and found me standing in the center room, which was covered in peeling plaster flakes and “Daddy Long Legs” spiders bunched into one corner. The floors were a roller coaster of undulating red pine, and this center room floor was covered in layers of linoleum and oil cloth. He quietly said, "Oh my God", and I replied, "we are going to buy this house."

    I left Houston the following week and returned to see who owned it. In those days you went to the courthouse and looked at maps. Then you took those numbers and looked up other numbers to find out who owned what you were interested in. While I was looking at page after page of maps to identify this house, an elderly man walked into the room and hugged the woman clerk. Then he asked her if she knew he had "done solt Gruene's." First I asked myself if that was how you pronounced the name of the town, and then I figured out that this must be the person to whom I should speak about ownership. I caught up with the man as he left, who turned out to be Henry Gruene Jr. himself, and spoke at length with him.

    I asked him to lunch, and proceeded to fill a spiral notebook. I used up a package of Bic pens writing down the history of Gruene. I left him after seven and a half hours and drove back home to Houston quite excited. I asked my husband if he was going to let me buy this house, and he agreed. Well, he just demurred, as he never had an opinion about anything.

    I called the new owners, Rathgeber, West and Leach and spoke with Don West, the builder. He told me he needed a reason to save it from the wrecking ball, as one of the partners was Dick Rathgeber, who owned a demolition company and I would be taking money out of his pockets if he sold me the house.

    I wrote many letters to historic towns and buildings all over America asking about how to go about developing a town. I never received a reply. So I took out a yellow legal pad and wrote down what I wanted the town to become, and submitted a development plan to them. While researching this, I found out about the National Trust’s Main Street Project, and contacted Truett Latimer who was running the Texas Historical Commission at the time. I was told it needed an historic survey.

    I quit my job at Exxon so I could leave Houston at five a.m. and be in New Braunfels by eight when the courthouse opened. I read all the county files I could, spent hours taping interviews of Mr. Gruene, and then spent many more hours in the Texas room of the Julia Ideson Public Library in downtown Houston, where I read translated German immigrant diaries, among other things

    I completed this historical survey within a month, sent it to Mr. Latimer in Austin, who forwarded it on to Washington D.C. for final approval. Unfortunately, Mr. Latimer signed his name to my work, which I did not know until a few years ago when researching this online. But the listing was accepted, and the developers decided to sell me the house by the end of October, 1974. At the time, I could have had any building in Gruene, but this one spoke to me, and I have not looked back.

    Others showed up and decided to buy other buildings, and some of the local kids started hanging out in Gruene, being hired to work on the different buildings, or for Hadlock and Fox Saddletree, the only employer in town.

    After a few months, I became concerned because my deed said only "Oldest House in Gruene", not lot and block or meets and bounds like other deeds had, so I organized a few other purchasers to discuss this with the developers. I was told they were surveying the lots and needed deed restrictions. I hired an attorney out of Houston, who took the money I had collected from other property owners, but did not return any phone calls. Clearly he was not going to follow through.

    Since I had worked for Baker, Botts, Shepherd and Coats, I knew legalese, so I wrote out the protective covenants and submitted them to his attorney. With a few of his minor tweaks, they were accepted, and were probably the first protective covenants to an historic district in Texas, and possibly the country. A few years later, Pat Molak purchased Gruene Hall. Not too long after that, Chip Kauffman bought the Gristmill and sold the water tower for $5,000 to pay for a roof. The scrap value of the steel in the tower was over $250,000 and it’s value as a working water tower was perhaps double that.

    Pat Molak called me some months later when a crane had raised the tank off it's supports and said he had gotten a restraining order and wanted me to testify in court since I was the writer of the deed restrictions and the historic researcher. I agreed, and brought ABC, CBS, NBC, and Texas Monthly and Parade magazines to cover the lawsuit, as I did not trust the judge to be honest. Each time we left the courtroom, I was pushed into the waiting cameras by the other property owners and asked for an update on the discussions and testimony.

    While waiting in the hallway to testify during that week, Mr. Molak told me I was going to have to be partly responsible for the legal fees. Knowing I had much better places to spend that money, I organized a music festival to pay those fees, telling Mr. Molak that his talk of making this a dance hall and music Mecca was going to come true, and it was time to put his money where his mouth was.

    I had a spiel written for each of the girls who were to call Austin City Limits and Armadillo World Headquarters to get the play list for all the musicians who had played or wanted to play there. When they contacted the musician's managers, they were to mention the music festival in my spiel and how much we needed them to come and play to make this a success.

    I again brought the TV stations and Texas Monthly to cover the music festival. We blocked off Gruene Rd just in front of my house and past the General Store, which Hadlock and Fox owned, put in a lowboy flat bed trailer with hay bales to support to the amps, and had the bands lined up so they could switch out quickly. I told Molak to ask Mr. Hadlock if we could use his electricity and offer to pay his bill for the month when it came in. There was an auction of donated items down by the cotton gin where Cafe Adobe Verde is now, and other functions throughout town. If anyone remembers attending this festival or has any pictures, please contact me, Cheryle Fuller at cfuller007@me.com

    Or better yet, come visit.

    © Cheryle Fuller
    May 8, 2014


    Water Tower Mystery Solved

    Gruene Texas old water tower, close up showing dent
    Notice the dent on the Gruene water tower
    Photo courtesy Mel Brown, 2007
    Photographer's Note:
    Subject: The battered old Gruene water tower.

    I noticed the ding in its cap twenty years ago but have yet to learn how it got there. My guess has always been that it was struck by something airborne being pushed along in a twister. Maybe a TE reader will share more about it in time. - Mel Brown, November 15, 2007

    Water Tower Mystery Solved
    It wasn’t a bird; it wasn’t a plane and it wasn’t a meteorite.

    "To answer the question about the dent in the Gruene water tower, it was caused by a crane's chains during it's sale and subsequent lawsuit over the town’s water infrastructure. The water tower was historically significant because when the boll weevil infestation hit [in the 1920s], the tenant farmers continued to buy on credit at the general store, until it went bankrupt.

    The town manager had lived in the little house in front of the gristmill and was so distraught over the enormous loss of the Gruene family money, that he climbed to the top of the water tower, tied a rope around his neck and the other end to the tower, and jumped off. His wife found him the next day when she went to the kitchen to fix breakfast and saw him swinging. This was the main reason why the water tower needed to remain intact in Gruene. However, no water has flowed from it since, and all the town property owners had to hook up to New Braunfels Utilities." - Cheryle Fuller, Owner, Antoinette's Cottage, Gruene, Texas
    Gruene Texas old water tower
    Gruene water tower
    Photo courtesy Mel Brown, 2007

    TX - Comal County Goodwin postmark info
    TX - Comal County Goodwin postmark
    Postcard cancelled with 1895 Goodwin postmark
    Courtesy The John J. Germann Collection

    Gruene, Texas Area Destinations:
    See Comal County | Texas Hill Country
    San Marcos | New Braunfels

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    Texas Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history and vintage/historic photos, please contact us.


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