Dance Hall History

I just got back from Texas where my wife and I spent some time in the hill country outside San Antonio.  One of our favorite places was Gruene, Texas (pronounced Green).  Unless you stop to read the Historical Markers in the town (something we actually do), the average visitor would be clueless about the town’s history because there is nothing about the town that gives you a hint about its past. 

Folks who visit Gruene walk around wearing an assortment of shorts, sandals, tank tops, wranglers or wet bathing suits from tubing down the Guadalupe River.  They eat Blue Bell ice cream and Armadillos droppings (caramel candy) from the Country Store after enjoying lunch or dinner at either the Gristmill Restaurant or Gruene River Grill.  They shop at places like Cotton Eyed Joes, Gruene With Envy, Tipsey Gipsey or my favorite, Pookie Janes.  Pookie Janes was my favorite because of The Man Cave.  At the back of the store there is a secret door to a back porch clearly marked “The Man Cave”.  Upon entering The Man Cave you will find two lawn chairs, a t.v. with remote control and a small refrigerator stocked with beer and a sign that reads “One per customer”.  Shopping just got easier.

All of this makes for a great visit, but were it not for Gruene Hall you would miss the town’s history.  Gruene was originally the town of Goodwin until Henry Gruene arrived in the early 1870s, built a cotton gin, dance hall and school.  Cotton farming put the town of Gruene( name changed in 1903) on the map.  Gruene was a thriving  farming community until the arrival of the Boll Weevil in 1925.  The destruction of the cotton industry meant the decline of the town. 

Gruene was resurrected in the early 1970s as a part of the tourism industry associated with the nearby city of New Braunfels.  The cotton gins are now restaurants and most of the original buildings either sell antiques or are trendy boutiques, but if you want to hear, smell and taste a genuine part of Gruene’s history you have to visit the dance hall.  The social life of Gruene has been connected to this dance hall for over 130 years.  Gruene Hall is wood tables, wood floors, wood bar, long-necks, live country music with audience participation and Texas two-step.

When you step into Gruene Hall you  are entering a social world that has not changed all that much since it was built in 1878.  It’s just fun.  Most of the musicians who perform are local talent who play there because they love music and get paid from tips dropped in large plastic buckets, though Gruene Hall has seen the likes of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson too.  Everyone smiles, laughs, nods their heads to the music and a few dance.

Whatever you might think about dance halls, places like Gruene Hall continue to carry part of a town’s living history long after events like the Boll Weevil manifestation devastated its original farming community and destroyed its cotton economy.

So if you are ever in the Texas hill country north of San Antonio be sure to visit Gruene and make sure you sample the town’s history at Gruene Hall.


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