The Stefan Haelbig music studio

The Stefan Haelbig music studio. Courtesy of New Braunfels Conservation Society

We know those of you fortunate enough to attend last night’s (Oct. 5) Harvest Moon Gala featuring a delicious meal and unforgettable music under the stars by Patsy Kline are still “Walking After Midnight” with a smile on your face remembering the great time you enjoyed. The event was New Braunfels Conservation Society’s fourth annual ‘Night at the Ranch.’

Now the Conservation Society is well on its way to complete plans for their events during Wurstfest. Every year at that time there is great food at lunchtime waiting for you in the Forke Store at Conservation Plaza, 1300 Churchill Drive. Telephone 830-629-2943 if you have questions.

There is another intriguing happening at Conservation Plaza during Wurstfest that you don’t want to miss. Here’s the background story:

An exceptional professional musician arrived in New Braunfels from the “Old Country.” He was Stefan Haelbig. He had been a child prodigy and received a fine musical education. At an earlier than usual age he became Bandmaster of the Austrian Regimental Army Band. Also he played in a local orchestra. One evening’s concert found Richard Wagner in the audience. After the concert Wagner sought out Haelbig and told him that he had a great future as a French horn player. Haelbig in time performed in the Austrian Orchestra under the direction of Richard Wagner.

We are not aware of the circumstances but Stefan Haelbig arrived in New Braunfels penniless. Initially he worked at the woolen mill for a brief time, He then found refuge with Rev. and Mrs. L.C.Ervendberge at Waisenhaus located on the Guadalupe River just upstream and across the river from present- day Gruene. There, he lived and taught the children at the Waisenhaus music for a year and a half.

The Ervendberg story, too, is an interesting one. The following is a short portion of it.

Although both the Ervendbergs were from Germany, they first met in Illinois and later married. They decided Texas would be their destination and eventually settled on a small farm in Blumenthal. Rev. Ervendberg started a number of small churches in the vicinity and was their enthusiastic pastor when Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, after a lengthy interview, invited Ervendberg to be on his Council and begin a church and school in the community the Prince was founding under the auspices of the Adelsverein for fellow Germans who were on their way from the “Old Country.” Ervendberg agreed and met the first boatloads of new arrivals at the coast and with others including Ferdinand Lindheimer saw them safely to the newly founded New Braunfels. The later new arrivals coming from the coast had many difficulties, due to terrible weather and the Mexican-American War that had started. The war demands left a loss of transportation from the coast where there was no proper long term shelter from the storms. The result was much illness and numerous deaths leaving many of the children without parents. Pastor and Mrs. Ervendberg saw to a huge tent put on church property where First Protestant Church stands today. With the help of one woman, they tended to 60 youngsters. Relatives and family friends began to provide homes for many of the children. There were 19 left. They became part of the Ervendberg household. More space was needed; consequently, there was the purchase of the land on the Guadalupe where the “Waisenhaus” — the orphan’s home — became the first orphanage in West Texas. There were many happy remembrances from the days at the “Waisenhaus.” There is no doubt that Haelbig with his musical talent and instruction added to those wonderful memories.

Stefan Haelbig left Waisenhaus inspired. He would dedicate the remainder of his life to music and its instruction in New Braunfels and San Antonio. He was the first professionally and classically trained musician in our community. His students could take instruction in voice, piano, French horn, cello, violin, trumpet, coronet and clarinet. The Maennerchor (men’s choir), Concordia (mixed choir), and the New Braunfels Music Club were organized and directed by him. The Civil War interrupted the yearly statewide Saengerfest competition that originated in New Braunfels. Haelbig resurrected the competition in 1870.

Haelbig retired in 1915 and moved to San Antonio in 1916 where he died 2 years later at the age of 91. He is buried in Comal Cemetery.

The fachwerk building that became Haelbig Music Studio was constructed in circa 1850. Haelbig began occupying it for his studio in 1870. It remained his studio until his retirement. It then became a shoe repair shop. The location is two doors down from the present-day Faust Hotel on Seguin Avenue toward the Main Plaza. In 1985 when it was to be demolished to make way for a Pizza Hut, the former Haelbig Music Studio was saved from the wrecking ball by the Conservation Society and moved to “Old Town” in Conservation Plaza where we are able to enjoy it today. It’s former occupant, Stefan Haelbig, is remembered as a man who gave many joyous gifts of superb music to New Braunfels. 

During Wurstfest featured in the Haelbig Music Studio is one of Haelbig’s outstanding students who followed Haelbig in teaching music in our community. He was Walter Faust, Jr. a beloved musician and philantropist. His story appears in our next column.

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