Boerne, Texas: "The Little Town Of Bauer"

Boerne, Texas: 
"The Little Town of Bauer"

Boerne is the Bauer of "Mary Ware in Texas," and many of her experiences were ours first… Boerne had been settled by Germans, and a number of the outlying ranches were occupied by delightful English and Scotch families. We came to know some of them intimately, and ceased to feel like strangers in a strange land. When I hear various parts of the country boasting of their hospitality, I feel that nothing can exceed Texas hospitality. Nobody could be dearer than the friends we made in San Antonio and Boerne.
--Annie Fellows Johnston, in Land of the Little Colonel, Chapter 8

Boerne’s Main Street, ca 1890-1900

Located about 30 miles northwest of San Antonio in the hill country of Kendall County, Texas, Boerne (pronounced Bur-nee by the locals) – or Bauer, as Annie Fellows Johnston called it in her novels -- was the setting for most of the action in Mary Ware in Texas. Little Colonel fans are introduced to the little Texas town in Chapter III:

The station was half a mile away from the village, and as they swung down the sunny white road towards it, at a rapid gait, both Norman and Mary looked out eagerly at the place that was to be their home for a whole long winter, and maybe more.

From a distance it looked almost like a toy village, with its red roofs, blue barns and flashing windmills nestled against the background of misty hills. Low mountain peaks rose here and there on the far horizon beyond.

"This is distinctly a German village, you know," explained Mrs. Barnaby NEW LINK, as they passed a group of little flaxen-haired Teutons on the roadside, who were calling to each other and their dog in a tongue which Mary could not understand.

"Bauer was settled by an old German count and a baron or two, who came over here with their families and followers. They made it as much like a corner of the Fatherland as they could, and their descendants still cling to their language and customs. They don't want any disturbing, aggressive Americans in their midst, so they never call on new-comers, and never return their visits if any of them try to make the advances. They will welcome you to their shops, but not to their homes. Even the English and Scotch people who have owned the out-lying ranches as long as they have owned the town are looked upon as aliens and strangers, in a way." 

Main Street, before 1905

and later in the same chapter:

"I wish you....could see the little town now, spread out below the hills in the twilight, with the windmills silhouetted against the sky. At one end is the little stone belfry of St. Peter's, at the other the square gray tower of the Academy and just between, swinging low over the hills in the faint afterglow, the pale golden crescent of the new moon. After all, it's a good old world...

This c. 1900-1906 post card offers a birds-eye view of the city, similar to the view Mary and Norman Ware enjoyed from atop the windmill in back of their cottage in Mary Ware in Texas. One of three inventions that made it possible to tame Texas (the others being barbwire and Colt revolvers!), windmills were used to pump water from underground aquifers. Shown below is a c. 1930s windmill from the Walker farm in Lubbock, Texas from the web page “Windmills in Texas.”

Windmill in Lubbock, Texas, 1930s-40s

In real life, Boerne was where the Johnston family ended several years of wandering that led them first to first to Walton, New York , next to California, then to Lee’s Ranch  near Phoenix, Arizona, and finally to San Antonio, Texas and environs in search of a healthier climate for John, Annie’s stepson who suffered from tuberculosis.  Boerne had a reputation as a health resort due to its dry climate and there were many sanitariums in the area. It was in Boerne that Annie finally purchased her first home, Penacres, where she resided with her two stepchildren from 1905 until some months after John’s death in September 1910.

St. Mary’s Sanitarium in Boerne was one of many in the Texas Hill Country.

During her nearly eight years in Texas, Annie wrote a book a year, including The Little Colonel's Christmas Vacation (1905), The Little Colonel: Maid of Honor (1906), Legend of the Bleeding Heart (1907), the Little Colonel's Knight Comes Riding (1907), The Little Colonel's Chum: Mary Ware (1908), and Mary Ware in Texas (1910). The last three were written at Penacres.

Just as described in Mary Ware in Texas, Boerne was “a distinctly German village” located near a creek, according to this city history from the Boerne Convention & Visitors Bureau:

The city of Boerne is named for Ludwig Borne, who inspired many young men to leave Germany in the 1840’s and travel to the new world.  Some of these German pioneers created a settlement called “Tusculum” near present day Johns Road.  Even after most of the original creators had moved on, a few of the men decided to remain and named the area Boerne. 

The land on which the settlement stood was eventually bought by Gustav Theissen and John James, who platted the town in 1851.  As businesses grew and stagecoach routes began to appear in the area, Boerne itself began to develop as well.  A post office and stage stop was opened by August Staffel in 1856.  William Dietert established Boerne’s first business, a gristmill and sawmill on the Cibolo Creek.  Soon the town was in possession of a blacksmith shop, a livery stable, a butcher shop, a saloon and a general store.  Professor Karl Dienger even created a private school in the 1860’s. 

Because Boerne had been established by “free thinkers” – Germans who had no religion – churches were not permitted in Boerne.  Legend tells of signs posted outside the city limits warning that preachers found inside the town after sunset would be shot.  George Wilkins Kendall decided to build a Catholic church to honor his wife in 1860, and he was forced to build south of town, outside the city limits.  St. Peter’s Church stands on what is now Main Street.  The first church built inside the city limits was the Episcopal Church (editors note: St. Helen’s Episcopal Church), erected in 1881 by British settlers. 

In 1887, the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad began daily treks to Boerne from San Antonio, replacing the use of the stagecoach.  The railroad brought mail and newspapers from San Antonio daily and cut travel time between the two cities to three hours.  Tourism expanded, and Boerne grew considerably larger. 

Many people suffering from lung ailments traveled to Boerne to recuperate.  It has been said that at one time, Boerne contained more invalids and sick people than healthy citizens. 

Annie, in fact, lamented the “Germaness” of the girls in the community in a 1908 letter written to her friend and amanuensis, Mamie Lawton ("Mrs. Walton" of the Little Colonel stories), noting that she had to draw on her nieces’ school experiences while writing Mary Ware: The Little Colonel’s Chum:

"…Here goes for the tussle with MARY WARE.  I do not think I could have managed her at all if it had not been for the bright, enthusiastic letters of two of my nieces.  Lara Heilman is at the University of Wisconsin and Margaret Bacon at the Mount Vernon Seminary in Washington.  I wrote to them for school girl experiences and they came to my rescue, nobly.

"I wish the "Little Lawtons" could make daily calls at "Penacres."  I never see real sure enough American girls any more. The few girls I know here, so plainly bear the tag "made in Germany" that they don't fit into my plays at all... "

Despite Annie’s difficulties with finding real American girls as models for her stories, she successfully incorporated Boerne landmarks and businesses into Mary Ware in Texas, and many characters were also inspired by real residents, according to a 1949 interview with her stepdaughter, Mary, that appeared in the “Evening News:”

The visit to Boerne of Miss Mary Johnston of Pee Wee Valley, Ky., near Louisville, who is spending the winter with Mr. and Mrs. Frank Pancoast in San Antonio (editors note: Frank V. Pancoast was a trust officer at Frost National Bank and not only handled Annie Fellows Johnston’s financial affairs, but was also a close personal friend. Mary Ware in Texas was dedicated to “F.V.P.” –Frank V. Pancoast), opened many memory lanes.

Miss Johnston is the daughter of the late writer, Mrs. Annie Fellows Johnston, who made her home in Boerne from 1905 to 1911…”Mary Ware in Texas” was written at the Johnston home, Penacres in Boerne. Miss Mary Johnston was Mary Ware, the town of Bauer was Boerne and many local characters were used. Mrs. Joe Johns and Miss Alice Massey of Boerne were among Mrs. Johnston’s friends of that period…

Col. Bettie Edmonds of the Boerne Area Historical Preservation Society has prepared a map showing many of the Boerne ("Bauer") landmarks mentioned in Mary Ware in Texas as well as the real-life locations of the Johnstons’ Penacres home and the home of Annie’s friend, Mrs. Johns.

Below is a listing of the numbers and the corresponding notes to that number:

  1. Penacres: The Johnston Family Home, and probably Annie’s inspiration for the Ware cottage
  2. Boerne Railroad Depot, where the Wares alighted from the passenger train trip from San Antonio
  3. Home of Mrs. Joe (Camille) Johns, Annie’s close friend
  4. St. Helena’s Episcopal Church, where Rev. Rochester served as rector in the story
  5. St. Mary’s Sanitarium, located beside Holy Angels Academy and across from St. Helena’s
  6. Holy Angels Academy, an elementary school visible from atop the windmill at the Ware cottage
  7. Dienger General Store & Residence, where the Wares ordered their groceries
  8. Boerne Hotel/Ye Kendall Inn, a familiar landmark to the Wares, since it was located in the same plaza as Dienger’s store
  9. Calrow Post Office, where Mary Ware learns of the job opportunity to serve as governess/warden for the mischievous Mallory children and which is later terrorized by those self-same “little devils”
  10. Cibolo Creek at Theissen, the “Fern-bank” where Mary Ware gathered maidenhair ferns as Christmas gifts
  11. Cibolo Creek Dam, a popular picnic spot and local landmark in real life
  12. Phillip House / Phillip Manor, the hotel from which the Mallory family was evicted, due to Brud’s and Sister’s outrageous behavior
  13. St. Peter’s Catholic Church, with its stone spire, which was visible from atop the windmill at the Ware cottage. On the hillside above it was “Council Rock” where Mary Ware receives her first grownup valentine.
  14. Kendall County Courthouse, where Mr. Barnaby had business

Shown below are photos and postcards of most of those landmarks.


Newspaper clipping courtesy of the Boerne Area Historical Preservation Society

Penacres was located at what is now 609 E. Theissen Street and was the real home of Annie, Mary and John Johnston during their years in Boerne. It was also the model for the cottage the Wares rented from Mr. and Mrs. Metz in Mary Ware in Texas. For more about Penacres and the Johnstons’ experiences in the two-room cottage, visit the Penacres page.



Above and below, photos of the Boerne Railroad Depot courtesy of the Boerne Area Historical Preservation Society. 


The San Antonio & Arkansas Pass Railroad began service to Boerne on March 18, 1887, reducing the nearly eight-hour stage coach trip to San Antonio to just two-and-a-half hours. The cost of the train trip was only three cents a mile, compared to 12 cents for the stage. Residents celebrated the event with a daylong party that included oratory, roasted beeves, music, dancing, lemonade and stronger drink – not necessarily in that order!
Built at the corner of Rosewood and Ebner in 1906, the year after the Johnstons moved to Boerne and 19 years after the passenger service began, the Depot no longer exists. Like Lloydsborough/Pewee Valley’s railroad station, passenger train service in Boerne fell victim to the invention of automobiles and Interstate 10.
In Mary Ware in Texas, the Wares waited at this depot whenever they made the trip to San Antonio. For the Johnstons, the depot marked not only the end and beginning of excursions to San Antonio, but also longer trips to visit friends and family back East -- the Burges in Pewee Valley, Annie’s mother in Evansville and Mrs. Bliss in Providence, Rhode Island, who kept a summer home in Boerne.

Above, an old railroad route, Spanish Pass is three miles north of Boerne.
It stands at an elevation of 1,750 feet above sea level, 
100 feet higher than the surrounding hills.


Photo courtesy of the Boerne Area Historical Preservation Society
Annie’s close friend, Mrs. Joe (Camille) Johns, lived in this c. 1879 limestone home located
at 927 N. School Road.Her son, Noee, was Annie’s godchild.

Photo courtesy of the Boerne Area Historical Preservation Society

Located at 410 N. Main Street, St. Helena’s Episcopal Church was founded in 1881. Annie Fellows Johnston, who attended worship services at St. Helena’s, wouldn’t recognize the Gothic stone structure above. It wasn’t built until 1929. The original church was constructed of wood.
Alice Massey, who was close friends with Annie during the Johnstons’ years in Boerne, was married to St. Helena’s rector, Rev. James Albert Massey, and lived in the church’s rectory. The Masseys served as prototypes for the Rochesters  in Mary Ware in Texas.



A post card view of St. Mary’s Sanitarium 

Operated by the Catholic Sisters of the Incarnate Word, the sanitarium, which originally served ailing Catholic priests, specialized in the long term care of patients with TB and other lung disorders. It was destroyed by fire and the remnants razed in the 1930s. We do not know whether John Johnston was ever a patient here. Many TB patients were cared for at home. The Wares and the Johnstons would have passed near the sanitarium whenever they attended services at St. Helena’s or visited their friends, the Rochesters/Masseys at the rectory.


Above and below, postcards of Holy Angels Academy courtesy of the Boerne Area Historical Preservation Society

Holy Angels Academy was an elementary school operated by the Catholic Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word near St. Mary’s Sanitarium. It was one of the landmarks visible from the atop the windmill at the Wares’ cottage. It was destroyed by fire and the remnants razed in the 1930s.



Photo courtesy of the Boerne Area Historical Preservation Society 

This stone building with its elaborate gingerbread was built around 1884. During the years the Johnstons lived in Boerne, it served as both a general store and the residence of Joseph and Ida Dienger and their seven children. The store sold staples such as flour, cornmeal, sugar, coffee, beans, dried peas and potatoes. An extension added in 1900 housed a dry-goods store that sold fabrics, shoes, linens and ready-to-wear garments. It was run by Joseph's sisters, Lina and Louise. The Dienger building is now home to the Boerne Public Library. Below, a photo of the interior, date unknown.

Photo courtesy of the Boerne Area Historical Preservation Society 

Chapter 3 of Mary Ware in Texas describes some of the purchases the Wares made in Bauer to ready the Metzs’ rental cottage for occupancy:  

The groceries they had ordered were already piled on the table in the kitchen. A load of wood was on its way. The new mattresses they had bought at the furniture shop (kept by the undertaker of the village) were promised for delivery early in the afternoon, and they had been introduced at each place as friends of the Barnabys, who were to be charged home prices, and not the ones usually asked of strangers. Mrs. Barnaby was what she called plain-spoken, and although she made a jest of her demands they carried weight.”

Undoubtedly, the Wares ordered their groceries from Dienger’s general store. And Annie didn’t make up the “furniture shop kept by the undertaker of the village” where the Wares purchased their new mattresses. It was based on the C.O. Ebensberger Lumberyard, Hardware, Furniture Store, pictured below, which also offered "Undertaker & Embalmer Services” from their establishment at 260 S. Main St. Founded in 1882, Ebsenberger Funeral Home is now located at 111 E. Rosewood and is the oldest continuously operating business in Boerne. It probably handled the arrangements to ship John Johnston’s body to Evansville for burial.

Photo courtesy of the Boerne Area Historic Preservation Society



A post card view of the Boerne Hotel, before 1906.

The Boerne Hotel was one of six in the area, when Boerne enjoyed a reputation as a health resort. It still exists today at 128 West Blanco Road and has been known as Ye Kendall Inn since 1909. It is named for journalist George Wilkins Kendall, who owned Post Oak Springs Ranch and left Texas a lasting legacy by crossbreeding Mexican Churros with fine-fleeced Merino sheep to produce a new strain with soft wool and the stamina required to survive the Texas Hill Country.

The Wares and the Johnstons would have passed by the hotel whenever they visited Dienger’s store, since it was located in the same plaza.



Calrow Post Office in 1908 courtesy of the Boerne Area Historical Preservation Society 

Boerne’s first post office was established in 1856 and August Staffell served as its first postmaster. The post card above shows the later Calrow Post Office as it appeared in 1908, when Annie Fellows Johnston would make the one and three-quarters mile round trip walk from Penacres to pick up her evening mail, according to a 1908 letter she wrote to a friend. 
In Mary Ware in Texas, the post office was the setting for Mary Ware’s chance meeting with Rev. Massey, while she was searching for a job. As she waited for the window to open, he told her about the naughty Mallory children and family’s need to find someone who could keep them out of mischief. The necessary qualifications for the job, he said, were “some one as patient as Job, as tactful as a diplomat, with the nerve of a lion-tamer and the resources of a sleight-of-hand performer --- the kind who can draw rabbits out of a silk hat if necessary."
Later in the novel, Brud and Sister terrorized the post office -- and postmistress -- by dropping a good-sized garter snake into the slit of the package box and filling the keyholes of the private letter boxes with chewing gum.


A 1900s photograph of Sunday picnickers at Boerne’s Cibolo Creek at the dam
originally built by William Dietert to operate his gristmill and sawmill
courtesy of the Boerne Area Historical Preservation Society.

In Mary Ware in Texas, Cibolo Creek was where Mary and Norman Ware poled their flatboat. These scenes were probably inspired by the author’s own experiences during a summer’s stay at a nearby Comfort, Texas ranch for invalid boarders. In her autobiography, she wrote that her “chief diversion that summer was poling a flat-bottomed boat up and down the creek.”
It was along also the banks of the Cibolo on a “high, steep cliff, straight as a wall,” that Mary Ware gathered “delicate, feathery maiden-hair ferns, as luxuriantly green as in mid-summer” that she gave to Gay Melville and Mrs. Rochester, as Christmas presents. The spot was dubbed Fern-bank in the story.
Finally, on a branch of the Cibolo in an area marked by big, flat rocks and a bubbling spring, Mary constructed her “surprise school” for Brud and Sister Mallory, using tender, young willows switches to weave an Indian-style shelter.
The Wares – and Johnstons – could see Cibolo Creek from atop the windmill behind their cottage. 



A pre-1906 post card view of the Phillips Hotel.

Located at 706 S. Main Street, Phillips House started as a stage coach stop and later, after train service was initiated, was one of six hotels that served the many visitors who flocked to Boerne’s healthy climate. We believe Phillips House was the real-life prototype for the fictional Williams House where Mary Ware’s savage young charges, Brud and Sister Mallory, lived for a time in Mary Ware in Texas.

Chapter 8 describes some of “die kleinen teufel” or “little devils’” antics that eventually got the family evicted from the hotel: placing a puppy in the ice cream freezer; mixing up the orders in the grocery delivery wagon; pumping 10 gallons of kerosene out on the road; thundering their tricycles through the hotel galleries; pitching potatoes like a Gatling gun; and investigating one of the guests’ fishing tackle boxes without permission.

In the story, Williams House was run by Mrs. Edna Williams. In real-life, Wilhelmina Phillips ran Phillips House from after her husband’s death in 1884 until her own death in 1929. Just as described in Mary Ware in Texas, her daughter, Augusta Phillips Graham, helped with its operations, and after her mother became unable to manage it herself, took it over. It was owned by the Phillips family until the 1950s.

According to the Boerne Area Historical Preservation Society, the Boerne Shooting Club was founded at Phillips House and the original target range was located in back. Once established in a hotel annex were a jeweler, a tinner and a drug store. To see another photo of the hotel with John Johnston’s dog, Uncle August, in the foreground, visit John Johnston’s page.

By the way, the Mallory children’s outrageous behavior wasn’t confined to Williams House. Their rampages extended along Main Street, where they terrorized the town by honking the horns on parked automobiles to demand rides and swinging from the tails of horses stabled in the livery. The livery referred to in the story was located in real life behind the Staffel building at 334 S. Main, shown in the photograph below from the Boerne Area Historical Preservation Society. At one time, the c. 1854 stone structure served as the office for the livery stable, the town’s first telegraph office and probably the town’s first post office.

Staffel Building
Photo courtesy of the Boerne Area Historical Preservation Society


These photographs of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, from the Boerne Area Historic Preservation Society, show the original church’s little stone belfry that could be seen from the Wares’ windmill in Mary Ware in Texas. The structure was built in 1879 on a hillside plot on the south side of the Cibolo while Indians were still raiding the area. The stone church has since been replaced by a newer structure.

The Mallory children designated a large rock high on the hill above St. Peter’s as “Council Rock” when they dramatized Kipling’s Jungle Book as part of their lessons at Mary Ware’s “surprise school.” Mary Ware described Council Rock’s location in a letter she wrote to her sister, Joyce, in Chapter 10:

The hill rises straight up from the public road, just back of the Mallory cottage and St. Peter's. There is a roundabout road to the top, leading in from a back lane, which is easy to climb, but, of course, the children chose the steep trail starting near their gate. Nothing but a goat could walk up it with perfect ease and safety.

Once at the top, the view is lovely. You can see over half the county, and look right down into the chimneys of the town. The whole hilltop is covered with wildflowers; strange, beautiful things I have never seen before --- so many exquisite colors, you'd think a rainbow had been broken to bits and scattered over the ground.

It was at Council Rock where Mary received her first grown-up Valentine’s Day token of affection, when Lieutenant Boglin or “Bogie” presented her with “one of those fancy bronze pins from the collar of his uniform, those crossed guns that officers wear,” to fasten her veil. Mary had met Lt. Boglin through Gay Melville some months before, when she attended the “hop in the gymnasium” at Ft. Sam Houston  while visiting San Antonio to do some Christmas shopping. Obviously taken with her wide-eyed enthusiasm and unique combination of maturity and girlish charm, he courted Mary until Phil Tremont decided to re-enter her life.


Above, a c. 1890 photo of Boerne’s courthouse from the Boerne Area Historic Preservation Society,
and below, a colored postcard of the courthouse, c. 1910


The historic courthouse building still stands at 204 E. San Antonio Street, and remains in use today, making it the second oldest courthouse in Texas. It was built in 1870 and the front section was added to the building in 1909, while the Johnstons were living in Boerne.
In Mary Ware in Texas, James Barnaby attended to some business at the court-house in Chapter 3, while his kindly wife arranged for the Wares to rent the Metz cottage and then proceeded to help them move in:

“…I'm not going to leave you until you're safely settled," was (Mrs. Barnaby’s) comforting assurance. "James has some business at the court-house that will keep him in town for an hour or so. As soon as we drop him there I'll drive around with you to make arrangements about the cottage…”

Another real-life sight mentioned in Mary Ware in Texas was the blooming of the Texas bluebonnets, described in Chapter 12, which Annie aptly titled, “In ‘Blue-Bonnet’ Time:”

THE time of "blue-bonnets" had come. No matter where else in Texas the lupin may grow, one thing is certain; there is enough of it in the meadows around Bauer nearly every spring to justify its choice as the State flower. This particular March, acres and acres of it, blue as the Mediterranean, stretched away on either side of the highroads. Viewed from a distance when the wind, blowing across it, made waves of bloom, it almost seemed as if a wide blue sea were rolling in across the land.

Unfortunately, visitors to Boerne today will never see those vast fields of blue. Development and droughts have taken a toll on the state flower, says Col. Bettie Edmonds, who has lived in the area since the late 1960s.  

Though Bauer/Boerne was much more civilized than Mary Ware, or for that matter, the author herself, had expected, it still observed a few Wild West customs, such as sending the sheriff or his daughter, attired in western regalia, to meet the train, an event described in Chapter III :

Her sentence was interrupted by a dashing girl in khaki and a cowboy hat, astride a fiery little mustang. She rode past the carriage, calling out a greeting as she passed. Norman turned around exclaiming, “Did you see that? A cartridge belt around her waist and a six-shooter in her holster! That’s the wild West for you.”

“That’s the sheriff’s daughter,” explained Mrs. Barnaby. “She’s his deputy, and meets the trains when it’s necessary and he’s out of town.”

ASTRIDE A FIERY LITTLE MUSTANG" by illustrator Frank T. Merrill

According to research done by Col. Bettie Edmonds, the “dashing girl in khaki and cowboy hat” was in real life Louise Zoeller Foote, the oldest daughter and deputy of Sheriff George Zoeller. Packing her pistol, she rode her horse through the countryside to meet the train, serve papers and perform other duties as a deputy. The Kendall County Sheriff Tax Collector 1903 billhead below, which was offered for sale on eBay, was signed by George Zoeller. 

Thanks to Col. Bettie Edmonds of the Boerne Area Historic Preservation Society for sharing photos, postcards and articles about Boerne landmarks and people, and for the tremendous amount of time she has devoted to researching Boerne’s Little Colonel connections.

Before 1908

Letters from Boerne:

"Cousin Annie" A letter from Annie Fellows Johnston to Mrs. Henry Lawton ("Mrs. Walton") from Boerne Texas, April 19, 1908.  On the writing of Mary Ware, life in Texas, and maybe a hint to the location Annie Fellows Johnston had in mind of the 'fictional' boarding school, Warwick Hall?

"My dear Lilly" A letter from Annie Fellows Johnston to a close friend, Lilly (??We think Lillian Barbour of Evansville, IN), sent from Boerne Texas, in September 1908.  This letter is packed with previously unpublished background information on Annie Fellows Johnston's personal life at the time, as well as quite a bit of insight on The Giant Scissors and Mary Ware, the Little Colonel's Chum.  

"My dear Miss Dickinson" A letter from Annie Fellows Johnston to a Miss Dickinson, sent from Boerne Texas, January 11, 1910 along with a copy of "The Jester's Sword"  Discusses translations of works into Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Braille, and points up some of the dissatisfaction she was known to have had with her publishers.