The historic Gruene (pronounced like "green") is a must-see destination in the Texas Hill Country. The small town is nestled in the heart of German town, New Braunfels, roughly an hour south of Austin and forty minutes north of San Antonio. 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.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it is a hidden gem with its Gruene General Store, Gristmill River Restaurant, antique stores and Texas wine tastings. However, even native Texans don't know everything about Gruene and how its idyllic historic buildings came to be.
Here are some interesting tidbits you may not have heard before.
1. There is no Gruene, Texas
While it isn't its own city; the Gruene historic district is within the town of New Braunfels. It was once its own town but eventually was overtaken by New Braunfels.
2. It was a ghost town
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.
3. The water tower was the site of a terrible death
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,"
4. Gruene Hall: dance hall, music venue... badger wrestling?
Gruene Hall is the oldest dance hall that has been continuously operating in Texas. It was built in 1878, and continued to run through prohibition, and even during its ghost town days. It acted as a dance hall and community center, hosting high school graduations and it's rumored they also hosted badger fights.
5. It was initially a sharecropping settlement
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 farm the land. He even set up a mercantile and built the iconic dance hall.
6. The cotton gin burned
In 1922 the town's cotton gin burned down, which proved disastrous for Gruene. The cotton gin never functioned again after that. It was replaced by a modern mechanical version. After the stock market crash of 1929, cotton prices plummeted, and cotton farming ceased in the area altogether.
7. The boll weevil was nearly Gruene's downfall
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.
8. The whole town was almost torn down
In 1975 when Chip Kaufman, Mary Jane Nalley, Cheryle Fuller and Pat Molak were first 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.
9. Gruene as a music destination was an effort to save the town
So many legal fees incurred in the efforts to protect 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 live music destination, and that's precisely what it is today. The stage has since been graced by Willie Nelson, George Strait, Garth Brooks, Lyle Lovett and the late Hal Ketchum.
10. The Gristmill Restaurant is the shell of the old cotton gin
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.
Other local treasures include Cafe Adobe Verde, the Gruene Antique Company, the Gruene Mansion Inn (the former home of Henry D. Gruene), a restaurant called Mozies and the wine tasting room at The Grapevine. Historic Gruene Market Days, held the third weekend of every month from February to November, are an ideal time to visit the charming Central Texas town.
This story previously ran on March 6, 2020