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John Wahrenberger: A Conroe Founding Father
At a time when a small, seemingly inconsequential sawmill community served as the intersection of two new major railroads carved out of a big thicket of virgin timber — home to deer, wolves and bears — an enterprising young man of Swiss descent was drawn to the area with a vision of what this young town of Conroe might someday become. Within a very short time, he would become one of its leading and most prosperous citizens.
John Wahrenberger was born in 1862 in Travis County. He was orphaned by age 7. He moved to Montgomery County in 1886 and worked as a store clerk in the town of Montgomery for a few years. In 1889 he moved to Conroe and was one of the supporters of the successful efforts to move the county seat from Montgomery to Conroe in May 1889.
Until his death at age 72 in 1933, Wahrenberger served in many civic capacities for Montgomery County and for Conroe, including district clerk and deputy sheriff. He earned a law license, although there is no evidence he practiced. He served on the Conroe ISD school board and on the first Conroe city council in 1905. He was instrumental in starting the First Methodist Church of Conroe.
He has also made quite a mark on the business scene. Wahrenberger was first employed by the mercantile firm of Carson, McKibben & Co. in what was then Conroe’s first business district. He married his boss’s daughter, Mittie Carson, in June 1889, and they had two children, Agnes and John. Both children became active and distinguished citizens of the city during their lifetimes.
By 1890, Wahrenberger had started his own mercantile business and in 1894 acquired ownership of Carson, McKibben & Co. He constructed a handsome two-story wooden general mercantile store at what was then the corner of Chambers (Main) and Paddock (Davis) Streets. For decades, it was recognized as one of the finest mercantile establishments in Southeast Texas.
After the fire downtown in February 1911, Wahrenberger tore down his old store and opened his new two-story, 7,800-square-foot brick store for the great sum of $20,000. Over the next 50-plus years, Wahrenberger’s was recognized as perhaps the premier department store in Conroe and throughout Montgomery County.
By the early 1900s, Wahrenberger branched out with a lumber yard and planing mill. In June 1913 the Conroe Courier called it “one of the most extensive businesses of its kind in the State of Texas.” Wahrenberger also opened one of the first gasoline stations and the first funeral home in Conroe. In 1914 he was the first president of what would become First National Bank. He built the Witherspoon Hotel, later to be known as the McGee Hotel.
Today, his stately 6,600-square-foot, 11-room Victorian family home across the railroad tracks at Phillips and First Street is now the popular Heather’s Glen wedding chapel.
Wahrenberger is buried with his wife Mittie in the Oakwood Cemetery. His influence as a founding father and leader in the early development of Conroe can never be forgotten.
Inside Wahrenberger Store in 1946, with John Carson Wahrenberger in the suit.
Above: Wahrenberger’s wooden store before the 1911 fire.
Left: the brick store circa 1913.
For information on the commission and its efforts, visit montgomerycountyhistoricalcommission.com