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King William Historic District – Meerscheidt Homestead

2014 September 1
by Jan Wilkinson

Another one solved!! This is one of my unidentified photos in my glass negative collection I have previously posted. I have had so many people help me with the photos and locations and appreciate all the help! Unfortunately the photographer is still unknown but thanks to J. T. Koenig, President of the Rosenberg Family Association this is his ancestor’s house built in the King William Historic District in San Antonio, Texas.

This is the Axel Meerscheidt home.  Axel was the son of Arthur Meerscheidt and Amanda Caroline von Rosenberg of Fayette County Texas and was a large part of the King William Historic District in San Antonio, Texas. You can see more about this family at the links:

https://www.facebook.com/vonrosenbergfamilyoftexas

http://vonrosenberg-family.org/

Below is the photo he shared with me.


Here is what I found on an Internet search. This is from the King William Association. I am so happy to find all this history!!

The Meerscheidt Homestead: Gone and Almost Forgotten


I bought the Stieren House at 503 East Guenther Street four years ago.  Upon moving in, I read Mary V. Burkholder’s book, Down the Acequia Madre, and I learned many historical facts about the house.  It was built in 1891 by Carl Stieren, who lived here with his wife Hedwig. Carl was a lumberman and entered into business with the Meerscheidt brothers, Axel and Paul, who owned a large area spanning 33 acres, south and east of South Alamo Street. Together they sold lots and built houses in the area, developing the Meerscheidt River Subdivision where my house stands today.

As a newcomer to the King William Historic District, I became enthralled by the history of our neighborhood and was floored when I received an intriguing letter in the mail. The letter began, “I am a relative of Axel (Alexander) Meerscheidt.”

The letter was from Neale Rabensburg of La Grange, Texas, and it contained an old photograph (above) of what he thought might be my house. The picture was taken in the 1890’s and was published in The Story of My Life, an autobiography by Erna Meerscheidt, Axel’s daughter.

While visiting San Antonio and researching his family history, Mr. Rabensburg saw my house and thought he might have found his ancestor’s homestead – the house Axel Meerscheidt built for his family. In her book, Erna notes that their home backed up to the river and that she was born in the master bedroom of the house on July 24, 1893.

I immediately responded to Neale’s letter and told him what I knew about the Stieren family living here, and I referred him to Burkholder’s book. He was one step ahead of me as he had just finished reading the book’s description of my house. He was surprised to read that Hedwig Stieren had lived here.  He told me that Erna Meerscheidt’s mother, Olga Meerscheidt, was Hedwig Stieren’s older sister! The story took a new twist. Carl Stieren and Axel Meerscheidt were brothers-in-law! Could they have all lived in the same house?

The fact that my address was different was bothersome but Mr. Rabensburg and I thought that the similarity between the houses merited further research. In the 1894 City Directory of San Antonio, Mr. Rabensburg had found that Axel Meerscheidt lived at 515 East Guenther.  I quickly realized that 515 East Guenther no longer exists! I took Neale’s photograph across the street to my neighbor, the savvy architect Charles Schubert who knew at first glance that the house in the photograph was not my house.

My curiosity led me to the San Antonio Conservation Society Library.  Conservation Society volunteer Frederica Kushner was very helpful and soon found the 1952 Sanborn Fire Insurance map that cracked the case.

The Axel Meerscheidt house was next door to mine where the condominiums are today. The estate was huge and labeled with two addresses; 515 East Guenther and 101 Crofton. Unlike the houses surrounding it on the map, the Meerscheidt house was barely visible because of an attempt by a 1950’s cartographer to cover it with glue and paper.  The attempt was proof that the house was there in 1952 when the map was printed but gone by 1957 when the map was amended. Further research in the city directories confirmed that the house met its demise in 1957.  We also came across a 1942 newspaper article reporting a small fire at 101 Crofton which had apparently become the Convent of the Sisters of Guadalupe!  More research will have to be done to find out exactly what happened to the house.

I told Mr. Rabensburg, “At least we have a photo of the house and we know exactly where it stood. It makes perfect sense that Axel Meerscheidt would have had the largest estate and the grandest house in the area! He certainly must have been a leader in the community!”

Mr. Rabensburg sent me a newspaper article printed in 1936 that confirmed my beliefs. The San Antonio Express article meticulously recounts a visit by President Benjamin Harrison in 1891. It was the first time a President of the United States had ever visited San Antonio. The city was in a tizzy. The very first Battle of Flowers Parade was planned to honor the President. Rain forced a cancellation of the parade and moved the reception indoors to the Grand Opera House (site of today’s Ripley’s Believe it or Not). Every seat in the Opera House was filled to the rafters.

The article detailed the seating arrangement at the event: “the President occupied the center seat of the front row. On his right sat in order, Postmaster General John Wannamaker and Secretary of Agriculture Jeremiah McLain Rusk and on the President’s left sat Mayor Bryan Callaghan and Axel Meerscheidt, the latter representing the commercial bodies of the city.”

The Meerscheidt Homestead is a piece of the San Antonio puzzle that we did not know was missing. Thanks to Neale Rabensburg, our history is now a bit more complete.

– Belinda Valera Molina

    More about the Meerscheidt Family

In last month’s newsletter, Belinda Molina wrote about the Axel Meerscheidt house that once stood next door to her house on E. Guenther. Sadly, the Meerscheidt house burned in the 1950’s. Belinda has communicated with Neale Rabensburg, a descendent of the Meerscheidt family, who has generously shared excerpts from the memoir of Erna Meerscheidt. Erna, daughter of Axel and Olga Meerscheidt, grew up in the house.

THE STORY OF MY LIFE

By Erna Meerscheidt Weeks Bouillon

“……..but after my grandfather’s death [Dr. O. Remer of New Braunfels], grandmother [Franciska Schleier] moved to San Antonio where several of her children had settled. My father [Axel Meerscheidt] had a darling little house built for my grandmother across the street from this large home in the Meerscheidt Addition [515 E. Guenther, later changed to 101 Crofton]. Our home was really a mansion, built in red brick with white rock, around curved windows, and the curved entrance door. It had a marble foyer and beautiful, stained glass windows. The mansion has now been turned into a chapel by the Catholics. It was of French architecture, located in an exclusive residential district named after my father, the Meerscheidt Addition.

 “You see, my father had studied architecture at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. He had been sent from Texas, where the schools were very poor at the time, to live with his Aunt Emma Koerber and his Uncle Karl, an attorney. Their home was in the Black Forest in Germany, Bad Harzburg. He was around thirteen or fourteen years old when he went over [to Germany from Texas] and remained about ten years. He did not practice as an architect in San Antonio but used his knowledge of it by opening up exclusive residential districts and having a beautiful house or two built in each to encourage others to buy property and settle in these districts. He did very well, and traveled to Europe with his whole family every few years.

“In the evenings in the summer when it was so very hot, we children were allowed to stay up late. It would have been impossible to sleep anyway. With mother and father, we would sit on the upstairs long gallery and sing. The southern skies on a warm night were very dark with many stars twinkling like lightning bugs. Father often went down to the little corner beer parlor two blocks away and brought back a little pail of beer. Mother and father would each have a large glass of beer so it was real cozy. I don’t remember that we children had anything to drink, although we might have been given lemonade.

“The property of the estate ran down to the river about one hundred feet back. Large pecan trees grew in the back. There was a steep drop to the river. We had a heavy rope with a huge knot at the end on which we took turns sitting. The other children would run way back, give a push and out we would swing over the river’s bank. This was fun, and we could hardly wait for our turn.

“We had a great deal of help—in the house and yard—and German cooks my father imported from Germany when on a trip there. Dressmakers also came into our home in those days since clothes were made at home and not in factories as now.

“I wore white dresses until I was four or five years old. The ironing woman would hang rows and rows of beautifully ironed frocks and petticoats and panties on lines in the ‘ironing kitchen’ as it was called. It was a beautiful sight to behold. It was a kitchen because there was a stove to heat the irons—no electric irons in those days.

“We went to Germany when I was five years old, then the next summer we traveled through many parts of Europe bringing to me additional unforgettable memories. I shall never forget sitting with my sister Emita and a tutor, a young, energetic teacher, on three wrought iron chairs with a wrought iron table very near the Radau River’s edge, studying arithmetic, Bible study, German reading and the writing of German script.

“When we returned to my Aunt Emma’s home after the following summer’s travel to say good-bye to her, the tutor asked my father to take him back to San Antonio. He offered to pay all of his own expenses and father took him.

“Not long after we returned to San Antonio, my father heard at the German social club he belonged to that the Menger Hotel on the San Antonio River needed a greeter to meet all travelers. The tutor applied, got the position, and did so well that he soon became the manager of the social activities of the hotel. He made many new plans such as serving meals outside along the river bank at noon and in the evenings. At night the Japanese lanterns, which he instigated, lit the river bank. This became a tradition continuing to this day all along the San Antonio River as it winds through the city.”

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