Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gruene, Texas

Anyone who has visited the historic village of Gruene on any given Saturday or evening in the summer, when it is thronged with tourists and local revelers alike, might be surprised to learn that it was once a genuine ghost town. Gruene was, however, virtually abandoned for more than two decades, from around 1950 until the early 1970s, when it was restored as a tourist attraction.

Located along the Guadalupe River at the north end of New Braunfels, the once-independent community was founded in the 1850s by German farmer Ernst Gruene and his sons, who purchased 6,000 acres of surrounding farmland, which they planted with cotton.

Gruene — both pronounced and meaning “green,” like the color — attracted two or three dozen sharecropper families and grew into a thriving commercial center. It was aided by its location along the stagecoach route between San Antonio and Austin at the point where it crossed the Guadalupe and, in the 1880s, by the establishment of the International-Great Northern Railroad line. Originally known as Goodwin Community, the town was eventually renamed for its most prominent family.

By the early 20th century, Gruene was a significant cotton ginning and shipping center that had two freight rail stations. But the good times were not to last indefinitely. A marker titled “Gruene Cotton Gin” that was placed by the Texas Historical Commission in 1989 sums up the early history, economic basis, and namesake of the village — and the cause of its initial demise.

“Built on the site of an earlier grist mill, the Gruene Cotton Gin was constructed in 1878 by H.D. Gruene,” the marker reads. “Powered by the Guadalupe River, the gin was steam-operated and served to process the vast amounts of cotton grown in the area. The gin played an important part in the economic development of Gruene, a community dependent upon the cotton crop. The gin was destroyed in a 1922 fire, and only part of the boiler room remains. A new electric gin was built at another location and served the community until the cotton crop was lost to a boll weevil infestation in 1925.”

The Great Depression followed hard on the heels of the weevils, a combination that was too much for Gruene, and all but one of its establishments — Gruene Hall — went out of business. Post-World War II highway construction bypassed the town, and within a few years it was almost completely deserted.

Gruene enjoyed a renaissance beginning in the 1970s, with the restoration of Gruene Hall, the old store, and a number of other local buildings.

When You Visit
Today, the bustling little community features a half-dozen restaurants, among them the sprawling Grist Mill, established in an old industrial structure; about two-dozen specialty stores of various sorts, making this a great place to hunt for gifts with local color; Gruene Hall, which today styles itself “the oldest dance hall in Texas;” and a couple of river rafting and tubing outfitters. Many of these businesses operate out of the village’s original structures.

There is almost always something going on in Gruene and the historic town sponsors a variety of special events throughout the year, including many food- and music-oriented activities and Old Gruene Market Days the third weekend of every month except December and January.

From Interstate 35, take Exit 191 and head west on FM 306 for 1.5 miles to Hunter Road. Turn left on Hunter Road and go about a half mile. When you see Gruene Hall and the Gristmill, you will know you are there!

Gruene, Texas

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