Remembering My Paternal Grandfather
The life of my paternal grandfather, Charles August Kuehn, was almost as mysterious as the life of grandma Kuehn, Mary Elizabeth Kroll. Unknown secrets unrevealed by my dad or grandpa have come to light during my genealogy research which began in August 2016.
I discovered some of these secrets through research on the genealogy website Ancestry and also through a book written by my second cousin, Margie Kuehn Nelson.
Another major finding explaining my grandpa's move to Milwaukee from Door County in Wisconsin was revealed while going through old land deeds at the Door County Courthouse in Sturgeon Bay.
In this article, I begin with grandpa Kuehn's birth to a German immigrant couple in Milwaukee in 1885. I then trace my grandpa's youth in Door County through the early 1900s. After describing Charles August Kuehn's marriage to Mary Elizabeth Kroll in 1913 and life as a farmer on Sunny Slope Road outside of Egg Harbor, the remainder of my article accounts for grandpa's move to and life in Greenfield, a suburb of Milwaukee. Stories told by my dad and personal observations as a boy help to fill in the last years of grandpa Kuehn's life.
Early Life in Milwaukee 1885-1886
My grandfather, Charles August Kuehn, was born on September 13, 1885, at 2430 North Avenue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was the twin brother of George Leonhardt Kuehn.
Charles and George were the sixth and seventh oldest children of Carl August and Bertha Kuehn. Their father immigrated from Chemnitz, Germany, to Milwaukee via New York in 1881. Their mother, Bertha Stamminger Kuehn, arrived in New York on September 20, 1882. She was accompanied by grandfather's five older siblings - Thekla age 11, Gustaf 9, Otto 7, John 5, and Arthur 3.
After the Kuehn family was quickly reunited, my great-grandfather supported everyone by making cigars in Milwaukee.
Growing Up in Door County 1886-1905
In 1886, my grandfather and his family moved to Door County and purchased land with a mortgage deed dated May 21, 1888, on County T in Jacksonport. From 1886 until 1889, my grandpa gained two more brothers with great-uncles Herman and Paul being born in the years 1887 and 1889 respectively in Jacksonport. A set of twins, Henry and Anna, were also born around this time to Carl and Bertha Kuehn. Unfortunately, they died as infants.
Very little is known about grandpa's life as a boy in Door County. What we do know is that his father, my great-grandfather Carl August, died unexpectedly of appendicitis on July 30, 1899, at the age of only 52. This certainly had to be a big shock for my 14-year-old grandfather. Another shock had to be his mother receiving a foreclosure notice in late 1899 when mortgage payments were not made.
Great-grandma Bertha Kuehn supported herself by being a midwife. With probable support from her older children, Bertha Kuehn was able to pay off the mortgage in 1907 on the property on County T.
After probably selling the property, great-grandma acquired different land and built a log cabin on Sunny Slope Road outside of Egg Harbor.
Life Before Marriage 1905-1913
At an unknown time probably between 1905 and 1913, my grandfather traveled to Milwaukee for work. Based on a 1910 census record, grandpa Kuehn was listed as a boarder in a Milwaukee area home at that time.
By 1913, however, grandpa was back in Door County and probably living with or near his mother on Sunny Slope Road near Egg Harbor.
Around this time, Charles August also probably started courting my grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Kroll. Mary E. Kroll immigrated to the United States from Austria in 1902 or 1903 at the age of 15 or 16. Having a father who never married her mother, grandma came to a small coal-mining town in southwestern Pennsylvania to join her mother, Mary Kroll, who had immigrated to Pennsylvania a few years earlier to live with her brother, Peter Kroll.
By the time grandma was reunited with her mother in Pennsylvania, she (her mother) had already married a coal miner, Frank Angerer, from Austria who was a widower. Frank had five young children.
I found no records detailing my grandma's activities during the period 1902-1910. My father claims, however, that grandma was in a convent during this time.
According to 1910 U.S. census records, Frank and Mary Angerer had already moved to Door County from Pennsylvania and were engaged in farming on the peninsula. All of the children including grandma were living in the family. Door County land records also revealed that Frank Angerer owned land in the Township of Egg Harbor. Entries in a History of Door County further showed that Frank Angerer had a successful 160-acre dairy farm.
A page from early 20th-century land records of property in the Township of Egg Harbor also clearly show that Bertha Kuehn, grandpa's mother, and grandpa had had land plots in the Township of Egg Harbor not far from the Angerer farm. Mary E. Kroll's uncle, Peter Kroll, also had had a farm next to Bertha Kuehn.
Being close to each other, grandpa and grandma Kuehn probably met at a church social function or when grandma was visiting her uncle. They started courting in 1912 or 1913. On October 25, 1913, Charles August Kuehn married Mary Elizabeth Kroll in Sevastopol just south of Egg Harbor. According to my second cousin, grandpa had been a farmer in the Township of Egg Harbor at that time.
Life in Door County 1913-1923
After grandpa and grandma Kuehn were married in 1913, they lived on a mortgaged farm on Sunny Slope Road not far from great-grandma, Bertha Kuehn's newly built homestead. From 1914 through 1926, my father and three of his siblings were born on Sunny Slope Road. First, August Carl was born on August 2, 1914. August was followed by my father, Charles George, who was born on March 10, 1916. My aunt Marie Kuehn Hyland was next with a birthdate of November 20, 1918. On August 17, 1921, uncle Richard (Dick) came into this world.
Although I don't know anything about grandpa's farming on Sunny Slope Road, I learned from a legal notice in the Door County News dated October 10, 1922, that there was a judgment of foreclosure and sale of grandpa's mortgaged farm on Sunny Slope Road. Examining land deeds in the Door County Court House, I found a document stating that the sheriff of Door County in pursuant of the said judgment of the Door County Court sold at public auction on November 22, 1922, grandpa Kuehn's farm for $1,000.
Grandpa Kuehn who had now lost his farm probably lived on his mother's homestead on Sunny Slope Road with his younger brother, Paul, and his wife Lizzie. Grandpa probably stayed with brother Paul and his family until October 25, 1923, when he and his family moved to Greenfield in the Milwaukee area. According to articles in the Door County News dated 1923, grandpa left Door County alone on August 30, 1923, for Milwaukee intending to find employment and a home for his family. He returned in October and moved the family and his household goods on October 25.
Life in Greenfield and West Allis 1923-1963
On October 25, 1923, grandpa Kuehn moved with his family from Door County to Greenfield just west of Milwaukee. During this period, three more children were born. Aunt Laura was born on November 27, 1923, Laura was followed by Aunt Helen who was born on December 2, 1926. My youngest Aunt Florence was born on June 26, 1929.
I remember dad talking about living on 99th Street in Greenfield but I never asked him during which years. Before eventually moving to their final home on South 63rd Street in West Allis, grandpa and grandma probably lived in Greenfield until around 1933. In grandma Kuehn's mother's obituary of 1933, it mentions grandma Kuehn living in West Allis.
Dad never talked that much about life on 99th Street, so I am unsure what kind of home grandpa Kuehn had. Grandma and grandpa Kuehn were undoubtedly very poor during the late 20s and early 30s. Grandpa Kuehn also started working in the Milwaukee stockyards as a laborer during these years.
Dad dropped out of high school in 1931 when he was 15. His other brothers and sisters also never finished high school. Perhaps that is the reason why three of my paternal aunts attended my high school graduation in 1962.
After dad dropped out of school, he got into trouble with the law and was sent away to a reform school in Green Bay. He received an early release by agreeing to work on farms which he did during the 1930s.
Grandma and grandpa were able to buy a small house on South 63rd Street in West Allis most probably from inheritances that grandma received. Dad and my grandparents never talked about it but it was a known fact that grandma Kuehn's parents were successful farmers as well as Peter Kroll, grandma Kuehn's uncle who had a big farm near Egg Harbor.
Dad mentioned more than once that grandpa and grandma used to always speak German when they didn't want their kids to know something. Perhaps that is why dad never talked that much about his early life in Door County and on 99th Street in Greenfield.
I didn't start to get to know grandpa and grandma until 1950 when I was six years old. I used to occasionally accompany dad on the short three to four-block walk from our rented apartment at 1338 to 960 S. 63rd Street where grandpa and grandma lived.
Mom didn't like my grandma because she treated me badly when my oldest sister was born in May 1947. While mom and dad were in the hospital, dad dropped me off at grandpa and grandma's house for babysitting. According to mom, I was still wearing my zipped up jacket when dad picked me up hours later.
When dad drove our family and grandpa up to Door County in 1951 or 1952 to visit one of grandpa's brothers, mom also got a bad impression of the Kuehns. On the night of our visit, mom, my sister, and I had to sleep in our car while dad and grandpa slept outside in a tent.
As a young boy, I remember grandpa Kuehn being about 5'8", a little shorter than dad. He always smoked a pipe and had a big pocket watch on a chain. Grandma Kuehn was also short and kept her house very clean. Up until the late 50s, my two youngest aunts, Helen and Florence, were still living with grandpa and grandma. They both worked at the telephone company and slept upstairs.
After dad moved to the Mukwonago area and we started farming in 1954, I seldom saw grandpa and grandma. I only saw them on two or three occasions when I waited on their front porch for uncle Augie to pick me up and take me to a Milwaukee Braves baseball game. I cannot remember seeing grandpa on those occasions. He still worked at the stockyards and wasn't home by 6:30 or 7:00 when Augie took me to the game.
After we moved to our farm in 1957, I saw even less of grandpa and grandma. Dad was too busy to drive in to see them and grandpa and grandma seldom came out to Honey Creek to visit us. Mom used to always complain that dad and uncle Augie were the bad sheep in the family and that grandpa and grandma Kuehn favored all of my other aunts and uncle Dick.
The last time I saw grandma and grandpa Kuehn was in August 1962, a few months before grandpa died in January 1963. My two cousins, Alan and Dickie, and I served as pallbearers at the funeral.
Because I never really knew grandpa very well and spent that much time with him, I didn't cry like my dad did when I went to the wake in the funeral home.
Although no one talked about it, grandpa liked to drink and probably gamble. Dad once told me that grandpa would make bad deals and get cheated when he was drunk. That probably is one of the reasons why he lost his farm in Door County and never really had money when he was alive.
Grandma Kuehn passed away in March 1964. The house at 960 S. 63rd Street is still there and I still recognized it by its front porch where I spent many hours.
© 2018 Paul Richard Kuehn