Wednesday, July 20, 2022

George Reuss in Holland’s Directory

While progress has replaced many of Naperville’s earliest structures, not only does George Reuss’s business building still stand but so does his home. And both are fine monuments to his maxim that "industry and economy lead to wealth." 

Trained as a tailor, Reuss left Bavaria in 1854, remaining for a time in New York until moving west to St. Charles, Illinois. Mathias and Gertrude Krapf, a family he knew from back home, also settled in St. Charles, bringing with them their daughter who was an old school friend of George’s. In 1856, Reuss married Anna Maria Krapf, moved to Naperville, and started a store with “a Mr. Dollinger.” This is possibly Franz “Frank” Dollinger as he also lived in St. Charles for a time and was a member of Euclid Lodge, the Masonic organization in Naperville. The partnership didn’t last long, however, and they split up the stock to go their separate ways. 

Now in his twenties, Reuss operated a clothier’s shop which sold men’s furnishings and utilized his tailor training. His obituary states that while Reuss was “a stern man, he was eminently just and demanded much more of himself than he did of anyone else” and his business seems to have flourished. In the 1860s, Reuss hired local contractor, Levi Shafer, to erect a fine clothing shop on the corner of Washington and Jefferson. In addition to being a successful builder, Shafer is known for loaning his gun to Marcellus Jones who is said to have fired the first shot of the Battle of Gettysburg with it.  

Reuss’s good reputation and sturdy building impressed the farmers and townsfolk who were his customers and they started asking him to hold their money. So the clothier became a banker, launching the Bank of Naperville in 1886. Isaac Murray, brother to the Ruth that I wrote about in my first book, was vice president of the bank. 

George installed a vault and added another room and rebuilt the entrance with elegant red granite to better reflect the change from tailor to bank. These additions cost him $13,000, equivalent to $397,117 in today’s dollars, and the fancy entrance now opens into ZazĂș Salon.

Over the years, Reuss also served a few terms as town trustee and in 1880, he was president. But there were difficult times for the Reuss family as well. Of the nine children born to Anna Marie, five died in infancy and one before her fifth birthday. The three remaining children prospered, however, providing thirteen grandchildren between them. As an adult, son Joseph joined George in the banking business, as did son-in-law, Valentine Dieter. 

The younger men’s responsibilities, naturally, increased over time, particularly when George was felled by a series of strokes. After two years of being home-bound, George passed away in 1901.  His wife continued to live in Naperville until her death in 1907 and both are buried in Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery. 

During the late 1870s, George and Anna Marie had a beautiful home built in Naperville for their family to enjoy. It was designed to resemble the villas found in northern Italy, which was a popular trend during that era. The home of Willard Scott, who also ran a store and bank on Washington Street, is another fine example of Italianate architecture. 

The grand house was eventually split up into a six-flat, but it received a big make-over in the 1990s, returning it to its former glory as a single-family home. In 2013, North Central College purchased the beautiful building to house then-incoming President Troy Hammond and it remains the college president's home today. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

“Sample Rooms” in Holland’s Directory

Naperville today has an abundance of drinking establishments and it was much the same in 1886. In fact, there were six saloons in the downtown area and one out by the train depot for a population of just over 2,000. 

These drinking establishments called themselves “sample rooms” which was a name leftover from when distributors let commercial customers sample stock before purchasing. The sample rooms in Naperville actually catered to folks who wanted to relax with a beer, a cigar, and a game of billiards, both locals and travelers. The Pre-Emption House was listed under “Hotels” and not “Sample Rooms,” but probably travelers could also buy food and drink there, as they had for since its inception.

Adam Conrad ran the sample room south of the railway station. Not a lot has been found about him other than the fact that he married Josephine Adams and they are both buried in Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery. One supposes that he particularly catered to folks waiting for a train and perhaps railroad employees. 

The in-town sample rooms were run by some more familiar Naperville names. We talked last time about Jacob Keller, who, yes, is related to Ron Keller of the Municipal Band. He started with a sample room, expanded his business with a hotel on Washington Street, and then returned to his original location with a scaled-down hotel and sample room establishment.  

Mrs. Caroline Fuchs is the only woman who has a sample room listed. She was featured in March for Woman’s History Month. Originally, Caroline’s husband, Fred, ran the saloon, but he died in 1886, apparently just before Holland’s Business Directory was published. 

Egermann is a well-known Naperville name. Xavier Egermann immigrated from Germany in 1846 and both he and his son Joseph had their hands in several businesses, including the Naperville Butter and Cheese Factory. Xavier purchased a brewery from Jacob Engelfreidt, which was probably the first in town, and also ran a sample room. The Egermann family sold their brewery in 1872 but continued operating a sample room, located where Naper Nuts and Sweets is today. 

The Engelfreidts had built a bigger operation, but they sold that one also – to the Stenger family. Barbara Stenger married Joseph Egermann, so it’s hardly surprising that in Holland’s advertisement they feature “Stenger’s Lager Beer.” Barbara and Joseph were the parents of Mary Barbara “Matie” Egermann who was the long-time librarian at Nichols Library. It is Matie’s library that is depicted in the diorama kids love to look at in the lobby. 

August Clementz, Thomas Costello, Xavier Schwein, and Otto Sieber may be less familiar names today, but they all were long-time Naperville residents back in 1886 when they were proprietors of sample rooms with billiard tables. Schwein’s history is the most elusive and all that could be discovered is that he immigrated from France, was married to Antoinett, and was the father of five children.

Clementz and Sieber became sample room proprietors after retiring from other professions. Clementz was a tinsmith and worked in the hardware business, mainly in Naperville, but also for a brief period in Prophetstown. Sieber was a stonemason. After training his sons Hultrich and Henry in the trade, he let them continue that business while he retired to be a saloon host.   

Beyond being buried in Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery, little could be found about Thomas Costello. He must have been quite the upstanding citizen, however, as Holland’s Directory made a big deal out of the fact that his “business place is a model of its kind, wherein, we are well advised may be found at all (legal) times the best beverages in the market, while order and system are very pronounced.”

John Ruchty seems to have spent less time in Naperville, although at one time he also ran the Pre-Emption House, according to The Du Page County Guide. He was also a Frink and Walker stage driver in his early career after immigrating from Switzerland. In mid-life, he married Margaret, a widow with ten children, and they moved to Fullersburg to run a tavern there.

Improved bottling and distributing techniques meant that saloons could offer more than just beer that was brewed locally. The late 1880s was a boom time for breweries and competition started heating up which prompted exclusive brewery partnerships. As you can see from the ads, Costello advertises Schlitz, Sieber sells Brand’s, and Fuchs features Blatz. Egermann proudly serves the local brew, Stenger’s, because of his family connections. 

In bigger cities, breweries purchased buildings, decorated and outfitted them, and installed managers that sold their products exclusively. Even with this emphasis on specialty beer, this doesn’t seem to be the case in Naperville and the sample rooms appear to be owner-operated. The Encyclopedia of Chicago has a great essay on city saloons

Unfortunately, none of the featured beers are being made today. Stenger stopped brewing in 1893 and Blatz in 1959. Schlitz didn’t quite make the new millennium, ceasing operations in 1999. Brand’s Beer survived Prohibition but shut down by 1935. Brand’s might be a less familiar name, but their brewery building was still visible on Elston Avenue in Chicago, at least until recently. It’s awful hard to tell from Google Maps. 

Although Caroline Fuchs ran her own establishment and one surmises that wives may have assisted the other owners, it’s hard to tell if women frequented these sample rooms. That research will have to wait for another day!

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Hotels in Holland’s Directory

The 1886 Holland’s Directory lists three hotels in Naperville: American House, Pre-Emption House, and Washington House. All of them were on Main Street, just a stone’s throw from each other. 

Jacob Keller emigrated from Germany to Naperville in 1851 and, at first, worked for Stenger Brewery. He eventually became a saloonkeeper on Main Street around 1867, but he had grander plans.  In 1872, he built a hotel on the northeast corner of Washington Street and Jefferson Avenue which he called, naturally, Washington House. According to Holland’s, it was a “fine brick building,” but “this, not being to his mind, he sold, at a great sacrifice, in 1872." Keller moved his business back to the Main Street location in 1879, keeping the name, Washington House. The hotel was also designated as the township polling place.

American House was started by B. F. Russell in 1875 as an addition to the livery business he had been running since 1869. Russell’s livery offered ten horses and twelve different kinds of wagons for customers to rent and provided his hotel with a particular advantage in transportation. As a bonus for American House guests, Russell ferried travelers to and from the train station for free. He also ran a taxi-type service to “carry citizens to any part of the village for ten cents.”

The Pre-Emption House had the oldest history. It was originally built in 1834 by George Laird and had a series of managers. Henry Ulrich was the proprietor in 1886, sometime after his service in the Civil War. While the name Urich continues to appear in Naperville history, any relationship to Henry is unclear and Henry himself seems to be gone from town. He and his wife, Sarah, are buried in Indiana and a son, Dr. Everett Ulrich, listed Indiana as his residence when he married in 1915.

Interestingly, there are also a number of advertisements for hotels in Aurora, Nebraska, and even as far away as London! Apparently, folks did a good bit of travel in the 1880s and this was their version of for planning purposes.

Even though the American House and Washington House hotels seem to have paid to advertise in the Directory, according to Holland’s write-up, there was “no hotel in Naperville, whose exterior appearance, might be called, in a modern sense, first-class.” Well, that seems a little rude, don’t you think?

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Ernest Von Oven in Holland’s Directory

The 1886 Holland’s Directory features three full-page ads promoting Ernest Von Oven’s various businesses. All have the same office “at the forks of Aurora and Oswego roads,” where St. John’s Episcopal Church currently sits. In fact, the rectory behind the church was once the Von Oven home. 

Von Oven arrived in 1855, and by 1866, he had established himself as a businessman in town and married Emma Reifnerath, with whom he raised a family of five children: Helene, Johanna, Hedwig, Frederick, and Emma. 

Von Oven also started the Naperville Nursery with his brother, Adelbert, the favorite of all his operations, which ran until the mid-1900s, long past Ernest’s own passing in 1906. It was one of several nurseries in the area and was well-known for fruit trees in particular. Emma and her children carried on the business for a number of years. This 1926 ad from the American Institute of Park Executives shows the only son, Fred, as the president and “H. Von Oven” as the secretary. As Hedwig, unfortunately, died while still a toddler, this no doubt refers to Helene. 

Von Oven’s other operations included a tile- and brickworks with George Martin, the builder of the mansion now featured at Naper Settlement. Martin had started the brickworks in the mid-1850s, but it really took off following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 when the city was desperate to rebuild. One of Martin’s former associates was Martin King and Von Oven became a partner in 1878. In addition to bricks, the company also produced tile, which was becoming more and more necessary for draining agricultural fields.

Yet a third business Von Oven was involved in was a quarry and stone operation with Bernard B. Boecker, starting in 1884. Boecker survived the infamous Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago in 1903 but tragically lost his son to a wagon accident in one of the quarries. Naperville had several quarries along the DuPage River that eventually were abandoned, including the Von Oven and Boecker property. 

In 1831, a group of citizens purchased that land from the Von Oven heirs with the idea of getting the city to take it on as 100th anniversary Permanent Memorial and turn it into a park and swimming hole. Centennial Beach was dedicated in June, technically some months before it actually became property of the city. Bernard’s son, Theodore, was one of the members of the Permanent Memorial Committee. 

It's interesting to look at the old Sanborn Maps of Naperville and see the industrial rail spur running down Jackson and up Ewing to join the main line going to Chicago. In addition to the stone and brick businesses, this spur was probably also used by John Suess’s church furniture shop and maybe the German cheese factory. The Stenger Brewery doesn’t seem to be along the rail route, but Stenger did store beer close to the DuPage River, so perhaps they used wagons for transportation to storage and later used the spur to connect with the main line?

Ernest and Emma’s children seem to have been smart and talented. In addition to helping with the family’s businesses, Fred was a trained engineer and also instrumental in developing Illinois state parks. He worked with Jens Jensen on a pamphlet called “A Park and Forest Policy for Illinois.” 

Before Johanna died suddenly in 1909, she was an accomplished artist and teacher of art, training and working at the Chicago Art Institute and Chicago University. Helene and Emma, named for her mother, both continued in the nursery business. None of the Von Oven children had children of their own and Emma was the last of the line. She presented a portion of her land to the city for the Von Oven Scout Reservation before her death in 1960.

In addition to the Scout Reservation and the St. John’s rectory, the Von Ovens also left behind a stately monument in the Naperville Cemetery where all of the family is buried. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Women Business Owners in Holland’s Directory

In honor of Women’s History Month, let’s take a look at the woman-owned businesses that were listed in the 1886 Holland’s Directory. At least seven are identified with a “Mrs.” proprietor and two shared an ad page, Mary Lindemann and Eva Blake. 

Holland’s says Lindemann’s general “store may be found on the south-side of Jefferson avenue west of Main street,” which would put it approximately where Everdine’s Grilled Cheese now operates. “Dry goods, groceries, confectionery and a fine assortment of cigars and tobacco are the chief articles in which she deals, and in each, standard goods are the rule,” the directory continues, and notes that she has been in business since 1872. 

According to Illinois marriage records, a Mary Auguste Dehnike wed John F. Lindemann on November 23, 1974. If this is the same Mary Lindemann, she was already working the counter years before her marriage. Unfortunately, no other information has been found about her, neither census, burial, nor birth records.

More details are available for Eva Blake. She married Anthony (“Andrew” in some records) in 1866. Anthony had been wounded twice during the Civil War and became ill with “chronic diarrhea.” Regardless, the young couple became the parents of daughters Annie, Mary, Emma, Marie, Maria, Matilda, Christina, and Marguerite.  

Unfortunately, Anthony Blake died in 1882, leaving Eva with their eight children to support. How she started her millinery business is unknown, but Holland’s notes that “being left a widow several years ago with only eight daughters [Their italics!] dependent on her efforts for support, she went to work with a will and constancy that has been admirable and commendable.”

Another woman business owner listed in the directory was Caroline Fuchs. Her husband, Fred, ran a saloon in town, and when he died in 1886, Caroline continued to manage the business while raising two boys, her three-year-old son and her ten-year-old step-son. She later remarried and gave birth to nine more children! 

Researching women can be a bit more difficult because of names changes and the fact that they didn’t hold office or were noted in newspapers as often as men, so learning about the other women in Holland’s Business Directory will have to wait for another time. Still, to celebrate Women’s History Month, here’s a shout-out to those business owners:

Dress makers:

  • Mrs. E. A. Earnest
  • Mrs. J. Harter
  • Mrs. E. G. Martin
  • Mrs. Harriet Millington
  • Mrs. A. Saylor

Millinery shopkeepers:

  • Mrs. D. C. Butler
  • Mrs. C. V. Steward