New Braunfels has thrived for 165 years, and whether you're a longtime local or a new visitor, it is evident there is any number of fun things to do in this river-flowing, music-loving town. But what about those places that help define it, historically speaking? These 10 local spots are a good place to start.
Sandwiched between Gabby B's and A.J.'s Ale House downtown is a hardware store so charming it will leave you waxing poetic about a time before the giant-corporate-impersonal-chain stores appeared. Don't be surprised if you find yourself daydreaming of walking its hardwood floors before they creaked or ringing up a customer buying a part for a tractor being used to work the land.
One look at the building's architecture and you know it has been treated well since its 1857 beginnings. The tin ceiling tiles reflect a bygone era, and if these walls could speak, they would have much to say about the customers of Texas' oldest hardware store. Though its appeal is evident, Henne Hardware isn't just another tourist trap. They have a service side to their business that locals love, and they stock many hard-to-find items. But don't let their inventory determine your visit—even if you buy nothing at all, you will leave with something special. www.hennehardware.com
If you close your eyes and tune out the distractions for a minute, you can picture it: 19th century Texas. A procession of travelers laden with supplies is on their way to the Spanish missions in east Texas. They reach the Guadalupe River here in New Braunfels, but can't cross due to high floodwaters. It takes weeks for the waters to recede.
1887 brought relief for travelers when the Comal County Commissioners Court signed the King Iron Bridge Company of Ohio to build the Faust Street Bridge over the Guadalupe. Though it was one of the first long-term toll-free structures completed over a major waterway in Texas, it was also one of the last wrought iron bridges constructed here. In 1917, the Faust Street Bridge served as the major crossing for all traffic traveling between Austin and San Antonio on what was then known as the Austin-San Antonio post road. By 1934, the 640-foot long Faust Street Bridge had fallen out of favor, its popularity assumed by a newly constructed concrete highway bridge. Local traffic continued to take the route over the Faust Street Bridge until the 1979 fire that damaged it.
This beautiful truss bridge was renewed in 1998 and is presently restricted to foot traffic only, but the unique materials used to build it will always ensure its place in history as one of the most significant bridges in Texas. It also happens to be a great place to get a bird's eye view of tubers enjoying a float. Faust Street Bridge
Walking into Riley's Tavern, it isn't uncommon to find a guitar-playing cowboy singing for a small crowd, people bellied up to the bar and others shooting pool in the back room. It wouldn't take more than a quick look around to know this describes a quiet night at Riley's. Christmas lights adorn the outside. Torn posters line the low ceilings. And the place smells of aged smoke—the kind you only find in great dive bars with a story to tell.
J.C. Riley, at a mere 17 years of age in 1933, was the first person to obtain a beer license in Texas at the end of Prohibition. That license was used to open Riley's Tavern, and a legend was born. The place was an immediate success, thanks to a stop created on the Missouri-Pacific railroad line and the cotton farmers and cattle ranchers that stopped there. Riley had a good run as the bar's owner until business slowed down due to San Marcos' and Hays County's decision to legalize the sale of alcohol in 1977. While business took a hit, Riley's remained opened, and the bar's namesake continued as it's leader until he fell ill in 1991.
Today, the place that used to serve cotton farmers and cattle ranchers more than 75 years ago now doles out drinks to a customer base so diverse you'd have to see it to believe it. Doctors sit next to college kids who sit next to lawyers who sit next to hippies. Some people are second and third generation Riley's patrons. For a bar that has an outhouse on its back patio and a women's restroom that is supposedly haunted, they must be doing something right. www.rileystavern.com
The Comal County Courthouse is the backdrop for a town so steeped in history it's difficult to know where to begin. Built in 1898 to replace the rundown original, the beautiful stone feature we see today was architected by J. Riely Gordon, who designed 72 courthouses in his career. 12 of the 72 are still standing, and most of them are in the Romanesque style similar to the one here in New Braunfels. The limestone used to build the courthouse came from land owned by Texas and U.S. Statesman Edward Mandell on what is now FM 306.
1931 brought the completion of a jail addition designed by Jeremiah Schmidt, a New Braunfels resident, and in 1951, additional expansion was required. By the mid 1960s, the courthouse needed extensive interior and minor exterior renovations. The Belgium bells we hear every 15 minutes were installed in 1976, a gift from a leading local musician by the name of Walter Faust, Jr in honor of his mother, Lottie Faust. The red brick annex was added in 1985, and the original courthouse was renovated once more in that same year.
These days, we gather around the courthouse base to watch the 4th of July Parade or celebrate the lighting of the Plaza at Christmastime—but drive by on any given day and you'll witness those who have come from far and wide to view and document a striking piece of New Braunfels history. www.co.comal.tx.us
Tucked away behind a middle school outside the loop, you'd think Conservation Plaza would be easily forgotten, but arrive just five minutes after it opens on a random Saturday and you're likely to find the place bustling with people. Some might be busy setting up for a wedding; others may be part of a group thrilled to be able to walk through authentic New Braunfels buildings as they were in the 19th century.
The New Braunfels Conservation Society has done its job well. Once a part of downtown New Braunfels, the 14 buildings here (dating from 1849 – 1881) were dismantled, relocated to Conservation Plaza upon its opening in 1964, and restored to preserve the German legacy for which this area is well-known. Each building has a separate past worth telling—the first school in town, for example, or an old saloon that was later the printing location of the Herald Zeitung. The tour guide's passionate storytelling will make you want to stay here, but instead you'll leave Conservation Plaza more appreciative of the stories it safeguards—and air conditioning. www.nbconservation.org
Take one bite of Naegelin's Bakery streudel and you'll understand why sunburned tourists roll out of bed the morning after an all-day float to have one. You'll also understand why it is the oldest continuously operating bakery in Texas. Yep—it's that good.
It's hard to believe Edouard Naegelin, Sr. was armed with less than a dollar and a sack of flour when he came to New Braunfels in 1868 and opened Naegelin's Bakery. Once housed in a building that stood where City Hall is today, the current Naegelin's location became part of its history in 1870. Naegelin ran his namesake bakery here for more than 50 years until his death in 1924. His son, Edouard Naegelin, Jr. and wife Laura, took over bakery operations then, and the business remained in family hands until the early 1980's when it was sold to the Granzin family. They still use Naegelin family recipes to this day.
Naegelin's Bakery no longer delivers, though they do continue the long-standing tradition of baking amazing bread. Besides streudel, other best sellers include bear claws, German pretzels, tortillas, rolls, cookies, and cakes. Or, you can just stop by for a huge slice of history from this true New Braunfels cornerstone. www.naegelins.com
From the outside, McAdoo's may seem like just an upscale seafood restaurant in an extraordinary town, but upon entering, it's apparent this place has a story to tell. Black and white photos of the building, prior to its renovation, adorn the walls, making you wish you could have been here back in the day...when McAdoo's was actually the post office.
1915 marked the year William G. McAdoo (Secretary of State at the time) custom ordered the first post office for New Braunfels. Financial business was also conducted here in The Treasury, making this dual purpose building one of the busiest spots in town. 25 years ago, however, a new post office was built, and the structure sat idle, closed to the community.
A few years ago, Becky and Pat Wiggins and David and Kelly Caddell teamed up to restore the building with the intent of opening a New Orleans style seafood restaurant in town. By the summer of 2009, their vision became reality, something the people of New Braunfels—and its visitors—have been enjoying ever since.
In 2010, the New Braunfels Conservation Society recognized The Wiggins' and The Caddell's efforts by awarding McAdoo's a Restoration Award. For a building that includes doors salvaged from Hurricane Katrina, a nod to the birthplace of the cuisine it serves, it is the ultimate compliment. www.mcadoos.com
Two years after Emilie Eggeling built the Comal Hotel in 1898 (now known as the Prince Solms Inn Bed & Breakfast), she was called away to Galveston to help family members who had faced tragedy in the hurricane that struck the island in 1900. No doubt she would be proud to know that the inn she founded is now the oldest operational hotel in New Braunfels and has admirers worldwide.
Luxury suites and numerous rooms with private baths accommodate guests today. An 1852 house turned guest cottage sits behind the inn, formerly the home of a local cobbler named Joseph Klein. Across the courtyard from the inn is the New Braunfels Feed Store, which was built in 1860 and also houses visitors. An old stable dating back to the 1840s sits on the property, as well—a stable said to have housed Sam Houston's horse when he visited in the 1850s.
Local cypress lumber was used to build this lovely inn, and the handmade brick on its exterior was crafted along the Guadalupe's banks. The floor of an old Comal County jail provided the stone on the outdoor patio. And the beautiful doors on the front of the building? They were rescued from a hotel in Galveston that didn't fare well in the hurricane that called Emilie Eggeling away, a wonderful reminder of a woman whose vision has stood the test of time. www.princesolmsinn.com
Almost 200 years after the end of the Protestant Reformation, Prince Solms—along with 85 other German immigrants—began calling New Braunfels home. Following instructions to establish both a Protestant church and a Catholic church in town, he found a spiritual leader for each, and in 1849, Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church was born.
Fast forward more than 160 years, and the cathedral that was constructed of native limestone in 1871 has undergone two expansions (one in 1963; the other in 2000). Also on the church grounds is a grotto, envisioned sometime around 1918 when a flu epidemic swept the nation. Members built the grotto to memorialize fellow members who had died of the disease, and the grotto was dedicated in 1921.
Today, the parish has almost 4,000 registered families, a thrift store, and a school that educates children from preschool through 8th grade. www.sppnb.org
The Landmark is one of those places that makes you regret the years you spent in cookie cutter apartments instead of a hip loft space like the ones that fill this building. Its steel beams and exposed brick have been part of the building since its conception in 1925, but this local marker hasn't always been so cool.
Walking through it today, it's hard to believe The Landmark was once the Comal Power Plant, a hydroelectric company that by 1927 was the largest in the world, supplying energy to every power grid east of the Rocky Mountains. In 1928, the plant converted to natural gas as the price of the coal used to boil the water that fueled the plant escalated, and transportation costs to deliver the coal became prohibitive. During the Great Depression, the plant extended power to rural areas, and in World War II equipped the military with the power needed to triumph.
The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) took control of the plant in 1947, eventually purchasing it in 1971. But, by 1973, the plant closed—and stayed that way, falling into disrepair, until 1990 when the LCRA worked with the city on a nine-year revitalization project totaling $11.5 million. Preserving this piece of history took more effort than the alternative, but the results speak for themselves. Thank goodness, because New Braunfels wouldn't be the same without The Landmark's smokestacks in its skyline. www.landmarklofts.com