Index to all pages:


Comal Springs
and Landa Park

The Comal Springs are the largest in Texas and the American southwest. Seven major springs and dozens of smaller ones occur over a distance of about 4,300 feet at the base of a steep limestone bluff in New Braunfels' Landa Park. The Springs and the Comal River below are home for a federally endangered species, the Fountain Darter. In Spanish, comal is a flat griddle used for cooking tortillas, so the name probably refers to the flat area below the bluff where the springs issue forth.  The largest and most easily visited is the one shown at left, just west of Landa Park drive.

These springs were a favorite camping place for native Indian tribes for thousands of years, and many artifacts and burial mounds have been found. In the language of the Indians the Comal Springs were called Conaqueyadesta, which means "where the river has its source" (Ximenes, 1963).  The Comal River arises entirely, except after major rains, from springs in this vicinity and flows for just over two miles through Landa Park and New Braunfels before confluencing with the Guadalupe River.  It is said to be the shortest river in the United States. 

When Spanish missionaries arrived in 1691, they found a huge concentration of Indians at Comal Springs, some from as far away as New Mexico (Brune, 1981).  In 1716, Juan Espinoza encountered the beauty of the springs and more than a few ticks:

Soon we reached the passage of the Guadalupe which is made of gravel and is very wide. Groves of inexpressible beauty are found in this vicinity. We stopped at the other bank of the river in a little clearing surrounded by trees, and contiguous to said river. The waters of the Guadalupe are clear, crystal and so abundant that it seemed almost incredible to us that its source arose so near. Composing this river are three principal springs of water which, together with other smaller ones, unite as soon as they begin to flow. There the growth of the walnut trees competes with the poplars. All are crowned by the wild grapevines, which climb up their trunks. Willow trees beautified the region of this river with their luxuriant foliage and there was a great variety of plants. It makes a delightful grove for recreation, and the enjoyment of the melodious songs of different birds. Ticks molested us, attaching themselves to our skin (Tous, 1930).

 

The "three principal springs" described by Espinoza were probably the two large and one moderately large spring on the west end of Landa Lake.  The Spanish never established a permanent presence here, although it was the location of an early Spanish mission, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, from 1756 to 1758.  In 1827 the league containing the headwaters and Springs was granted to Juan Martín de Veramendi, Mexican Governor of Coahuila and Texas.


Early uses and development of Landa Park

In 1844, German settlers arriving in Texas under the auspices of an emigration society, the Adelsverein, discovered they had been grievously deceived regarding the suitability and ownership of a tract in the Hill Country intended for their settlement.  In San Antonio, society organizer Prince Carl Solms was told by John Rahm, an old Texan, about "Las Fontanas" - a place where huge natural springs formed the headwaters of a perpetually flowing river. With his first immigrants living in deadly conditions at the coast, and with waves of thousands more expected, Solms was desperate to establish an inland way station. Dan Murchison, a scout belonging to Captain Jack Hays famous company of Texas Rangers, piloted him to Las Fontanas. In March of 1845 he purchased the site from Veramendi's heirs for $1,111 (Harby, 1888). In 1847 William H. Merriweather bought the Comal Springs tract. Merriweather built a saw and grist mill and a cotton gin on the property. His slaves dug a millrace to divert water for power. The Springs were dynamited to increase their discharge and eventually harnessed for many commercial purposes.


Report on New Braunfels in Scientific American, 1849

It didn't take the industrious German settlers long to begin harnessing the power of the Springs. This article from the March 31, 1849 edition of Scientific American extolled the new little town's promising prospects.

By 1860, seven grist, flour, and sawmills were using the Spring waters for power.  There were also cotton and woolen factories, a paper mill, an ice plant, and a brewery.  Hydroelectric power was generated using springflows from 1890 until about 1950 (Brune, 1981).  New Braunfels merchant Joseph Landa purchased the site in 1860, and by the 1890s it had become known as Landa's Pasture and was a popular picnic and recreation spot. 


Scene on Comal River

This engraving appeared in Homer S. Thrall's 1879 travelogue called A Pictorial History of Texas, From the Earliest Visits of European Adventurers, to A. D. 1879.


Ferry on Comal River

Another engraving from Thrall's 1879 travelogue.


Comal River

A third engraving from Thrall's 1879 travelogue of a scene on the Comal River near New Braunfels.


Roeder's Mill on the Comal River

This image appeared in the Magazine of American History Illustrated, November 1888.

New Braunfels 50 year anniversary, 1895

An RSVP envelope for New Braunfels' 50th anniversary in 1895 highlighted the little city's abundant water, declaring it had "The Finest Water Power in the State of Texas" and "The Most Complete Water Works in the South, supplied with pure Spring Water."

Landa's Park, 1899

In 1897, Helen Gould, daughter of railroad financier Jay Gould, visited Landa's Pasture and was impressed by its beauty.  She suggested that the International and Great Northern build a spur into the property.  The Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroad also built a track into the park. By 1899, the railroads were offering 'very low excursion rates' to attract tourists from San Antonio and Austin, and they sponsored special music events, such as concerts by Carl Beck's Military Band. The Pasture became known as Landa's Park and grew into one of the most popular resorts in the Southwest. 

 


Comal Baths, circa 1900

The city of New Braunfels opened the Comal Baths in 1900, where children and adults learned how to swim. Today, the city still conducts thousands of swimming lessons each year.


A Texas Eden, Landa Park, circa 1900 - in 3D

Get out your 3D glasses to view this vintage stereoview published in 1900 by the Keystone View Company. Click to enlarge, it's just like being there.


The Oasis of Texas, 1904 (pdf download is 91 mb)

In 1904 the Landa Estate produced its second edition of The Oasis of Texas, a 30 page treatise on the area's history, its industries, and the park. After gushing about New Braunfels for 28 pages, Harry Landa finally concedes:

This scribe feels the poverty of his vocabulary, for one may bankrupt all the lexicons of all the languages and not flatter this heavenly spot.


Radium at Comal Springs, 1921

An advertisement from the San Antonio Express-News, June 29, 1921. Nowadays the notion of radium in water tends to cause concern; the truth is that almost all water on Earth contains small amounts of naturally occurring radioactivity.

By 1922, Landa Park was drawing over 100,000 visitors per year. In 1926, the park was sold along with much of the Landa estate to J. E. Jarratt of San Antonio. On Easter Sunday in 1931 the Park officially opened for its 37th year, but within a few years, as the Depression took hold, the owners were forced to close the Park and surround it with a barbed-wire fence. Local residents organized a petition drive to hold a bond election aimed at providing funds for a city purchase.  In 1936 the city purchased 128 acres including the headwaters and adjoining springs, and two additional tracts totaling 72 acres were purchased later (Landa, 1945 and Haas, 1968).


Landa Park picnic, February 8, 1928

An early photographic view of the large spring west of Landa Park Drive. Another photograph from the same roll identifies the ladies as Mrs. Gough, Isabell Stark, Mrs. Frey, APJ, and Viora Frey. On the back, one of them wrote:

Section of Comal River. In one place it is 12 feet deep and the bottom is seen as clear as though there was no water.

 

 

With the purchase and consolidation of the headwaters properties by the city, and with the establishment of nearby resort parks like Camps Giesecke, Ulbricht's, and Warnecke (more on those farther down this page), New Braunfels grew into the epicenter of regional water recreation. When new interstate highways opened in the late 1950s, all the elements were in place for a regional synergy. Since San Antonio and the Alamo are only 30 miles away, families in station wagons from far and wide could spend a few days exploring the historic missions and battlegrounds of old San Antonio, and then spend a few days basking in the natural aquatic wonders of New Braunfels.


New Braunfels Vacationland, 1960s

Even today, it is difficult to overstate the importance of water recreation to the economy of New Braunfels. This tourist brochure from the early 1960s featured, what else, water. Somebody on eBay beat my high bid of $24.99 for this; if I am someday able to acquire one I will post the whole brochure here, right now I just have the cover. I'm glad I collected most of the stuff on these pages in the early days of eBay when there was no competition.

 


The Springs and Park Today

Today, Landa Park is still a mecca for local residents and tourists.  Attractions include nature trails, paddle boats, a large spring-fed swimming pool, a miniature train, a golf course, and lots of sites for picnicking and celebrations.  Swimming is no longer allowed in a large portion of Landa Lake because of the presence of the endangered species.  Fountain darters can be easily observed at the paddle-boat landing.  Landa Lake is very shallow and lined with gravel washed in by floods from upstream Blieders Creek.  Many small springs issue forth through the gravel, their locations marked by bubbles and schools of fish that congregate around them. When habitat restoration efforts were undertaken in 2013 that involved removing this accumulated gravel and sediments, more than 450 springs were identified. The freshwater zone is very narrow here and the "bad water" line is less than a mile from Comal Springs.

Flows at Comal Springs become intermittent when the level of the J-17 index well drops below 620 feet.  Almost all flow at Comal ceases at an elevation of 618 feet.  It is often said that Comal Springs went dry during the drought of record in the 1950s, but gage records reveal that was not really the case. The Springs were almost dry from June to November of 1956 and the river was reduced to isolated pools of water. The minimum springflow recorded during that period was 41 gallons per second.   In any case, flows were not enough to support the Comal River population of the fountain darter - it was completely eliminated by the drought and was reintroduced using individuals from another population in San Marcos, where springflow was still sufficient to support the species. Models suggest that in a repeat of the 1950's drought, given current levels of pumping, Comal Springs would be dry for a number of years.

Only a small portion of total springflow comes from the largest springs shown in the graphic above.  Special springflow measurements made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey determined that most of the spring flows (about 78%) come from the many small springs and seeps under and around the shores of Landa Lake (McKinney and Sharp, 1995).  Most of the water that becomes Comal springflow originates with recharge far to the west of the Springs and moves through major flow zones in Medina and Bexar counties on its way toward New Braunfels (see Flowpath Map).  In five ground-water trace tests performed by Ogden, Quick, and Rothermel (1986) around Comal Springs, none of the dye appeared at any of the spring orifices.  This supported earlier hypotheses that very little recent, locally derived recharge waters emerge from Comal Springs.

Data from dye-tracer studies also suggests there are some separate flowpaths that feed the individual spring orifices.  Ogden, Quick, and Rothermel (1986) discussed their conversation with a scientist (Rettman) who injected dye into a well in Panther Creek about 500 feet from the nearest spring orifice.  The dye emerged from one orifice but not another nearby.  The trace was repeated and the results were the same.  In March 2002 these results were duplicated by scientists from the Edwards Aquifer Authority, who injected green dye in the shallow well in Panther Creek.  In less than three hours the dye started showing up in surprisingly strong concentrations in one spring, while no dye was seen in another spring only 10 feet away.

Official flow records for Comal Springs begin in 1928 and have been uninterrupted since then, giving Comal the longest period of record for any of the Edwards springs. The chart below shows it is typical for springflow rates to settle in at about 200 million gallons per day and decline very slowly if dry conditions are extended for a long time. The sharp peaks that extend off the top of the y axis do not represent springflows - they are caused by surface stormwater runoff during flood events. During dry weather, all the water that passes by the gage can be attributed to springflow. For the latest Comal springflows see the USGS Real-Time data page.

 

By the spring of 2013, New Braunfels had begun implementing a number of management and restoration efforts listed in the newly approved Habitat Conservation Plan to protect the endangered species in the Springs and the Comal River. An island was removed in the Comal River to increase Fountain Darter habitat, and other measures in the plan include flow management, restoring and maintaining native aquatic vegetation, managing public recreational use, and controlling harmful non-native species such as Asian gill parasites (see the New Braunfels section of the HCP). Over 75,000 snails were removed, along with 2,300 pounds of non-natives such as nutria and talapia, erosion control mats were installed, and more than 10,000 aquatic plants were planted. There were plans to consider a ban on certain types of non-native live bait and develop an education program for fishermen regarding what types of bait are appropriate in such a sensitive area.


Comal Springs photo gallery

Comal River, looking downstream

A view looking downstream from the main spring


Comal River, looking upstream

Looking upstream toward the concrete steps and the large spring west of Landa Park drive. As you can see, water clarity is exceptional.

Comal Springs, view from above

A similar view from the bluff just above the large Spring.

Prehistoric food preparation site

The stone next to the large spring opening has traces of a thick shiny coating that archaeologists tell us is mostly animal fat built up over thousands of years of use in food preparation.

Spring-fed channel where wading is allowed

Most of Landa Lake is off-limits for swimming and wading because endangered species are present. Wading is allowed in this spring-fed channel that feeds the swimming hole in the photo below.

Public swimming section

New Braunfels residents and tourists flock to this swimming hole on hot summer days.

Landa Lake paddle boats

For $3 per person, you get 30 minutes of paddle boat time, but they are not real strict about it if you show up back at the dock a little late. It's a great way to see the Lake and also get some exercise!

Some large fish in Landa Lake

A school of large fish in Landa Lake. Endangered fountain darters are also present.

Spring fed swimming pool in Landa Park

Another attraction in Landa Park is this large spring-fed swimming pool, complete with bathouses and lifeguard protection.


Landa Park miniature train

Taking a ride on the miniature train is a good way to get a feel for the layout of the Park.

Founder's Oak in Landa Park

This tree in Landa Park is called the Founder's Oak. Legend has it that founders of New Braunfels held their first council meeting under the tree in 1845. Core samples taken in 1985 concluded that it sprouted in the year 1700.

Engraving of Founder's Oak

This image appeared in the Magazine of American History Illustrated in October 1888.  Author Lee C. Harby wrote:

The first meeting of the council was held under a large oak in the lovely park of the Comal Springs.  The tree was then crowned with verdure, and the gushing, sparkling water sang its song to the luxuriant caladiums which grew along its margin.  Here the German girls came to fill their buckets, which they carried suspended from each end of a yoke which lay across the neck.  These they still use, and very picturesque and un-American do the girls look in their straight skirts and short bodices.


Plaque erected by the Edwards Underground Water District at Comal Springs

Part of it says:

Visited in 1764 by French explorer St. Denis. Later a stop on El Camino Real. In 1845, the area was settled by German immigrants under Prince Carl Solms-Braunfels and called Las Fontanas. 1300 surrounding acres were purchased for $1,111.


Historical plaque for Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Mission

Part of it says:

Good features at this site included five springs, fertile fields, timber, meadows and the nearby river. Two friars ran the small mission, with a citizen guard, so as to avoid friction. Four Spanish families and 47 Indians (27 of them baptized) comprised the inhabitants of this mission as of January 1757.


Comal Springs postcard collection


Clemens Dam, 1900

The earliest postcard I have found of the Comal River. Mailed in 1900. This is Clemens Dam, just downstream from the Springs, which later became known as Stinky Falls. Published by B. E. Voelcker

This postcard was technically illegal, because it has a "divided back", with one side for the address and the other side for writing your note. Divided back postcards were not made legal in the U.S. until 1907, but apparently some manufacturers simply ignored this requirement.


Clemens Dam, 1900

Postcard manufacturers of the day would often share images. This card appears to use the same photo as above, but it was published by E. C. Kropp Co. in Milwaukee. Like the card above, it has a divided back and was illegal.


Clemens Dam, 1906

A 1906 view of Clemens Dam. This card was completely legal - the back says "Nothing but address on this side." Note how the manufacturer has left a small space on the front side for the note.


Comal River, circa 1906

Another legal card, with plenty of space on the front side for the note.


Scene in Landa's Park, 1906

The earliest postcard I have found of Landa Park - not mailed but has a penciled date of June 2, 1906.


Dam Across Comal River, 1907

A nicely colored view of Clemens Dam mailed in 1907. Made in Germany by B. E. Voelcker.


Lake Landa Park, 1907

A view of Lake Landa Park, postmarked September 9, 1907. Made in Germany by B. E. Voelcker.


Rustic Bridge and Water Wheel in Landa Park, 1907

In August of 1907 Miss Maynort wrote to Miss Elma Bright:

You left too soon. Am still having a good time. See where I am.


Scene in Landa's Park, 1907

Mailed on August 10, 1907 to Miss Stella Masters in Swanville, Indiana. On the back, an apparent suitor lamented that she had gone far away and wrote:

I am afraid we will not get to cross this bridge.


Landa Mills, 1907

In the early 20th century a variety of mills and factories were using Spring water for power and in their processes. At Landa Mills, products included oil, ice, and light.


View in Landa's Park, 1907

Produced by I. A. Hoffman in New Braunfels and mailed Dec. 28, 1907.


Water Wheel, Landa Park, 1907

A nice view of the water wheel in Landa Park, mailed in August of 1907.


View in Landa's Park, 1908

Postmarked Jan. 25, 1908. In those days postcards were like the text message of today, and it was expensive to send a lot of them. Ella Wise wrote to Miss Pauline Pepper:

Thank you very much for your postal. You don't know how much pleasure it gave me. But I am sorry to say that I cannot correspond with all for I am not able to. So I hope you are satisfied with this postal because that is all I can send you and no more.


Scene in Landa's Park, circa 1908

An early view of the steamboat in Landa Park, mailed in August of 1908.


Water Fall, Landa Mills, 1908

Printed in Germany by B. E. Voelcker and postmarked August 1, 1908.


Falls near Landa's Mills, 1908

Postmarked Dec. 7, 1908.


Curt Teich card, 1900-1908

From the first series of cards produced by famous postcard producer Curt Teich. He always numbered his cards with a unique identifier, but in the beginning did not record production dates. From the copyrights on other images card collectors have deduced that Teich cards numbered in this range were produced between 1900 and 1908.


Minnehaha Bridge, 1909

A Real Photo card published by B. E. Voelcker and Son, made in Germany. Postmarked from New Braunfels on May 16, 1909.


Comal Springs, circa 1909

About 1909 B. E. Voelcker and Son produced a series of hand-colored Real Photo cards of Comal Springs and Landa Park. This one is postmarked from New Braunfels on April 14, 1909. There are a number of additional examples from this series among the cards below.


Water Power Flour Mill, 1909

A variety of industries used water power from the Springs, including grist, flour, and sawmills, cotton and woolen factories, a paper mill, an ice plant, and a brewery.


Water Wheel and Caladiums, 1910

A water wheel in one of the upper spring runs. Miss Lucille Stappes father wrote to her:

How are you getting along. I am in the park writing this. - Papa


Postcard circa 1910

Not mailed or dated, but from the stamp box on the back the postcard dealer believed it was produced circa 1910.


Cotton yards, 1910

Cotton yard adjacent to the spring-water powered factory, 1910.


Landa Park, 1911

Postcard mailed in 1911 shows a scene in Landa Park.


Comal Springs hand-colored hard, 1911

A vey rare early hand-colored view of Comal Springs, produced by B. E. Voelcker & Son. Mail from New Braunfels on June 18, 1911. Mrs. Louise Davis had news for relatives:

Dear Aunt Carrie - No doubt this will be a surpirse to all of you. I was quietly married last Wednesday and we are spending a few days in this pretty town.


Comal Springs hand-colored card, circa 1911

Another hand-colored card by B. E. Voelcker & Son, not mailed or dated but produced about the same time as the dated card above.


Comal Springs, circa 1915

An early 20th century view of the large spring next to Landa Park Drive before the concrete steps were built. Not mailed or dated, but produced between about 1907 and 1915.


Comal Springs lithograph colored card, 1915

Another early 20th century view. On the back, Leonard wrote:

We made our hike all right and have sure got a nice place to stay. I think we will be here for a week or so but still send my mail to my old address. I'll get it alright.


Boat house and lake, Landa's Park, circa 1915

A view of Landa Lake circa 1915. Produced by B. E. Voelcker & Son in their typical hand-colorized style.


Philippine Pavilion, circa 1915

The gazebo was built in 1898 and was called the Philippine Pavilon. An article on the Sophienberg Museum website says the story is this gazebo was fashioned in the Oriental style so popular in the late 1800s when the United States was involved in the Spanish-American War, in which the first battles occurred in the Philippines (sophienberg.com, 2007).


Landa Industries Water Fall

Not mailed or dated, but appears to be circa 1910 - 1920.


Bridge in Landa's Park

An unusual sepia tone card with a hand-tinted blue sky. Also unusual because it was produced in New Braunfels; most cards of the day were produced in Germany or in printing houses back east.


Bridge in Landa's Park

Another version of the card above, also produced in New Braunfels by B. E. Voelcker & Son.


Steam boat in Landa Park

Not many people remember that steam boats used to ply the waters of Landa Lake. The card was not mailed or dated, but the style dates it as probably being produced between 1910 and 1915.


Boat house and steam boat

A view of a Landa Lake steam boat parked at its dock.


Landa Park, circa 1915

A view of the Lake circa 1910 - 1915.


Boaters on Landa Lake, circa 1915

Another view of the Lake in the postcard style that suggests a production date between 1910 and 1915.


Boating and fishing in Landa Park, circa 1915

The back says:

Boating and fishing on Lake in Landa Park, in the heart of New Braunfels, Texas, where Nature did its masterpiece of beauty.


Landa Park swimming pool, circa 1915

A view of the swimming pool from the time when black and white striped bathing suits were in style!


Camp Placid, circa 1915

This area of Landa Park was known as "Camp Placid" around this time. A view of the swimming pool, bath house, and sleeping porches.


1916 view of Landa Lake

Mailed on August 16, 1916 to Mrs. Louis Hazelton in Chicago. Eunice wrote:

Dear Aunt Lou. Arrived here in good health and all's well. Expect to stay a week. Albert is feeling well. Regards to all and my Muriel. With love, Eunice.


1918 scene in Landa Park

Mailed in August of 1918.


Bridge scene in Landa Park

A similar scene to the one above, but the tree next to the bridge appears to have suffered some storm or ice damage, so this one was probably produced slightly later. The cactus also appears larger.


Japanese Pavilion and Rustic Bridge, 1924

A Curt Teich card with a production number that places the scene in 1924. The Philippine Pavilion is identified here as the Japanese Pavilion.

 


Lovers Retreat in Landa Park, 1924

Another Curt Teich card with a 1924 production number.


Planters and Merchants Mill, circa 1924

Yet another Curt Teich card with a 1924 production number.


Comal Springs, Landa Park, circa 1925

Not mailed or dated, but is from the "White Border Period" of postcards that lasted from 1915 to 1930. Probably produced mid 1920s.


1927 postcard

A handwritten date on the back is "July 4, 1927." Perhaps a memento of someone's holiday visit to Landa Park.


Comal Power Plant, 1927

Hydroelectric power was generated using springflows as early as 1890. This power plant in Landa Park was built in the 1920s and operated until 1972. It sat vacant and decrepit for many years, until 2004, when a project began to re-develop the site into loft apartments.


Another view of the Comal Power Plant

Another view after an expansion that doubled the plant's size.


View of Landa Lake, late 1920s

A view of the northwest end of the Lake. Never mailed. Produced by the same manufacturer and about the same time as the card above. The gazebo pictured is still there.

Greetings from New Braunfels, circa 1935

Not mailed or dated, but dated to roughly 1935 as it straddles the "White Border" period of postcards and the "Linen Card Era" that began about 1930. It appears highly yellowed but really is not - the border is printed with the reddish tinge.


Landa Park, circa 1939

A Real Photo card mailed in October of 1939.


Comal Springs, circa 1940

A Real Photo view of the Springs, mailed in August of 1940.


Landa Park bath house, 1941

On August 17, 1941 Sally wrote J.R. and Claire:

I am having a good time on my vacation. There are lots of pretty parks, pools, and mountain drives and we have a big rock cottage up on a mountain - it overlooks the Comal Springs and Guadalupe River. Daddy is coming today. Love, Sally.


Landa Park waterfall, circa 1942

From the same Seidel Studio production run as the card below, which was mailed in 1942, so I am dating it to approximately that time.


Postcard mailed August 6, 1942

By 1945 there was a highly colorized version of this scene, an example is several cards below.

On the back of this one, Roberta wrote:

Dear Polly - Had an all day picnic in this beautiful park.


Postcard mailed June 12, 1943

On the back of the card, Frances wrote to Miss Lucille Brown of Borger, Texas:

Hi Pal -

Surely bet you'd like this cool place - lots of fishing, swimming, boating. Better come on down. I came on Friday - will return Sunday. Be good. Love, Frances.


View of springs, 1945

This postcard mailed on July 4, 1945 shows the rock walls and steps that still surround the largest of the Comal Springs have remained basically unchanged for over 60 years.

Landa Park swimming pool, 1945

Mailed in August of 1945, the back caption says:

This is the largest swimming pool in the South. Five million gallons of water flow through it daily; modern bath house accommodates 500 bathers. Landa Park is famed as the beauty spot of Texas.


Circa 1940s view of Landa Park swimming pool

A view of the swimming pool circa late 1940s. The back caption says:

Landa Park Swimming Pool, where thousands swim weekly. 70 degrees year round temperature. Millions of gallons of Spring Water continuously flow through this pool.


Landa Park motorboat trips, circa 1955

The drought of record in the 1950s appears to have seriously impacted postcard production in those years. This is the only one of Landa Park I have seen, postmarked April 11, 1955. The springs were almost dry from June to November of 1956.


Evelyn Lois Peterson at Landa Lake, early 1960s

This is Evelyn Lois Peterson, who had been a model, actress, and Copa girl in New York before returning to New Braunfels to marry a local physician. She was featured in Life magazine twice. Her experience in modeling and publications probably explains why she was asked by local publisher Seidel Studio to appear in the card. The photographer was Joe Faust.

Very seldom is it possible to attach a name and a story to any of the people depicted in these vintage cards, so it was great to receive this information on Ms. Peterson from her granddaughter.

The postcard was mailed on July 20, 1962.


Landa Park swimming pool, circa 1960s

A view of the Landa Park swimming pool that appears to be circa 1960s


Spring Run 1, circa 1960s

A view of the main spring from Seidel Studios in New Braunfels. Appears to be circa 1960s.


Children's Pool, Landa Park, 1971

A section of Landa Lake used to be sectioned off as a children's pool.

 


Stinky Falls and the Comal River

Though it winds for only two short miles through New Braunfels before confluencing with the Guadalupe River, the Comal River's importance as a recreational destination is long and legendary. In the mid 20th century, Stinky Falls, Camp Warnecke, Camp Ulbricht, Camp Giesecke, and Camp Placid were all popular sites. In 1979, the Schlitterbahn Waterpark first opened on the site where Camp Warnecke was, and today it is one of the country's premiere water parks.

Stinky Falls was located at Clemens Dam, the site of an earlier dam and mill built by John F. Torrey in 1850. Mr. Torrey operated a grist mill, a cotton factory, and a wool factory, and he rebuilt his facilities several times after partial destruction by floods until all were finally washed away. In 1882 banker William Clemens acquired the property and built a new cut limestone dam to supply water under contract to the city of New Braunfels, but it soon became idle when the city built its own waterworks operation next to Landa Park. In 1907 a well was drilled nearby for the purpose of acquiring pure artesian water, but it produced only hot and smelly sulfur water. The well was left flowing, and the site became a popular swimming spot for kids long before anyone invented water parks. It became known as "Stinky Falls" (Sophienberg, 2006).


Comal River, circa 1915

The M. K. & T. train known as The Katy Limited over the Comal River in New Braunfels around 1915. The card incorrectly identifies it as the "Camel" River, which might explain why this card is rare.

By the 1960s, Stinky Falls was drawing mostly unsupervised teenagers and hippies from all over the state. Though popular, the site was entirely unsafe. In the early 1970s I witnessed a lot of dangerous diving and risky swimming through the dam's outlet. The name "Stinky Falls" could just as easily have referred to all the weed. In 1976, the city built the New Braunfels Tube Chute at the site and capped the well. It is still an extremely popular summertime cooling-off spot.

By 2011, crowds on the Comal River had begun to grow so large that one could barely get a tube in the water. That summer, police concerned about public safety were forced to turn some visitors away, and city officials began looking at ways to control the number of people getting on the River. One of these might be an admission fee, but opponents insist that since the river is public property, it shouldn’t cost anything to get wet.

Another controversy erupted in the summer of 2011 over a container ban passed by the city of New Braunfels. On August 22, the city banned disposable food and beverage containers on the Comal River and a small portion of the Guadalupe River that passes through the city. Opponents promised a lawsuit and a petition drive to overturn the measure. The issue was placed on the November 8 ballot and voters approved the ban by 58%. It remained to be seen whether the ban would stick, however, because a 1993 state law prohibits cities from banning disposable containers. A lawsuit was filed by a group of local business owners and residents in state district court. In February of 2012, that suit was dropped and another was filed in Austin, also naming two state officials as defendants, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and TCEQ Executive Director Mark Vickery. Attorney Jim Ewbank said that as Land Commissioner, Patterson is responsible for state owned waterways, and Vickery is charged with managing municipal solid waste.

Over the Memorial Day weekend in 2012, a noticeable reduction in the amount of trash in the Comal River was attributed to the new ban on disposable containers, but not everyone was pleased. Commercial river outfitters who rent inner tubes claimed that trash was down simply because crowds were smaller. They noticed that rentals were down, even though weather and tubing conditons were excellent. Apparently some tubers simply went to stretches of the Guadalupe River outside the New Braunfels city limits, where beer cans were not banned.

In January of 2014, state District Judge Don Burgess ruled the New Braunfels can ban is unconstitutional and unenforceable. Jim Ewbank, lawyer for the water recreation interests that sued the city, said "We hope that, now that the court has spoken, declaring these ordinances unconstitutional, we can sit down with the city and try to work out a solution that addresses everybody's goals and purposes." New Braunfels said it would appeal the ruling. The first major holiday after the ruling was Memorial Day in May of 2014, and tubers hit the river with cans in hand. The city was providing free mesh bags through the tube outfitters for people to collect their trash in, and everything seemed under control. Anybody who finds themsef in Texas is at least part Texan, and Texans know you don't trash the river by "sinking your empties." If any Texans witness such behavior, it is expected they will put a stop to it and send the offender back to New York.

In November of 2013, an ownership squabble developed over a scenic little spot in the Comal River called Spring Island. For many decades, the general public has been excluded from the one-acre island - the only persons allowed were those residing within the Comal County Water Recreational District No. 1 in the Landa Park Highlands and Landa Park Estates subdivisions. The District was created in 1937 for mosquito and trash control and is the state's only Water Recreational District. The legislation that established it said its purpose was to "protect the health of those residing in such district and keep such waters in good condition for the recreational purposes of swimmers and fishing therein and boating thereon by those entitled to do so." This was interpreted to mean the only "entitled" persons are those in subdivisions with deed provisions that grant them access. After a spate of trespassing complaints in 2013, the District was asked to produce a deed, which it couldn't. Board chairman Cecil Eager said "The district was given authority over the island by the Legislature. I believe it's owned by the residents of the subdivisions." Mike Reynolds, publisher of the Texas Citizen weekly newspaper said "They're basically squatting on public property and claiming it for themselves," and he offered to fund the defense of the first person arrested for trespassing. "We want to see this ownership claim test in court. It's not going to pass muster," he said.


Stinky Falls in 2009

In the old days, before the sidewalks were built, there was a lot of risky diving from the raised platform on the right. The New Braunfels Tube Chute is seen entering the River on the left.


New Braunfels Tube Chute

If you don't have the $40 bucks to get into Schlitterbahn, the city-owned New Braunfels tube chute is almost as good and lots cheaper.


Clemens Dam and the Comal River

Just below Clemens Dam, the Comal River teems with people on a hot summer morning in 2009.


Schlitterbahn Waterpark

The Schlitterbahn Waterpark, on the site where Camp Warnecke was located, is consistently ranked as the best water park in America.


Camp Landa, circa 1940s

Not mailed or dated, but from the linen post card era that lasted from about 1930 to 1945. At this address today is The Resort at Schlitterbahn, adjacent to the park itself and offering a wide variety of accommodations from hotel rooms to vacation homes and condos. The caption on the back of the card says:

This spring fed pool, plus Camp Landa's new modern, one and two bedroom cottages, and our recreational facilities make Camp Landa an ideal place for YOUR family vacation.


Camp Warnecke

Just below Stinky Falls and Clemens Dam, Camp Warnecke was one of the top family summer resort areas in South Texas for most of the 20th century.

Camp Warnecke was created by A&M professor F. E. Giesecke, who purchased a 60 acre site in 1910 for the purpose of establishing a summer school for students. A generator attached to a waterwheel provided electricity the first year, however, the contraption was unreliable because the paddles of the wheel were warped on one side, causing an irregular turn and sudden dimming and flaring of the lights. The second year the electricity was provided by Harry Landa.

By the 1940s, Camp Warnecke was a large and popular attraction. Long trains of swimmers hooked tubes together by locking feet under the armpits of the one in front of them, forming a train to “shoot the rapids”. Another favorite pastime was “catching the ledges”, which involved diving into the rapids and hanging on to the limestone rocks. If you were “shooting the rapids”, the trick was to avoid being tumped over by young local boys catching the ledges. After tumping you over, they would help you get back into your tube. (Sophienberg, 2006).

Enlarge the image below to figure out where the cabin you had as a kid would be today on the Schlitterbahn site.


Plat of Camp Warnecke, 1956

Same approximate area, 2014


Water wheel at the Rapids, circa 1926

This card and the one below are the earliest I have found of Camp Warnecke. Produced by Curt Teich of Chicago, the production numbers on the bottom right indicate both were produced in 1926.


Low water bridge, circa 1926

A group of Camp Warnecke canoes are seen tied to the bank at left.


Camp Warnecke, 1940

Canoes on the Comal River at Camp Warnecke. Mailed in October of 1940.


Camp Warnecke entrance, 1940s

A view of the entrance to Camp Warnecke in the 1940s.


Camp Warnecke, 1941

A Real Photo card mailed in 1941.


Camp Warnecke, 1944

Mailed in July of 1944. Marie wrote to the Mittag family in Eunice, Mexico:

Here we are at Camp Warnecke having fun. Sure wish you were here. Will try to see you this summer. Mom said she will drink a beer on Uncle Max. Love, Marie.


1940s postcard

A group of tubers that look like they are preparing to form a train and shoot the rapids. Not mailed or dated, but the linen stock suggests it was produced in the 1940s. The caption on the back says:

Warnecke's Camp, New Braunfels camp of distinction, where swimming, boating and fishing is the byword on the Crystal Clear Comal.


The Rapids, Warnecke's Camp

This one includes an unusual water wheel whose function is unclear.


Camp Warnecke Life magazine story, 1951

Camp Warnecke made it into Life magazine in 1951 as part of a photo essay on how Americans deal with the summer heat.


Camp Warnecke, 1950s

A 1950s era postcard from Camp Warnecke. The Camp had little cabins all along the shady banks of the Comal River. In 2009 Jim Walters recalled they were true cabins, with no refrigerator, just an icebox. In the 1950s, summertime stays at Camp Warnecke were a tradition for his family. He declared that:

Heaven is bound to have such a river, where you can just float along on a hot afternoon, without a care in the world, exerting no energy and feeling no stress. (Walters, 2009)


Camp Warnecke, 1960s

Shooting the rapids in a long train was a popular tradition until Camp Warnecke closed.

 


Camp Ulbricht and Camp Giesecke


Ulbricht's Summer Resort, 1930s

Other resorts on the Comal River included Ulbricht's and Giesecke's. This card was not mailed or dated, but the linen stock suggests it was produced between 1930 and 1944.


Ulbricht's Summer Resort, circa 1935

A Real Photo postcard showing an aerial view of Ulbricht's Summer Resort. It was produced by the EKKP company, a major national producer of Real Photo cards in the 1930s and 40s. This one was not mailed or dated, but the narrow white margin is characteristic of other EKKP cards produced in the mid 1930s.


Ulbricht's Summer Resort, 1940s

Mailed in August of 1945. The back caption says:

On the banks of the Comal River, within the city limits, are Camp Warnecke, Camp Ulbricht, and Camp Giesecke. Accommodations are modern here, where cooling gulf breezes fan the city, which is located just below the escarpment of the Edwards Plateau at the entrance to the scenic Southwest Texas "Hill Country."


Ulbricht's Summer Resort, 1947

The artistic license that lithographers took in creating colored postcards is evident by comparison with the card above. This Real Photo card mailed in 1947 apparently served as the base image for the highly colorized version above.


Ulbricht's Summer Resort, 1962

Another view of Ulbricht's Summer Resort, mailed in 1962.


Camp Giesecke, circa 1915

So far, the card at left and the one below are the only two images of Camp Giesecke that I have seen.


Camp Giesecke, circa 1960s

This card was included in a collection of 18 images that were featured in a postcard mailer marketed to tourists. Unlike other collections, they were not intended to be separated and mailed as individual cards - the entire booklet was mailed with all the accordion-folded images intact.