History of Comfort, Texas
The town was laid out near the site of an Indian village in 1854 by Ernst Hermann Altgelt, though its history goes back to a group of Germans from New Braunfels that settled in 1852 along the banks of the Cypress Creek above its confluence with the Guadalupe River. Freemasons, freethinkers, and political activists, middle-class German families, and liberals from Bettina and Sisterdale settled the area. Townsmen organized the community along cooperative lines and steadfastly opposed formal local government. Comfort opened a school shortly after its founding, but not until 1892 was a church built. The town was a center of Union sentiment during the Civil War and lost many young men at the battle of the Nueces in 1862. A monument on a hillside across from the high school campus honors these dead. From 1856 until Kendall County was organized in 1862, Comfort competed with Kerrville to become the county seat of Kerr County; Kerrville won.
Early agriculture and commerce in the area depended on sheep and goats, grains, lime burning masonry, building rock, lumber, and shingles. In the 1940s and 1950s, when the Hill Country was an international wool and mohair center, Adolf Stieler of Comfort reigned as "Angora Goat King of the World." In the 1980s agribusiness continued to dominate the local economy, but hunting, fishing, sightseeing, and youth camps drew increasing numbers of tourists.
Much of the original townsite is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Significant architectural sites include Bolshevik Hall, Turner Hall, a theater, and numerous half-timber and Victorian structures that survived a disastrous flood in 1978. A tradition of secular funerals was still widely observed in the twentieth century, and German turner activities and modern Volksmarsch celebrations continued. A local museum, volunteer and mutual aid organizations, and service and literary clubs provided informal governance. The population of the unincorporated town was over 1,400 in 1980, when the post office, established in 1856, still existed. In 1990 the population was 1,477, and in 2000 it increased to 2,358.
Comfort was established in 1854 by German immigrants, who were Freethinkers and abolitionists. Ernst Hermann Altgelt, at the age of 22, is credited with surveying and measuring the lots that would later be sold to the incoming German immigrants. He stayed and married Emma (Murck) Altgelt, and they raised their nine children in the township of Comfort. Fritz and Betty Holekamp built the first house in Comfort having started construction before Comfort's official founding on September 3, 1854. The first churches were not established in Comfort until 1900. After some controversy, a cenotaph honoring "the Founding Freethinkers" was dedicated on November 2, 2002.
The downtown area is possibly one of the most well-preserved historic business districts in Texas. There are well over 100 structures in the area dating back to the 1800s, and seven of them were designed by the noted architect Alfred Giles. Mr. Giles lived in San Antonio, and he would ride horses, the stagecoach, and later the train to check his building sites in Comfort. Most of the population today is composed of descendants of those original pioneer families of the 1850s and the 1860s.
Comfort is also known for a tragic event that took place during the Civil War. The Treue der Union Monument ("Loyalty to the Union") was dedicated in honor of 35 men who died at the Battle of the Nueces, which took place because they opposed the state's secession from the Union. The German settlers were killed on their way to Mexico during the Civil War. They were attacked by Confederate forces near Brackettville on August 10, 1862. The bodies were not buried and the bones were retrieved and placed here in 1865. The monument was erected in 1866.
In 1918, Albert Steves erected a bat roost on his family farm in Comfort. This roost was built to attract bats in an effort to control mosquito populations by natural means. It was originally researched and developed by Dr. Charles Agustus Rosenheimer Campbell of San Antonio. The idea was to use bats against malaria carrying mosquitos. At one time, there were sixteen bat roosts built in the United States and Europe, of which only two sites now remain — one in Comfort and one in the Florida Keys.
Comfort, the second largest town in Kendall County, is located at the junction of State Highway 27, U.S. Highway 87, and Interstate Highway 10, sixteen miles northwest of Boerne on the county's western edge. The town was laid out near the site of an Indian village in 1854 by Ernst Hermann Altgelt, though its history goes back to a group of Germans from New Braunfels that settled in 1852 along the banks of the Cypress Creek above its confluence with the Guadalupe River. Freemasons, freethinkers, and political activists, middle-class German families, and liberals from Bettina and Sisterdale settled the area. Townsmen organized the community along cooperative lines and steadfastly opposed formal local government. Comfort opened a school shortly after its founding, but not until 1892 was a church built. The town was a center of Union sentiment during the Civil War and lost many young men at the battle of the Nueces in 1862. The Treue der Union monument on High Street across from the middle school campus honors these dead. From 1856 until Kendall County was organized in 1862, Comfort competed with Kerrville to become the county seat of Kerr County; Kerrville won.
Early agriculture and commerce in the area depended on sheep and goats, grains, lime burning (see LIMEKILNS), masonry, building rock, lumber, and shingles. In the 1940s and 1950s, when the Hill Country was an international wool and mohair center, Adolf Stieler of Comfort reigned as "Angora Goat King of the World." In the 1980s agribusiness continued to dominate the local economy, but hunting, fishing, sightseeing, and youth camps drew increasing numbers of tourists.
Much of the original townsite is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Significant architectural sites include Bolshevik Hall, Turner Hall, a theater, and numerous half-timber and Victorian structures that survived a disastrous flood in 1978. A tradition of secular funerals was still widely observed in the twentieth century, and German turner (see TURNVEREIN MOVEMENT) activities and modern Volksmarsch celebrations continued. A local museum, volunteer and mutual aid organizations, and service and literary clubs provided informal governance. The population of the unincorporated town was over 1,400 in 1980, when the post office, established in 1856, still existed. In 1990 the population was 1,477, and in 2000 it increased to 2,358.
History of Kendall County
KENDALL COUNTY. Kendall County (L-15) is in south central Texas, 170 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, and is bordered by Gillespie, Blanco, Comal, Bexar, Bandera, and Kerr counties. Boerne, the county seat, is on Cibolo Creek at the intersection of U.S. Highway 87 and Farm Road 475, thirty miles northwest of San Antonio. The county's center lies eleven miles north of Boerne at 29°57' north latitude and 98°43' west longitude. Kendall County comprises roughly 663 square miles of rolling to hilly terrain in the Edwards Plateau region, with elevations ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 feet above sea level. Vegetation native to the alkaline soils of the region consists primarily of tall grasses, live oak, juniper, and mesquite. Most of the area is drained by the Guadalupe River, which crosses the county from west to east. Two other important water courses rise in Kendall County: the Blanco River in the north and Cibolo Creek in the south. Wildlife in the area includes deer, javelina, coyote, bobcat, beaver, badger, fox, raccoon, weasel, squirrel, and a variety of small birds, fish, and reptiles. Among the county's mineral resources are dolomite and limestone. The climate is subtropical subhumid with an average minimum temperature of 35° F in January and an average high of 94° in July. The growing season averages 231 days annually, and the rainfall averages thirty-two inches.
The Central Texas region, including Kendall County, has supported human habitation for several thousand years. Archeological evidence suggests that hunting and gathering peoples established themselves in the area as early as 10,000 years ago. Lipan Apaches, Kiowas, and Comanches became the dominant tribes in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and were present when Germans began arriving in the 1840s. The Meusebach-Comanche Treaty, signed in 1847, was to permit the settlers to enter Indian territory to settle and the Indians to enter the settlements. German immigrants established Sisterdale in 1847, Tusculum (Boerne) in 1849, Curry's Creek in 1850, and Comfort in 1854. Although relations between settlers and Indians were fairly sympathetic, small groups of Indians did make frequent raids on farms in the area, and in some instances killed settlers and stole children. The threat of raids continued through the mid-1870s but lessened as the frontier was pushed farther west.
Most of the Kendall County area was part of the Bexar County established by the Republic of Texas in 1836; it later became part of Kerr County, which was separated from Bexar in 1856. Comfort served as county seat of Kerr County for two years before Kendall County was formed. In 1859 residents of Boerne and Sisterdale petitioned the legislature for a new county; the legislature granted the petition in 1862, and the new county, carved from Kerr and Blanco counties, was named in honor of George Wilkins Kendall. The first Kendall County officials were elected later that year, and Boerne was chosen as the county seat. The earliest schools in the area were private institutions that met in someone's home or in donated space. The first public schools were organized at Comfort in 1856 and at Boerne in 1857. Although the legislature had authorized a district system in 1854, the system was not put into effect before the 1870s or 1880s. Shortly after 1900 Kendall County had twenty-two common school districts. It was not until the 1930s and 1940s that improved transportation made large-scale consolidation of schools into independent school districts possible. Until the mid-twentieth century extensive schooling was for many children a luxury that took second place to their duties on the family farm, and dropout rates were high. As late as 1940 less than 9 percent of the population over the age of twenty-five had completed high school. The percentage of residents who finished school began to rise as the job market in nearby San Antonio expanded. By 1960, 20 percent were high school graduates, and by 1980 the number represented nearly 65 percent of the population over twenty-five. Religious development in the county was fairly slow. Many of the early German immigrants were "freethinkers" and were not particularly receptive to organized religion. In the 1840s and 1850s a priest from the cathedral in San Antonio traveled to the area occasionally to provide services to those people who wanted them. A priest was assigned to Boerne in 1860, but because of local sentiment, built his church on a hill outside the town. As more people moved into the area, however, more churches were established. A Methodist congregation was organized in the mid-1870s, an Episcopal church in 1881, and a Lutheran church in 1891. In the early 1980s the county's fifteen churches had an estimated combined membership of 5,514; Catholic, Southern Baptist, and American Lutheran were the largest denominations.
The major issue at the time of the county's formation was the Civil War. Kerr County, which in 1861 encompassed Kendall County, passed the ordinance of secession by a vote of 76 to 57; however, the majority of voters in Kerr County's Precinct 2, the area which became Kendall County, opposed secession 53 to 34. The level of Unionist sentiment in the region was due in large part to the number of German immigrants, most of whom opposed both slavery and secession. A group of German Unionists from Kendall County fought a Confederate force at the battle of the Nueces; the Union sympathizers who were killed at the Nueces were buried in a common grave at Comfort after the war, and the Treue der Union monument was erected in their honor in 1866. County residents supported Edmund J. Davis by a greater than two-to-one margin in his 1869 gubernatorial campaign, and by nearly three to one in his unsuccessful bid for reelection in 1873. In presidential politics county voters preferred Republican candidates in all but two elections between 1872 and 1992, the exceptions being Teddy Roosevelt, who headed the progressive Bull Moose party in 1912, and Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.
Like most areas in the South, Kendall County suffered considerable economic hardship immediately following the Civil War and throughout the Reconstruction period. Between 1864 and 1866 the county as a whole experienced a 52 percent loss in property tax receipts. Because few residents had practiced slavery, only 15 percent of this property loss was in slaves; most of the loss came from declines in total farm acreage, farm value, and livestock value, each of which fell 20 to 30 percent. The county began to show signs of recovery by 1880. The overall population rose from 1,536 in 1870 to 2,763 in 1880, and the 1880 census reported 419 farms in the county, up from 197 ten years earlier. The amount of improved land rose from 3,617 acres in 1870 to 22,452 acres in 1880. Field crops such as corn, wheat, oats, and cotton took up a third of the improved land, while livestock dominated the rest. Sheep ranching, which had been introduced to the area by George W. Kendall in the 1850s, had become the county's principal industry. The 1870 census reported the county as having 4,293 sheep and producing 8,781 pounds of wool; in 1880 the county's 16,259 sheep produced more than 65,200 pounds of wool. The completion to San Antonio of the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway in 1877 made outside markets more accessible to Kendall County residents, and freight services thrived, hauling local farm produce, wool, and lumber. Transportation became easier still in 1887, when the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway reached Boerne. In 1914 the San Antonio, Fredericksburg and Northern Railway connected Fredericksburg with the San Antonio and Aransas Pass track just east of Comfort. The Welfare, Waring, and Bankersmith communities developed as a result of the railroad construction, and established towns such as Boerne and Comfort thrived on the increased economic activity. By 1900 the population of the county had increased to 4,103, and the ethnic makeup was changing. In 1870 25 percent of the population were native Germans, 3 percent were from other European countries, 6½ percent were black, and 2 percent were native Mexicans. The remaining 63 percent were either native to Texas or had come from other states. New immigrants arrived from England in the 1880s and 1890s and from Mexico shortly after the turn of the century. By the 1930s Mexican Americans represented more than 11 percent of the county's population. The number of blacks increased more slowly, from 101 in 1870 to 253 in 1910, but decreased steadily as a percentage of the total population. In the 1910s and 1920s, as urban environments outside the county began to offer greater opportunities for advancement, Kendall County's black population was drawn away, falling to twenty-four by 1980. In the early 1980s 40 percent of the county's 10,635 residents were of German descent, 25 percent were English, 20 percent were Irish, 13 percent were Hispanic, and less than ¼ percent were black.
In 1900 Kendall County had 542 farms, and the amount of land in farms had more than doubled, rising from 153,921 acres in 1880 to 339,653 in 1900; the average farm size had increased from 367 to 626 acres. Stockraising was still the principal industry. By 1900 the county had nearly 20,000 cattle and 8,600 sheep. The wool and mohair industry had also been introduced to the area, and although the county had only 2,048 goats in 1900, their numbers increased rapidly; by 1920 the county had 13,626 goats. The planting of field crops also became a popular venture. From the 1880s through the mid-1920s the cotton industry commanded several thousand acres a year and kept a number of cotton gins in business. By the 1920s, however, corn and oats had eclipsed cotton, proving to be more profitable for an economy that was based on livestock. Some of the corn and oats were used locally as feed, and the rest was put on the San Antonio market. Kendall County had almost completely abandoned the cotton industry by the mid-1920s. The Great Depression of the 1930s reinforced the shift away from cotton and brought an increase in farm tenancy. From the 1880s through 1930 tenants had represented less than a fifth of the county's farmers. Between 1930 and 1940, however, the number of farms run by tenants rose from 130 to 171, or nearly one quarter of the county's farms. Many businesses in Boerne were forced to close, and a number of residents had to leave to look for work. The population of Kendall County as a whole showed a net increase of only 110 residents during these years, rising to 5,080 by 1940.
American involvement in World War II brought new industries to neighboring Bexar County. The presence of several large military bases in the San Antonio area meant an increased demand for civilian support services. Many Kendall County residents joined the military or took advantage of the availability of nearby jobs. Rail service to Fredericksburg had been discontinued in the early 1940s and the equipment given over to the war effort, but the county's rail link with San Antonio remained. In the 1950s many aspects of life in Kendall County settled back into the accustomed routine. Wool and mohair production remained high, with 414,160 pounds and 197,171 pounds, respectively, being marketed. The average farm size rose to 562 acres, as many smaller tenant farms were absorbed by larger ranching operations. One important difference in post-war Kendall County was a shift in the urban/rural balance of the population. Before 1940 residents of Boerne and Comfort made up less than 40 percent of the county's total population; the majority of residents lived in small rural communities or on farms. In the 1950s the ratio began to change, and by 1960 nearly 60 percent of the county's 5,889 residents lived in either Boerne or Comfort.
The rapid growth of Kendall County in 1970s and 1980s was prompted by the 1960s development of northwestern Bexar County. The newly completed Interstate Highway 10 lessened the need for rail service, and the Southern Pacific abandoned the remaining track in the county in 1970. The interstate also provided area residents a more convenient means of commuting than did the old U.S. Highway 87. As more people moved to Kendall County, several residential developments and subdivisions were built in the southern half of the county, accommodating the larger population without being a strain on the limits of Boerne proper. The county had 10,635 residents in 1980, a 52 percent increase over the 1970 population of 6,964; the population in 1990 was 14,589. Boerne itself grew from 2,400 residents in 1970 to 4,867 in 1990. In the early 1980s 86 percent of county land was in farms and ranches, but only 5 percent of that land was under cultivation. Hay, oats, wheat, and sorghum were the primary crops, accounting for 90 percent of the 12,000 acres harvested; other crops included peaches and pecans. More than 90 percent of agricultural receipts came from livestock and livestock products, the most important ones being cattle, milk, sheep, wool, angora goats, mohair, and hogs. Agricultural products accounted for 10 to 15 percent of the county's annual income in the 1980s; the rest came from industries, tourism, and support services. Professional and related services, manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, and construction work involved 57 percent of the labor force; 15 percent of the work force was self-employed, and 48 percent were employed outside the county. Industries with the highest employment were agribusiness and heavy construction. Kendall County retained much of its German heritage, reflected in the surnames of many of its residents, as well as in the atmosphere of its communities. Residents enjoyed celebrating their local history, holding the annual Volkssportverein's Easter Walk in April, the Berges Fest in June, and a Founders Day celebration in October. These events, in addition to the Guadalupe River State Park, attracted many visitors to the area and provided the county with significant tourist trade.