Messages from the Past

by Julie Catalano

Historic post offices are welcome stops for Hill Country travelers on a nostalgic journey to days gone by.

Once upon a time, rural post offices were more than a means to send and receive mail. They served as gathering places where family and friends could stop and rest, grab a cold drink or a quick bite, catch up on the latest community happenings and restock supplies. The good news? Some of them are still doing just that.

The Early Days: Guadalupe Post Office at Cordillera Ranch

In a fascinating bit of postal history, Cordillera Ranch has ties to the very beginnings of the post offices in these parts. Amateur Kendall County historian Bryden Moon tells the story of how the earliest post office in the area ended up at Cordillera’s Outfitter Center as the second location of the Guadalupe Post Office (the first was opened by Charles Wenzel in 1875 along the Guadalupe River).

“Until that time, the closest area post offices were at Curry Creek in Kendall County, and Spring Branch in Comal County,” writes Moon in the article “The Post Office Grudge” for the Texas Story Project at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.

Five years later in 1880, Wenzel sold his land to Henry Koch, who served as the new postmaster until he handed off the entire operation in 1883 to Prussian-born Caspar Sueltenfuss, who promptly relocated the business to his property — part of which is now the present day Cordillera Ranch, where the Sueltenfuss house eventually became the Ranch’s Outfitter Center.

“Typically, in those days, the postmaster’s house was the post office,” explains Moon. Postmasters, he adds, didn’t deliver. “They held the mail, and people would come to the house to drop off or pick up.” The Sueltenfuss house/Cordillera Outfitter Center, he says, “is small but incredibly handsome,” and was home to Caspar, wife Anna and their nine children. “Obviously it’s been worked on and restored. There is nothing left of the post office.”

For some reason — according to Moon, no one really knows why — Caspar Sueltenfuss changed the name of the post office from Guadalupe to Schiller in 1890. “Lore has it that the Guadalupe County mail was getting mixed up with the Guadalupe post office mail, but that’s unsubstantiated.”

An educated man, Sueltenfuss decided to rename the Guadalupe Post Office after German poet/philosopher/playwright Friedrich Schiller. “When you named the post office, you started naming the region, that’s just how it worked,” says Moon, who says that most communities developed around post offices, stores, schools or churches. For about six years, the Schiller Post Office overlapped with a “new” satellite office in Bergheim that opened in 1901. By January of 1907 the Schiller Post Office was no more, ultimately transferring its operations to Bergheim.

Bergheim General Store and Post Office
843 Texas 46, Bergheim 78004
830.336.2112

bergheim

Stanley Jones, owner of the Bergheim General Store and Post Office, holds a document treasured by all in his family. “This is a letter that my grandfather Alfred Engel wrote about his father and the kind of life they had in the early years here.” The “father” is Andreas Engel, an Austrian-born immigrant who was the first postmaster of the Bergheim Post Office, and Jones’s great-grandfather. Jones’s grandfather Alfred writes in part about how Andreas Engel became the postmaster for the post office that he named:

[Friedrich Hofheinz] begged Andreas Engel to become the postmaster but Andreas said he had no building and no name. But Fred was hard to say no to and I can remember it well. He just came and brought all the post office equipment along and he brought the Boerne postmaster and the two appointed Andreas Engel as postmaster. But actually the place had no name, so Andreas Engel decided on Bergheim to which the other two agreed. Translated, Bergheim means Hill Home or more romantically Home in the Hills. A little corner in the house was partitioned off and that became the first post office in Bergheim in 1901. 

After Andreas, Alfred became the postmaster in the late 1960-early 1970s, followed by his daughter Bernadine Cobb, and then Jones’s great-aunt Helen Marquardt. Jones took over in the early 1980s and has been there ever since.

The 1903 structure has the original floors and is a true general store. “We sell groceries, clothing, work jeans and shirts, hardware, feed, fencing and hay,” says Jones. The store itself does not have a restaurant, but popular Boerne-based The Kitchen Cabin food truck is occasionally on site with its signature homemade tortillas, Tex-Mex and Hill Country fare. Call the store for the schedule.

Kendalia General Store and Post Office
2545 RR 473, Kendalia 78027
830.336.2450

kendalia

Retired postmaster Lanette Edmondson looks back fondly on her “29 years, six months and 19 days” as the Kendalia postmaster from 1979 to 2008. “I got to know the stamp collectors really well. They’d call and say ‘Do you have anything new before I drive out there?’ I met some really interesting people from all over the world.”

“The very first Kendalia area post office was at Hodges in 1856, then Hodges Mill,” says Donna Jonas, library director at the Kendalia Public Library and author of the two-volume Kendalia: A History of the Settlement 1847-1957 (2012). “The next one was at Curry’s Creek, which was a residence. The door had a slot in it where people would slide their envelopes along with their pennies for postage.” Today the Kendalia Post Office is housed in the Kendalia General Store owned by Mindy Ingram, a quaint place with an old Coca-Cola chest for cold beers, a lunch counter with sandwiches, burgers and specials, and a table where visitors can work on a puzzle at their leisure.

It’s that slower pace that Edmondson says is often missing in modern times. “When you’ve got 20 people in line you can’t be talking to everyone. There were no lines in Kendalia.”

Rio Medina General Store and Post Office 
3980 FM 471 N., Rio Medina 78066
Store: 830.538.2441. Post Office: 830.538.2562

IMG_0583-Final-0815

Rio Medina is about five miles north of Castroville, located on the Medina River, and was settled by the Boehme, Wengenroth, Burrell and Wurzbach families in the mid-1800s. According to the Medina County Historical Commission, the first mercantile business in the community, then known as San Geronimo, was established in 1908 by Alexander Boehme, who also applied to Washington for a post office within his store. When the name San Geronimo Post Office was denied, it was renamed Rio Medina and Boehme was appointed postmaster. The store sold groceries, hardware, feed, dry goods, notions and patent drugs. (Source: Rio Medina Store and Post Office, Medina County Historical Commission, 2014).

Today, the cozy Rio Medina General Store — which has been in continuous operation since 1908 — is a favorite among motorcyclists and others looking for an old-time, one-stop shopping experience, “just like when your grandparents were kids,” as the locals say. Still the hub of the small community, the store features dry Alsatian sausage, local favorite parisa, homemade sandwiches, hardware, farm and ranch supplies, antiques, collectibles, store memorabilia and of course a full-service post office.

Hye Market & Spirits
10261 W. Highway 290, Hye 78635
830.868.2300   ::   hyemarket.com

IMG_0639-Final-0815

About 20 miles east of Fredericksburg on Highway 290 on the way to Johnson City, it’s no surprise that this historic post office at the back of Hye Market has enduring ties to the 36th President of the United States. Lyndon B. Johnson claimed that he mailed his first letter there at the age of four, and owner Jason Cook says that LBJ maintained P.O. Box 276 his entire life. But nothing illustrated Johnson’s fondness for the post office more than showing up at the general store in October 1965, with Lawrence O’Brien in tow, to swear in O’Brien as Postmaster General of the U.S. Cook keeps an historical photo of the event in the post office. “I’m trying to find film of it, so I can put it on a loop for everyone to watch.”

These days, Hye is the place to watch, thanks to a steady stream of visitors to the booming Fredericksburg/Johnson City area. Inside the 110-year-old building with original pine floors, doors and pressed tin ceiling, the Hye End Tasting Room hosts weekly tastings of local wines and beers. The deli/cafe boasts a diverse menu of sandwiches and salads, and the market features gifts, jewelry, sauces, spices and spirits.

Named for town founder and first postmaster Hiram “Hye” Brown, the tiny town has a big future, says Cook. “For a time some residents thought Hye was going to become a ghost town, but these businesses have come back and put it on   the map.”

Special thanks to the following for their help with resources in compiling this roundup: Bryden Moon, Jason Cook, Lanette Edmondson, Donna Jonas, Stanley Jones, Mindy Ingram and Bonnie Jaks.

For more info, Texas State Historical Commission, 

tshaonline.org

 

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