Gruene Hall, located in Gruene, Texas, is one of the oldest functioning dance halls in the state. Largely a tourist attraction today, Gruene (originally known as Goodwin) was settled in the mid-nineteenth century by German farming families. As the head of one of these families, Ernst Gruene moved with his wife and two sons to the area northeast of New Braunfels in 1872. The second of his two sons, Henry (Heinrich) D. Gruene, firmly established the family's presence in the area by acquiring enough cotton-producing land to support between twenty and thirty tenant-farm families. In 1878 he built the dance hall known today as Gruene Hall. Before his death in 1920 he built the town's first mercantile store, cotton gin, lumberyard, and bank. He also provided land for a school and served for a time as postmaster.
Henry Gruene's Dance Hall provided area residents a place for socializing and offered hard-working farm families a diversion from their difficult lives. A sign hanging over the bar proclaimed "Den feinsten Schnaps, das beste Bier, bekommt man bei dem Heinrich hier" ("The best liquor, the best beer, you get at Henry's here"). In addition to serving both "the best beer" and "dime-a-shot whiskey," and providing a venue for polka bands and square dancing, the hall often was used by traveling salesmen for displaying their wares. Gruene Hall also became a popular location for Saengerfests (German singing festivals), high school graduation ceremonies, political elections, and both dog and badger fights. During Prohibition, Henry Gruene hung a sign in the bar that read, "Only Near Beer is Sold Here. Real Beer is Sold Near Here."
In the early part of the twentieth century, weekend dances usually began early on Saturday evenings. Typically, there would be a break at midnight for sandwiches and coffee, followed by more dancing until 5 A.M. The late Oscar Haas, a long-time resident of New Braunfels, remembered "those wonderful all-night dances at Gruene Hall—the long bar and the beer—the midnight supper—the children sleeping in the side room, as the parents danced until 5 A.M….the polkas, schottisches, waltzes, and the happiest of all, the ring-arounds."
Despite such joyous occasions, the residents of Gruene faced difficult times as well. In 1925 a boll weevil infestation devastated area crops. The Great Depression and the attendant decline in cotton prices nearly wiped out what was left of the town, though Gruene Hall continued to stay open.
In the early 1970s developers planned to raze the town in order to build new homes. While visiting the dormant community in 1974, Cheryle Fuller began her own efforts to save the town through devising a development plan and conducting a historical survey. In 1975 Gruene was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Two years later, San Antonio residents Bill Gallagher and Pat Molak used a $20,000 loan to purchase a number of local buildings, including the hall, and Molak, along with Mary Jane Nalley, began the work of preservation and renovations of the buildings. Their plans for the 6,000-square-foot hall involved very little structural change. They insisted on maintaining the vintage signs, stage, dance floor and forty-eight-star United States flag.
Under its new ownership the hall began to attract the performers that have helped make it a musical landmark, as well as a destination for hundreds of music fans every Saturday night. George Strait, for example, played regularly at Gruene Hall in the 1970s and 1980s. Others who have performed there over the years include Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, Tish Hinojosa, Robert Earl Keen, Jr., Jerry Jeff Walker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Don Walser, Chris Isaac, the Austin Lounge Lizards, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jimmy LaFave, Kelly Willis, Slaid Cleaves, and Charlie Robison. In 2015 Gruene Hall offered live music seven nights a week, as well as Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Gruene Hall (http://www.gruenehall.com/), accessed November 3, 2015. Joe Hammer, Schlaraffenland: Gruene, Texas (MS, Sophienburg Archives, New Braunfels, Texas). San Antonio Express–News, May 24, 1975; January 6, 1985. Seiedenschwara, Gruene, Texas: A Town that Tried to Survive (MS, Sophienburg Archives, New Braunfels, Texas). Connie Sherley, "It's Gruene, They Say!," Texas Highways, June 1989. Richard Zelade, Hill Country: Completely Updated 4th Edition (Houston: Texas Monthly Guidebooks, Gulf Publishing Company, 1997).
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