Gruene, Texas – Historic Buildings, Tons of People and Gorgeous Motorcycles
We tried to shoot Gruene, Texas last weekend.
I say “tried” because what we actually did was crank out a bunch of over-or-underexposed photographs, awkward photos of crowds, tilty shots of buildings obscured by pick-up trucks and, well, not a whole lot of good anything. (But, hey, we’re going to share them anyhow!)
We knew Gruene was popular but we were totally unprepared for the absolute mob scene of a Saturday afternoon, drawn to the area by wineries, excellent local bands, great food and sunshine. We couldn’t get a clear shot of anything, and finally walked over the bridge and hung out with some bikers. Well, not the actual bikers, but their bikes, making sure not to get too close.
Since Austin hosts several jam-packed biker rallies every year, we knew there were a lot of Harley Enthusiasts in Central Texas. We were still spectacularly pleased to find so many gorgeous bikes hanging out at Bubba’s Big Deck and almost completely forgot we were supposed to be looking for historic buildings and Texas historic markers.
(Note: we don’t cover Gruene with our appraisal business, so you won’t find the usual real estate data for the area in this article.)
Harley Davidson, Born to be Wild
Okay, so not all of the bikes we found were Harley’s but the majority sure were. Red ones, orange ones, even pink ones! We started tussling over what we call “the bokeh lens”, the little 50mm 1.4 lens that gives a nice shallow depth of field to photographs, with a nicely blurred background (the bokeh).
Our oldest son, 9, won the toss, and got a bunch of up-close, but not too close to touch, shots. When we got home, we all wanted to see bike shots, not building shots, which probably explains why the building shots we did manage to remember to take, or sneak through the mobbed streets, are all less then stellar.
If you’re from the area, what day is Gruene NOT packed? We’ll come back and visit!
I fanatically prefer detail photos when it comes to motorcycles, so here’s the line-up of keepers:
The Guadalupe River, Gruene Texas
Since the crowds were uphill from Bubba’s Big Deck, we spent some time gazing at the waters of the Guadalupe River, which runs around the Western side of the town.
The Guadalupe River runs from Kerr County, Texas to San Antonio Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. The stretch of it that runs by Gruene is a popular place for toobers, or folks that want to float in tubes down the river. We haven’t been yet, but can’t wait to go when out littlest gets bigger.
Downtown Gruene, TX
After some time spent gazing at the water of the Guadalupe, we walked back up the hill into town, wedged ourselves into the crowd and enjoyed some of the Gruene weekend flavor. The Gruene General Store is jam-packed with stuff that tourists love, including Blue Bell ice cream and old rusty metal signs high up on the walls – authentic signs, not the replicas employed by some chain restaurants for “atmosphere”. The building housing the store was built in 1878, and has all of the earned character of its’ age.
Breaking free of the crowds, we wandered to the outskirts of the two-block downtown, near Buck Pottery Fine Crafts Gallery and had a shoot-the-berries contest, where we all tried to get the best berries-and-bokeh shot, where little red berries are in crisp detail but all of the surrounding foliage is blurred. We all failed, so the only salvageable shot became digital art, which is what I do with some images that just aren’t good enough to really show you what they look like.
(If you’re learning photography with a DSLR, try taking photos of berries – use your widest lens, i.e. the one with the biggest maximum aperture (1.4, 1.8, 2.8) for shallowest depth of field (DOF) – you’ll learn a LOT about DOF and how aperture affects it, and might get some nice shots with intentionally-blurry backgrounds (bokeh) in the process!)
As the day wound down, most of the crowds melted into the various places for food around Gruene, to listen to the live bands and drink some local Texas beer and wine. We took advantage of the merely-crowded-not-packed streets to take a few photos of the main drag to share with you.
A Little Gruene History
According to the historic market at the bridge, Gruene was founded in 1872 and served as a commercial center for the local cotton farmers of Eastern Comal County for over 60 years, until the 1930s. The website for the Gruene Historic District says that German farmers began settling the area in the mid 1840s. One settler was Ernst Gruene whose second son, Henry D. Gruene built the Gruene Mansion Inn to use as his family home.
In the 1920s, the town of Gruene faltered, and the Great Depression and the boll weevil took their toll on the area and the town fell into disrepair. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the boll weevil migrated across the Rio Grande in the early 1900s and by 1903 the critters covered all of eastern texas. The boll weevil infestation destroyed cotton crops and caused a significant decline in cotton yields for over 30 years, which was devastating for the Texas cotton farmers, including those around Gruene. (Flickr has some incredible macro (close-up) photographs of these insects, which you might find as fascinating as my sons did.)
Pat Molak is credited with the town’s revival in the 1970s when he fled the big city, bought Gruene Hall, fixed it up and then worked to resurrect the rest of the town with his friend Mary Jane Nalley. I have to tell you, I’m tearing up as I write this because it is so important for all of us to recognize what we’re losing when we let towns disintegrate into the dust of Texas – we lose history, we lose opportunity, and if we’re not careful, we could lose a lot more!