Known for its German roots and its world-famous water park, New Braunfels, Texas, in the thriving corridor between San Antonio and Austin, grew 56 percent over the past decade.,
How This Texas Town Became One of America’s Fastest-Growing Cities
Known for its German roots and its world-famous water park, New Braunfels, Texas, in the thriving corridor between San Antonio and Austin, grew 56 percent over the past decade.
New Braunfels, Texas, is the third-fastest-growing city in the nation, according to the most recent census. Credit…Christopher Lee for The New York Times
NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas — In the not-too-distant past, motorists driving along a stretch of Interstate 35 just northeast of San Antonio were met with vast fields of wildflowers and grazing cows in grassy pastures.
Today, the cattle are gone, replaced with clusters of sleek apartments, gated communities and big-box stores. And New Braunfels, the third-fastest-growing city in America, tucked in one of the fastest-growing regions, finds itself at a crossroads.
“People have found New Braunfels — the word is out,” said the city’s mayor, Rusty Brockman. “And I think we are going to continue to deal with this growth for a long time.”
A once quaint town known for its German roots and the Schlitterbahn water park, New Braunfels grew a whopping 56 percent over the last decade, adding about 32,500 residents.
Naegelin’s Bakery, the state’s oldest, is thriving with a stream of customers, many of them newcomers.Credit…Christopher Lee for The New York Times
It was noted by U.S. Census officials last week as an example of a city that experienced significant growth in its perch just outside metropolitan hubs — New Braunfels is between San Antonio and Austin, which also grew at blistering paces over the past decade. There were two others in Texas, a fast-growing state: McKinney, outside of Dallas, and Conroe, which had been enveloped by the sprawling Houston metropolitan area.
In many ways, the story of New Braunfels’s expansion is the story of a changing America.
As its population has boomed, with many new arrivals coming from big cities across Texas and states like California, Colorado and New York, the town also become more diverse. The Anglo population has dipped below 60 percent for the first time in recent decades, with Latinos accounting for about 35 percent of residents.
The sheer growth shows no signs of abating.
City officials have set aside at least $30 million for infrastructure initiatives, in addition to more than $600 million for water and wastewater projects undertaken by the local utility company. And more money will be needed in the near future, Mr. Brockman said.
In a visible sign of the boom, permits to build new homes exceeded 1,400 last year, a record for the city, said Jeff Jewell, the city’s director of economic and community development. More than 10,000 single-family homes were added over the past 11 years and property values have also skyrocketed, with the median home value jumping 73 percent over the past decade, to $272,000 from $157,000.
“People have found New Braunfels — the word is out,” Mayor Rusty Brockman said. Credit…Christopher Lee for The New York Times
But there was a time when life was a lot quieter in New Braunfels.
“I still remember when it was nothing but cows over there,” said Brittney Marbach, who at 25 no longer recognizes the town she grew up in. “A lot has changed. We are losing our small-town vibe.”
German settlers, captivated by the green spaces and the convergence of the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers, founded the town in 1845. Legend has it that the region reminded Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, the leader of the settlers, of his old home in Braunfels, Germany. And so he decided to buy a swath of land and name it New Braunfels, near where Native Americans thrived by the water’s edge.
The town’s German roots are everywhere. The state’s oldest bakery, Naegelin’s Bakery, still thrives downtown — an area local residents call the Circle — with a steady stream of customers, many of them newcomers and tourists clamoring for the shop’s trademark pastry, the apple strudel.
“The growth has been great for business,” said Ross Granzin, who now owns the bakery that was founded in 1868.
Other German landmarks include the neo-Classical plaza bandstand and Gruene Hall, an iconic and open-air dance floor that has been featured in movies and books and has hosted prominent musicians such as George Strait, Garth Brooks and Brandi Carlile.
New Braunfels’s German roots remain visible all over town.Credit…Christopher Lee for The New York Times
At night, crowds still descend upon biergartens that have been around for decades, now joined by newer bars and restaurants that look more like something one would find in Austin or San Antonio.
Newer residents to New Braunfels have been drawn to the region for its affordable cost of living and by larger employers who have settled there, including several distribution centers and technology companies. Over the past decade, the median salary has jumped to $90,000 from $65,000 in Comal County, which includes much of New Braunfels, one of the highest averages in the state.
“We have gone through the roof on every metric,” said Jonathan Packer, president of the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce. “There are many reasons why people come here.”
The community has also grown more noticeably diverse, with the presence of Latinos particularly evident on the city’s West Side. Residents flock to eateries like El Norteno for typical Mexican dishes, such as menudo, a spicy stew known colloquially as a hangover remedy. This week, a server took orders wearing a red T-shirt that read “Menudo Para La Cruda” or “Menudo For the Hangover.”
The restaurant’s owner, Johnny Aguirre, said he had noticed younger Latinos moving away from more traditional Hispanic enclaves into the city’s newer developments.
“The town is known for its German culture, but people come here for Mexican flavor,” Mr. Aguirre said. “Growth for us has been good. It’s been nonstop business.”
Diversity is evident on the city’s West Side, where locals flock to Mexican eateries like El Norteno.Credit…Christopher Lee for The New York Times
But so much change — and so fast — has also come with challenges.
Nancy Classen, who grew up in the city and works at the Sophienburg Museum and Archives, said she was willing to keep an open mind about the new arrivals — as long as they did not try to change the town’s identify. New Braunfels, a conservative bastion between progressive cities, is the largest city in Comal County, which overwhelmingly voted for Donald J. Trump in November.
“This is still a pretty conservative town,” Ms. Classen said. “They are OK as long as they don’t try to change us. This isn’t California.”
When Terri Jennings, 58, who operates a local vintage store, asks people where they are from, many lean over the counter and whisper, “California,” as if revealing a dark secret, she said with a smile. “I think they get a little bit of flak because people think that people from the West tend to be a little more liberal.”
Even Ms. Jennings, who has lived in the city for seven years but has worked here for 16, has learned to keep her liberal tendencies to herself. “I don’t want to argue about politics,” she said. “I understand why they do it.”
Caleb Harris, 36, said he moved to New Braunfels from Utah in 2013, when he foresaw that the region had potential for expansion. He bought a property at a development called the Overlook at Creekside, north of the city’s center, as soon as it broke ground. “I knew it was going to be a good area,” Mr. Harris said.
Caleb Harris moved to New Braunfels from Utah in 2013. “I knew it was going to be a good area,” he said.Credit…Christopher Lee for The New York Times
He is also part of the area’s changing demographics. Mr. Harris, who is white, is engaged to a Black woman who is pregnant with their child. With people who identify as two or more races growing rapidly, not just in Texas but across the nation, his son will be a part of an increasingly diverse state.
In New Braunfels, just more than 3 percent of residents identify as more than one race, according to census data, but that is up from a single percent in 2010. (The number of Americans who identified as non-Hispanic and more than one race grew to 13.5 million from 6 million over the past decade.)
Nearby at the sprawling Creekside mixed-use complex, which used to be a cow pasture, Faith Caddy walked her two dogs, a husky-Labrador mix named Odin and a red heeler named Luna. She recently moved to the city from Colorado, a decision that made great economic sense for her and her 9-month-old boy.
“The West Coast is just getting too expensive,” said Ms. Caddy, 24. “We can actually rent an apartment here and save to buy a home.”