Welfare Texas History

Nestled deep in the Joshua Creek Valley of the Texas Hill country lays a small community steeped in German American History. Welfare Texas is a slice of Americana and a place where everyone can feel at home. It takes one back to a time long past.

wellfare-history-1The Beseler family bought the property through a land grant in 1848 and soon opened a General Store. The community grew up around the Store and the small town of Welfare emerged. The Settlement was originally named Bon Ton but was changed to Welfare when they discovered there was already a town in Texas with that name. In 1880 the Post Office was established. In 1887, Carl Phillip Beseler assisted with Welfare being the railroad shipping point with the building of the SAAP (San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway) track that held connections to Kerrville and Fredericksburg. It made Welfare a railroad shipping point that brought new hope and larger prospects that allowed the small town to flourish.

No one is really sure of how Welfare got its’ name. Many attribute the name to the Wohlfahrt family who lived and owned land in the immediate area. As many towns got their name along the railroad lines, the train master would shout the name of the stop and since Wohlfarht was not very easy or comfortable to say, and not everyone was German, the American translation “Welfare” caught on.

wellfare-history-2By 1892 the community had 275 residents. It had a schoolhouse, a saloon, hotel, cotton gin and, of course, a general store and post office. It also had boarding and Sunday houses throughout the area.

The first years of the 20th century were good to Welfare but then the town suffered a drought and fire. This explains the lack of commercial structures. Even the original post office and general store burned down in 1916 and was rebuilt that same year. A few years later, in 1921, Perry Laas, tired of being a cow poke settled down to become the post master of the Welfare Post Office and proprietor of the general store. He had married Alma Wohlfahrt, whose family owned land in the area, some of which Perry Laas had grazing rights. Alma became the railway express agent. Together they raised their four children in the house next to the post office. Soon the boll weevil appeared, ruining the cotton crops and reducing the population to a mere 25 residents. When it appeared that things couldn’t get worse they did. In 1930 the town was bypassed by highway 87and the great depression was in full swing. It is said that at times Perry had more IOU’s than cash. Some locals would bring eggs and vegetables to barter for canned goods and other groceries. Perry and Alma continued to persevere through the hard times while helping others.

wellfare-history-3Perry Lass’s pay as a postmaster was determined by how many letters he cancelled. The population had dwindled considerably and so did the letters passing through the post office. To make ends meet, Perry had a deal with the many traveling salesmen to bring all their mail to him. And as the story goes, this raised eyebrows with the powers in DC, who sent a representative to question the letter writing of the inhabitants of Welfare. One can only imagine the excitement it caused for this small rural community.

The general store was the meeting place for residents in the community. When they came to collect their mail they would sit on nail kegs around the old wood stove and talk about the weather and exchange stories. There was a lending library – free books were in a wooden box of the front porch and you could borrow from what was available in the box and return it when finished – no cards – no late fees – no video cameras – just honest good people. After the Welfare School closed, the Comfort school bus would drop all the kids from the area at the store. Theda Sueltenfuss said she was privileged; she had an account at the store, so she could get snacks while waiting for her parents to pick her up. The gas pumps saved many a curious traveler who ventured from IH-10.

wellfare-history-4Sadly the train stopped running past Welfare in 1966, the Post Office closed in 1976, followed by the store in 1978. Perry Lass died in 1980 and Alma Lass in 1989.

Along with the general store/post office and the school, the walls of the stagecoach stop remain as a silent witness of another era, still defending its crumbling ruins from robbers, Comanches and occasional Apache raiders and later a gypsy or two.

Today, Welfare, Texas is breathing new life but the past will never be forgotten and will continue to pay homage to what once was.