Libraries Round the World: A German Town in Texas

Boerne (pronounced Bernie), about 30 miles north of San Antonio’s Alamo, was settled in 1849 by a group of intellectuals and free-thinking Germans immigrants. They spoke Latin together and supported abolition, an unpopular and dangerous opinion before the Civil War. Many Germans waited out the war in Mexico to avoid ending up in “dead man’s hole,” a 150-foot-deep limestone pit.

Welcome to Buffalo Town!

In 1848, these Latin-speaking Germans, nicknamed Forty-Eighters, arrived to escape from German revolutions at home. Initially, the settlers camped along Cibolo Creek, which flows through the town. Cibolo is a Native American word for buffalo, and this was a part of Texas where the buffalo and Native Americans, including Comanches, once roamed.

Buffalo art outside the Kendall Hotel dating back to 1859

But before it was Boerne, the settlement was named Tusculum. The German immigrants picked the name of an ancient town near Rome with ruins found in the 1800s. Tusculum, Italy was founded by the Latin King Latinus Silvius, the Greek god Telegonus, or the Roman Statesman Cicero, way back in the BC days. A brief, highbrow name for a remote Texan town in the hill country. 

The visitors center ready for the holidays

Boerne, pronounced Burn-ee, is the Americanized spelling for Karl Ludwig Börne, a German author and journalist. He’s a fascinating man who never left Europe. He was born Loeb Baruch, a Jewish man in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1786. Later, Mr. Baruch converted religions to Lutheran Protestantism and changed his name. He died in 1837 and was buried in the famous Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Besides this Texan town, a gallery in the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt is named for him.   

A tiny bit of historic Main Street

After what must have been hard days working the land, I can imagine discussions in Latin on science, philosophy, literature, and music. All topics perfect for library-goers! Latin is still a living language and taught to many students in Germany. 

A nice secluded patio to stretch out with a book … maybe in Latin!

In 1860, a band and choral group began, and it’s named the “Oldest Continuously Organized German Band in the World” outside Germany. The band received recognition for its contribution to German heritage in Texas and America. 

The world famous band in 1902

Besides a historic main street, Boerne has an 1870 limestone courthouse, the second-oldest in Texas. Two architects, named Zoeller and Stendebach, designed it. Across the street, the firm of Rehler, Vaughn & Koone built a new courthouse in 1998. They sound like German descendants! 

Updated 1870 limestone courthouse with a snowman on patrol and near the jail!

And for troublemakers, waiting to say their piece or peace in court, a jail was next door. Now it’s a piece of history and a museum.

Limestone Jail from 1884

The town is walking-friendly, with a mile-long path running along the Cibolo Creek to historic Main Street. The Cibolo Nature Center contains over 100 acres of Hill Country trails and wilderness and nestles up to the library.

Cibolo (buffalo drinking) Creek

In 1951, Mrs. Theis, or Aunt Jessie to her friends, suggested creating a library. She was a school teacher for over 30 years, an artist, and led a Girl Scout troop. Later that year, with support from the Grange, a local farming group, a library was in place. How’s that for fast action? Every library could use more women like Aunt Jessie!

Two incognito library fans (omg that’s Latin for unknown!)

The library’s first location was in a bare, cold room adjacent to the fire station on Main Street. This site was the only place the city could provide. Farmers doubled as carpenters, housewives as painters, and everyone donated books.  In less than a year, they had a working library with over 400 donated books and a staff of enthusiastic volunteer librarians.

New free little library with a vintage shack

The updated library, renamed the Patrick Heath Public Library, moved to a new building in 2011 with state-of-the-art energy and environmental designs. Patrick Heath is a former longtime mayor of Boerne with a track record of championing libraries. I love the windmill addition!

The Library’s Bookshop Under the Windmill

And the library contains a mystery, and I’m not talking about one on the shelf written by Edgar Allen Poe, Agatha Christie, or Sue Grafton. In 1983, a librarian at Boerne’s high school found an old German bible in a storage room. She donated it to a local historical preservation group believing this was just another old German family bible. 

Need I say more? Oh yeah, Texas limestone!

Someone realized this Bible from the 1600s was written in Low German, a dialect rarely spoken today. Back then, bibles were in Latin and reserved for priests and inaccessible to the average German. In 1994, the historical group handed the Bible over to the public library for display to the public. The Bible is under a thick glass covering and is huge, weighing at least 20 pounds. 

A mysterious masked woman sighted lurking suspiciously in the library near the Bible!

Who brought this Bible to Texas, and how did it end up in their high school? Unfortunately, the pages with the record of its owners are partially missing. The original owner, Johan Schwarting from Oldenberg, Germany, was mentioned along with 1660. In 1844, a descendent with the exact same name immigrated to Texas. “Junior” headed west to California during the Gold Rush but was never heard from again.

In the mid-1900s, someone gave the Bible to a teacher at the local high school. So, parts of the mystery have been solved! Perhaps one day, a descendant of Johan Schwarting will figure out the rest.

Merry Christmas Greetings from Texas

Happy holidays everyone, and here’s to a better 2021!

And I couldn’t resist adding in some Latin for the intellectuals out there:

Beatus omnes dies festos, et hic est melior est enim MMXXI!

Tourists Channeling the German Settlers

Karen Stensgaard grew up in nearby San Antonio. She loves libraries and mysteries and has thrown in a few mysterious twists into her novels. Why not, if it makes the story better? 


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