The small historic district of Gruene is a must-see destination in the Texas Hill Country. The tiny town is nestled in the heart of New Braunfels, and filled with a handful of historic buildings. The Guadalupe river meanders along the West end of the tiny hamlet, and the enormous cypress trees make it seem like a true Texas paradise. However, even native Texans don’t know everything about Gruene and how it came to be. Here are some interesting tidbits you may not have heard before.
Gruene is not its own city; it is actually a historic district within the town of New Braunfels. However, it was once its own town, but was eventually overtaken by New Braunfels.
The historic district that we know today was a ghost town for over 20 years in the mid 20th century. In 1975, it was rediscovered by Chip Kaufman, a University of Texas student who had been kayaking the Guadalupe river. When he exited the river he spotted the town’s water tower and walked up the riverbank to take a look. That’s when he saw the historic buildings and decided to try to find out more about the town.
Cheryle Fuller told the tale to Texas Escapes. In her words: “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,”
Gruene Hall is the oldest continuously operating dance hall in Texas. It was built in 1878, and continued to operate through prohibition, and even during its ghost town days. It was used as a dance hall and community center. High school graduations were held in the hall, and it’s rumored they even hosted badger fights in the hall.
The town started as Goodwyn Community. In 1876 Ernst Gruene and his family bought 6,000 acres along the Guadalupe river and invited families to come farm the land. He even set up a mercantile and built the iconic dance hall.
In 1922 the town’s cotton gin burned down, which proved disastrous for Gruene. The cotton gin never functioned again after that. It was later replaced by a modern mechanical version. After the stock market crash of 1929, cotton prices plummeted, and cotton farming ceased in the area altogether.
The Mexican boll weevil destroyed the cotton crops and put the nail in the agricultural coffin of Gruene. In the subsequent years, the only functioning business besides the dance hall was a saddle tree company.
In 1975 when Chip Kaufman, Mary Jane Nalley, Cheryle Fuller and Pat Molak were just discovering Gruene, a developer had already slated it for demolition so that tourist river condos could be put up. It took quite a bit of effort from these people to save the town’s historic buildings from destruction.
So many legal fees were incurred in the efforts to save the water tower and the town that Cheryle Fuller ended up throwing a benefit concert to raise money to pay them. Fuller also made it her job to turn Gruene Hall into a music destination, and that’s exactly what it is today.
If you’ve been to Gruene, Texas then you’ve probably eaten at the Gristmill. The beautiful indoor/outdoor concept restaurant sits right along the river surrounded by trees. You might not know that the picturesque place where you’re dining was once the center of industry. The Gristmill was built in the shell of the old cotton Gin. Parts of it are still recognizable.