Where Lincoln Stayed Still Operating,” reads the headline on the yellowed 1950
That a hotel might be in business nearly a century
after Abraham Lincoln spent the night in one of its rooms would not be particularly
remarkable in Illinois – say Springfield – or Washington. But the “Lincoln slept
here” assertion appeared in a Texas newspaper and referred to a historic hostelry
Abe? Lincoln in Texas?
First some background. The hotel was the Plaza, so named because it stands across
Braunfels’ town plaza at the corner of Seguin and San Antonio streets. Built
of limestone and cedar in 1851 by Adolph Nauendorf, the at first two-story structure
was offered to Comal County for use as a courthouse in 1852. Balking at the $3,000
asking price, county commissions said no thanks.
Jacob Schmitz, one of
the German immigrants who had founded the town in 1845, bought the property in
1858. Since at least 1854, he had been operating a stagecoach stop nearby on Seguin
Street he called the Guadalupe Hotel. Continuing under the same name at the new
location, in 1873 he added a third floor and renamed the hotel for himself.
Braunfels being a good day’s horseback ride from San
Antonio, and two days by wagon or stagecoach, the hotel saw a lot of business.
In 1854, Frederick
Law Olmsted, who would go on to design Central Park in New York, hit town
on his tour of Texas.
was nothing wanting,” he wrote of Schmitz’s hotel when it was at its original
location. After describing the pink-walled main room, he raved about the meal
he had: “…Excellent soup, two courses of meat (neither of them pork and neither
of them fried), two vegetables, compote of peaches, coffee with milk, wheat bread,
and beautiful sweet butter.”
Eighteen years later, the poet Sidney Lanier
spent a night at the hotel.
“We arrived just a night-fall,” he wrote,
“found a large clean German town, with all manner of evidence of German thrift
on every hand, through which we passed to the hotel, where mine host, a large-framed
and seemingly larged-souled German, was ready with a chair for the ladies to step
on [presumably as they alighted from the stagecoach that stopped at the hotel.]”
inn keepers, Schmitz kept a guest register in a large bound book. Over the years,
in addition to Olmsted
and Lanier, numerous notables – from military officers to Sam
Houston – lodged at the hotel. One of the guests was Jefferson Davis, U.S.
Secretary of War before he became president of the Confederate States of America.
And, if the Schmitz-Plaza’s guest register is to be believed, the man who would
be Jefferson’s polar opposite during the Civil War also enjoyed the hotel’s hospitality
at some point between its opening and his election as 16th president.
But if Lincoln ever came to Texas,
much less the Schimtz Hotel in New
Braunfels, the trip is a part of his well-examined life yet to be explored.
If he did visit Texas,
it would have been at some point between the time the hotel opened and 1860, when
he ran for the presidency. Had Lincoln come to Texas
after then, we’d be reading distinctly different American history books, since
he was persona non grata with most Texans even prior to his election.
Lincoln never had much money, and travel was hard back then. A review of his life’s
story suggests the closet he ever got to Texas
was New Orleans, which he visited in 1831 when Louisiana’s neighbor to the west
was still a province of Mexico.
that the future Great Emancipator didn’t know about Texas,
which by the time Lincoln got elected to Congress in 1847 had become the 28th
state. As a freshman lawmaker, Lincoln was outspoken in his criticism of President
James K. Polk and the war with Mexico that began in the spring of 1846.
More than likely, at some point in the late 1850s as the tall, thin lawyer from
Illinois became better known as an eloquent opponent of slavery, some unknown
traveler thought it funny to scribble Lincoln’s name in the Schimtz’ register.
In later years, people more familiar with the president’s name than his background
accepted it as fact that he had visited Texas before the Civil War.
the summer of 1950, when the story claiming Lincoln had stayed in New
Braunfels ran in the Austin American, the hotel was known as the Plaza. Its
owners and operators were P.E. Short and his wife.
“I wish Abraham Lincoln
could come back and see the changes time and people have made since…Jacob Schmitz
build the hotel,” Mrs. Short told Comal County historian Oscar Haas, who wrote
the story on the Plaza.
The Plaza stayed in business until 1961, closing
after more than a century of operation. The New Braunfels Conservation Society
bought the old building in 1969 to keep it from being razed, and more recently,
it has been remodeled and opened as a vacation and short-term rental property.
If you visit, ask for the Lincoln bedroom.
Cox - July 26, 2012 column
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