$1,111... That's the price of history. It's what Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels paid in 1845 for two deeds of land including Comal Springs and Founders' Oak. I'd say he scored a bargain since we are still enjoying the fruits of his good judgment.
Near the bent trunk more than 17 feet in circumference, we can sit under the sprawling shade of Founders' Oak in Landa Park and imagine how many other generations did the same in its 313 years of life, imagining their voices singing songs of independence, and the heavy weight it surely carried as they meant every word.
A speech by Mark V. Fuchs at the dedication of Landa Park in 1936 describes the beauty of the transaction that made Founders' Oak a central part of New Braunfels history.
He describes how Dr. Lindheimer, Father of Texas Botany, led Prince Solms, Commissioner General for German Colonization in Texas, to the Oak and many springs along the Comal, convincing him of the desirability of the area for planting a colony. "The Prince's poetic nature was deeply touched by the enchanting beauty, the rippling stream of limpid water, the rugged hills, the majesty of its oaks exemplified by the exclamations, 'Here rests immortality steeped in the colors of the rainbow.'"
We get it. We can still see the beauty and immortality he saw over 160 years ago. It's what has earned Founders' Oak the distinction of being a "Famous Tree of Texas."
And it's believed that actual living history—those who passed by the tree in its infancy—is what gave the grand Oak its distinctive bent shape. As Fuchs' speech put it: "bearing testimony to the old story that the Indians bent twigs and young trees in certain directions in order to mark their wanderings so that others might follow or they might retrace their steps, stands yonder huge oak, its bent weight now supported by the white man's concrete props."
The rich history surrounding the tree didn't end there. Tradition says that under Founders' Oak, Catholic mass was offered, and under the branches every July the Fourth after 1846, the citizens of New Braunfels would gather to read the Declaration of Independence and to dedicate themselves to the great principles for which it stands. (Are you feeling patriotic yet?)
Herman Seele, the first school teacher of the colony held group singings of folk, patriotic and classical songs beneath the branches. No doubt children were climbing the lower branches of the tree as soon as the songs ended or sneaking off during the chorus, while their mothers in colonial dresses watched from checkered picnic blankets.
Fast forward to present day, and Founders' Oak still stands, albeit protected by a fence. But it continues to stand while children play nearby, and adults sit and soak in the beauty. There may not be any annual traditions around the tree now, but we'd like to imagine there could be. The image of past generations reading about independence or singing in unison has to, in some way, stir the desire to keep the traditions going.
Fuchs closed his Landa Park dedication speech by mentioning the pride and gratitude the citizens of New Braunfels would surely feel remembering that significant day, the importance of recognizing history. And he was right.
I've only been a citizen here for a year, but I'm warming up my singing voice as I type.