GER­MANS HELPED BUILD CITY’S CUL­TURE

Im­mi­grants in the 1800s had strong in­flu­ence

San Antonio Express-News - - NATION & WORLD -

Their names will sound fa­mil­iar — Menger, Guen­ther, Joske and Steves. They were among the Ger­man im­mi­grants who ar­rived in San An­to­nio in the 1800s, many af­ter first land­ing in var­i­ous spots in the Texas Hill Coun­try.

Among them were mer­chants, trades­men and in­dus­tri­al­ists, peo­ple who would es­tab­lish brands (Pearl beer, Pi­o­neer flour, Geb­hardt canned food) known to gen­er­a­tions. They were farm­ers, artisans and in­tel­lec­tu­als who sought op­por­tu­ni­ties im­pos­si­ble in Ger­many. And they ar­rived in waves of or­ga­nized col­o­niza­tion and im­mi­gra­tion ef­forts.

His­to­rian Nancy Draves of­fers her own an­ces­tral roots as an ex­am­ple: two lines of un­re­lated Mengers who came sep­a­rately. She’s a de­scen­dant of Jo­hann Ni­cholaus Si­mon Menger, who owned a soap and can­dle fac­tory and founded sev­eral Ger­man mu­sic or­ga­ni­za­tions. She’s also a de­scen­dant of Wil­liam Menger of the Menger Ho­tel, a brewer who had a va­ri­ety of other busi­ness in­ter­ests.

“Look­ing at my own fam­ily,” she said, “they cer­tainly helped to en­hance the city. The Ger­man pop­u­la­tion that moved here or that im­mi­grated here start­ing in late 1830s and ’40s were young. They had young fam­i­lies and such a de­sire to work.”

As were most U.S. res­i­dents in the 19th and early 20th cen­turies, they came from farm­ing stock; and in San An­to­nio, they toiled.

The King Wil­liam His­toric District started as an area where Na­tive Amer­i­cans from Mis­sion San An­to­nio de Valero were awarded land, then it be­came a Ger­man neigh­bor­hood. King Wil­liam Street, for ex­am­ple, was “Kaiser Wil­helm Strasse” un­til World War I.

Ger­mans of means built houses there and in other ar­eas of the city and es­tab­lished so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions and busi­nesses.

The cul­tural con­tri­bu­tions came early. The Beethoven Maen­ner­chor was es­tab­lished in 1867. The Ger­man-English School was founded in 1858 by the Casino Club, a so­cial group that put on the­atri­cal and mu­si­cal per­for­mances.

The city’s first flour mill, which evolved into the Pi­o­neer Flour Mill, was opened in the late 1850s by C.H. Guen­ther. Dur­ing that same pe­riod, Dr. Fer­di­nand Herff be­came San An­to­nio’s lead­ing sur­geon, cred­ited with per­form­ing the state’s first cataract surgery and its first suc­cess­ful ap­pen­dec­tomy.

Julius Joske es­tab­lished a store in San An­to­nio in 1867 that would later be­come a grand de­part­ment store known as “the largest store in the largest state.”

The Hand­book of Texas says Ed­ward Steves be­gan his lum­ber busi­ness in San An­to­nio in 1866, his lum­ber­yard serv­ing “a trade area that ex­tended to north­ern Mex­ico.”

Like other lead­ing Ger­man cit­i­zens, Steves was a mem­ber of a Turn­verein, a club that pro­moted phys­i­cal fit­ness. There were sev­eral of them — the Bonham Ex­change build­ing down­town once housed a Turn­verein, con­tain­ing a bowl­ing al­ley and ball­room.

His­tor­i­cal texts note that as late as 1880, the pop­u­la­tion of San An­to­nio was about a third Ger­man.

When rail made it to San An­to­nio, bring­ing lum­ber and brick, Ger­man in­flu­ence be­gan to be seen in the city’s ar­chi­tec­tural style and dec­o­ra­tive arts, his­to­rian Maria Wat­son Pfeif­fer said. It changed “the build­ing dy­namic in San An­to­nio,” she said.

Ger­man jew­el­ers, gun­smiths, millers and mu­si­cians made con­tri­bu­tions to San An­to­nio that can be seen to­day, she added.

If there was a sin­gle char­ac­ter­is­tic that made Ger­man im­mi­grants in­flu­en­tial in Texas, it was their adapt­abil­ity, said Tori Beck­man-Wil­son, a his­tory in­struc­tor at Palo Alto Col­lege. “They fit into the land­scape and made them­selves a part of it.”

Staff file photo

Maryann Cruz and Richard Sierra per­form tra­di­tional Ger­man folk danc­ing at Beethoven Maen­ner­chor in San An­to­nio in this 2017 photo.

Menger Ho­tel

The Menger Ho­tel — this is circa 1860 — was founded by Ger­man im­mi­grant Wil­liam Menger.

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