I wondered why the fantastic little town of Gruene never receives separate entries in travel books. Then I found Texas Heritage. It explained that Gruene is a historic district within the city limits of New Braunfels, so it’s usually listed as an attraction for this German-settled, Texas town northeast of San Antonio.
Gruene is easy to miss but worth finding. Ruth & I sailed right past the road to it and went up into the Hill Country before turning back. The detour was worth it, however, because we learned that Willie Nelson has pneumonia and might have to cancel some engagements. The trick is to get off I-35 at New Braunfels, go north, and just past the big box constructions turn left onto Hunter Road. If there’s a sign, we missed it.
Gruene almost became a ghost town, which would have been a shame. In the 1970s some preservationists realized its historical importance and saved it. By the 1840s German farmers were settling here in what was called the Lone Star Republic. Texas became the 28th state in 1845. One of the settlers was Ernst Gruene. He and his two sons built houses, planted cotton, and became successful. Soon, about 30 other families joined them and built houses in various styles along the Guadalupe River on a bluff overlooking what would become the city of New Braunfels. A saloon and dance hall were quickly added to the mercantile establishments springing up. The boll weevil and The Depression took Gruene down but the dance hall never closed. Today, it’s the oldest one in Texas and what’s left of the original town, which is quite a lot, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The dance hall is an authentic hoot. Built in 1878, it was the center of this community’s social life for more than a century before becoming a performance venue for the likes of Lyle Lovett, Garth Brooks, George Strait, and…..Willie Nelson. Many country-western careers began in Gruene Hall. I loved seeing its historic stage, the autographed photos of lots of familiar entertainers, the neon beer signs, the open-air dance floor, etc. The dance hall has free entertainment most weekdays and ticketed shows most weekends. The ones I checked out ranged from $12 to $30 per person per performance.
Locals pronounce Gruene “green” and its shops, restaurants, B&Bs, etc. are fun/nostalgic instead of being fake/modernized. Gruene is great, an entire 5 Compass town.