I lived at 240(?) North Main St. in New Bremen, Ohio, about 1½ blocks from St. Peter's Church which was my childhood church. In those days, we didn't have a number, though. When we got mail, it was just addressed to New Bremen, Ohio. We had to go downtown to pick up our mail because we didn't have mail delivery then. My father picked up the mail until he was 80 years old.
Our house had four rooms with a large kitchen. It was a frame house with a porch and was built by a Mr. Boesche. The inner walls were made of mud, brick, clay and horsehair. (You should have seen the dirt when they cut a window into the dining room.) It had high ceilings. We had kerosene lamps for lighting, a reflector lamp in the kitchen, and we had pull-down lamps in the dining and living rooms. We always had blue-tip matches in a little metal match-box to light them. We had a gas stove in the kitchen and a wood stove for when there wasn't enough gas - we didn't have any fireplaces. In later years, we had a coal stove where the coal was poured in at the top - a base-burner. We didn't have a bathtub, but we got our baths on Saturday nights in a tub in the kitchen. The town used wells for their water. We had outdoor toilets and they were cold! We had no telephone until a teacher (A.C. Settlage) moved in the other half of the house - then he had one.
There was St. Paul Lutheran Church (called the free church), St. Peter’s Church (Deutsche Evangelische), a small Catholic Church (most of the people went the three miles to Minster - some of them walked it), and Zion's Reformed Church (which always considered itself a little bit above the others because it started English first). In 1907 another church was started – Christ Church. All the rest of the churches were in German until the war (W.W.I) broke out, and then the people demanded that the services be in English.
At St. Paul Church, they had Rev. Buerkle, then Rev. Bertram. Rev. Christian Fischer was a Swiss minister and he served as pastor of St. Peter's Church from May 23, 1894 to April 8, 1917. He left us after the war broke out. He used to get books from Eden Publishing House and at Christmas, everybody who had perfect attendance would get one of those books as a prize. They were all in German.
When I was small, I was baptized by Rev. Merkle. My brother William and I went to both regular school and confirmation school. We had both English and German in our school. We would eat breakfast around 6:30 in the morning - my father went to work at 7:00. I walked a mile to school and walked home at noon for dinner. Dinner time was from 12:00 to 1:00 and supper was at 6:00. The school was on Herman Street. We had to pull weeds, pick up the fallen fruit, and things like that in the yard.
We went to Sunday School at 9:00 in the morning, and then we went to church, which lasted until about 12:00 noon. We learned from those little picture cards with the stories about the pictures printed on the back. I was confirmed in 1903.
Eventually, all three Protestant churches became a part of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Later on, they all got ministers from the Evangelical Synod. They came down from Wisconsin, from Mission House. In the fall, after the harvest was in, they'd each have a Mission Festival. We used to go to Mission Festivals as far away as Wapakoneta, 12 miles away. We would take Bessel's hack, a Jewish hack. It would cost us 10¢. I would judge about 14 people could ride in it. Later on, Ben Neuman, a boy from St. Peter's Church, ran the hack.
The mission was the main thing of the church. We had mission festivals every year and were very active in Honduras and India. The first Sunday of each new year was Bible Sunday - that meant that everybody who could afford it would put a dollar into the offering for Bibles for others. Our mission work started around 1915. On Mission Sunday, all the neighbors and other congregations were invited in for a free meal. There were usually two services in the morning, two in the afternoon, and one in the evening. It was a "union" mission festival, with choirs from New Bremen, Kettlersville, and New Knoxville all participating.
I think our congregation consisted of about 60 families. The church was usually filled and the Sunday School was always packed. We taught Bible verses and had children's songs. We also had classes for adults and weekly teachers' meetings where they prepared the lessons for the following Sunday.
On Thanksgiving Day, we had a service in German. On Christmas Eve, we had a children's program. After the program, all the stores would re-open so the people could buy their things. There was no Santa Claus - it was all religious. We would say verses and sing. We had a men's choir and a men's orchestra - Charlie Garmhausen directed it and the Mueller boys had their flutes, and there was a piano. During Lent, we had services on Wednesday evenings. We also had a Ladies' Aid organization.
[published in “The Towpath” – July 2005]
My father had a drainage tile business located west of the canal on six acres on the north edge of town (outlot #28, in 1880 occupied by William Langhorst's Tile Works.) He dug the clay and used carts to take it to the pits where the clay was mixed with water from the canal to moisten it and make it pliable. (My father had to pay for that water.) Then the clay was put on carts and taken to the press which was operated by horses. One man threw the clay into the pit and two men took it out. At the bottom of the press were forms the same size as the tile that was to be made, then the tile came out on rollers and was cut in foot lengths by a cutter. It was made in sizes from two inches up to twelve inches and was round on the top and flat at the bottom. The tile would then be lifted with a handle and placed on carts and taken into the drying sheds and stacked. Drying time depended on the weather - in wet or humid weather it took longer. The clay and water were mixed manually and John Schwede and Henry Neuman worked at the machine. After the tiles were dried in the shed, they were taken to the brick kiln and stacked up. The kiln was fired from the bottom, with flames shooting up to the top. Those flames had to be kept up day and night for a number of days, then the tile had to be cooled off and stacked up outside.
People would come from all around with their big heavy wagons and haul the tile away. They dug the ditches about six to eight feet deep. They'd order their tiles ahead of time and my father would make them to order. For the connections, they'd have to cut holes in the larger tiles to insert the smaller ones going in the other direction. The land around New Bremen was very wet, but after a while it got drained pretty well. The farmers did that themselves. Later on, they got those large sewers, but they weren't equipped to make that in New Bremen. (Henry Huefe sold the tile business to Steineman Bros. of Minster - N.B. Sun-3/31/1905)
My grandparents (Henry Backhaus and Sophia Wellman) were married May 16, 1850 in New Bremen and lived next to where my father had his tile yard. Next to their home my grandfather had a cooper shop where they made barrels for the flour mill. He made the staves and then bound them together to make the big barrels. Those were shipped on the canal boats. The boats stopped in Lock Two and picked up the flour.
I remember the streetcar. It would cost 10¢ to ride from New Bremen to Minster - about 3 miles. It was like a "toonerville trolley" (laughter). I remember there was a real tall man who helped on the streetcar. He was about 7 feet tall - that was very unusual. I was still going to school when they started building the interurban. Before that we had only the dinky - the railroad on the west end of town. They brought the mail in on that then. Charles (C.P.) Gress was the express agent. The dinky came only once a day, but the interurban came more often. It ran from Lima to New Bremen and Minster. Lima was the junction where they came together years ago. They came there from Cincinnati, Dayton, and all those places.
We had a blizzard (January 18,1918) that lasted a couple of days. The streetcars were halted, and we didn't have any mail delivery. The mail had to be brought in, you know, from St. Marys and the snow was quite drifted between here and St. Marys. Nothing came in, but we weren't out because we had potatoes and flour. See, we had two big flour mills, one in New Bremen and one in Lock Two - Garmhausen's Flour Mill. They had white and rye flour and corn meal. There wasn't much competition between the Lock Two Mill and the New Bremen Flour Mill. They always worked together.
The large bridge on the canal was a swing bridge. People could go on the canal with their canoes - I don't think there were any restrictions. There were two locks - Lock One was at New Bremen and Lock Two was a mile farther north, where the Garmhausen brothers had their flour mill. Our parents wouldn't let us watch them raise and lower the locks, although there were others standing around watching. I don't remember there being a charge for using the canal. I rode to Lock Two on a canal boat once. My Dad took me. Garmhausens had a big store in Lock Two also and that was really the trading post there.
Then there was what they called Lock Three, but that was never worked much later on. Up towards St. Marys, there was Lock Four. There were cemeteries at Lock Two and Lock Three. They were both Protestant cemeteries.
We got a surrey finally. Before that we just went by hack - a horse and wagon. Well, we didn't go much. When the farmers came in, we'd go with them. If my parents wanted to go to a card party in the country a couple miles out, we'd call up Mr. Bessel and he'd drive us there and back again in his hack. Mr. Bessel was the only Jew in town. Then Mr. Rairdon had a livery stable. We could hire a horse and buggy there and go out. Mr. Rairdon married one of Henry Dierker’s girls (Lillian) of the Dry Goods Store.
Our folks just had friendly parties where they all got together, children too, and we'd all go and have a good time. Children had popcorn parties. We would go from three to seven miles. My parents didn't play cards much. Sometimes they'd play euchre and I can't remember what else.
To keep warm, we'd heat bricks, wrap those in blankets, and put them on the bottom of the hay wagon that had hay in it and took blankets if it got bad. Sometimes it started snowing when we were on these. It was usually the Young People's Society that went on those parties.
We wore long underwear all winter and wool socks. Mother knitted many of those long stockings on a knitting machine, turning it with a crank. We'd get our woolen yarn (Fleischman's knitting yarn - I think that was the name) from my Mother's Uncle Fred Backhaus, from Backhaus & Kuenzel Woolen Mills Store. It came in long skeins and we'd wind it onto spools to be used on the knitting machine. Uncle Fred and Mr. Kuenzel were at the head of the Mills.
The farmers would have their sheep sheared and they'd bring the wool in to the Mill. They made blankets there. I quit school in the eighth grade. My mother was sick and I stayed home with her. We had to do something to earn money so I went to work at Uncle Fred's mill as a weaver for many years. (He wasn't living any more, then.) At the start of the war, we used to work from 6:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night making those blankets. We made khaki colored blankets for the Army. They had to be light in weight and weren't very strong. Naturally, they didn't last long.
The first automobile I ever got into was a little red one with my cousin in Fort Recovery. We had to climb over the wheels to get in.
I went to Chicago to a Presbyterian School, and then I came back and worked for Irma Blase's father, John, in the grocery store in the evenings and on Saturdays.
George Blase was a blacksmith. There were two blacksmith shops on our street - Aue's and Schulte's. I still remember it smelled terrible when they'd shoe the horses. They'd build a fire and get those wagon wheels real hot, then they'd put them on their anvils, screw them tight, and pound down on the edges while they were hot. There were a couple more blacksmith shops on the other (east) side of the canal.
The first money I earned by picking strawberries at Mr. Greber's strawberry patch north of town. We'd leave home about 6:00 in the morning, walk over there (a mile away) and we'd fill our little quart baskets. We got a penny a basket. Those strawberries were good. Some ate too many and wouldn't get anything in the basket and then Mr. Greber would come along and say "You put some of them in the basket as well as in your stomach." I was very proud of that first ten cents. I took it to school to Mission Festival. I picked up any kind of work I could get - clerking in the stores and lots of places like that. I didn't earn much there, but I had a happy childhood.
We knew everybody and everybody was a friend and of course if someone was sick, we'd run home and tell Momma to help out - carry some soup over at noon, things like that.
The boys used to go swimming in several swimming holes. They'd stock the canal with fish, and in the summer there'd always be people sitting around fishing. The canal boats used to be pulled by three donkeys and there would be a driver. They worked on the lower side on the towpath - you know the canal kind of goes slanting. We had two bridges in New Bremen - there was a swing bridge and there was one that was built high so the boats could go under it. The swing bridge gates opened half-way so the boats could go through, then they'd put them up again.
Our town newspaper was in German. It was called der Stern des Westlichen Ohio. Then Albert Buss bought The New Bremen Sun in January 1888. That was in English. We also had our church paper and a German paper from Milwaukee (Germania). I think the mail was delivered once a day.
My parents spoke both German and English, but in the home we spoke Low German. That was the Dane language. We went in and out of the Fischer family's home all the time and Boesel's and the Havemann's and those. They spoke High German, so we spoke that too. We learned English in school. The church services were always in High German. New Bremen and New Knoxville were from a different section of Germany and they each had their own dialect.
The population of New Bremen around this time was 1400. New Knoxville was smaller and they had no High School. The boys from New Knoxville used to walk along the towpath to New Bremen and went to High School there. Gus (A.C.) Settlage was a teacher at the New Bremen Public Schools. He came from New Knoxville and married Lizzie Snethkamp and lived next door to us.
There was a small bakery in New Bremen and they had good bread rolls. One thing that was so good were the cream puffs that Trautwein's made. You could only get those on Saturdays though.
Everybody grew their own vegetables, etc. When they had a lot of those things, they'd bring them to Mr. Dierker or Mr. Greiwe and then they'd sell them in the store for them. They'd tell them what they wanted for it in cash. They didn't sell them by the pound, but by the peck or the half peck or the bushel. I only remember getting oranges at Christmas time. Apricots were a treasure when you could get them once in a while. We grew most of our vegetables in our own garden and then we canned them. In our cellar we had shelves all along the walls - one for beans, one for pickles, etc. We always canned tomatoes in tin cans. There was a lid that fit on the tin can and my mother would hold it down with a special kind of fork and then she'd pour sealing wax around that. She had glass jars too that didn't have screw tops. She'd put sealing wax around that too. Later we used the screw tops with those rubber rings. We had to buy new rubber rings every year - you couldn't use them over again.
We grew green beans, lima beans, onions, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes and peas. Father would sow peas in February. Mother also grew celery, but she had to have special soil for that. We also had fruit trees - we had a sugar pear, a Bartlett pear, peach trees, different kinds of apples, and seven plum trees in our backyard. We had two cherry trees and a wild cherry tree back of the woodshed.
People used to raise cows and chickens in town, but that was cut out later. We usually had the butcher butcher three hogs and then we smoked the hams and shoulders. We would make gritz-wurst and blood-sausage (also called blood pudding). The blood-sausage was put in a cloth casing - the mett-wurst, liver-wurst, and summer-sausage were put into the cleaned intestines.
My father would never have killed anything. He couldn't - he was too soft-hearted for that. We didn't raise the hogs ourselves. We only butchered once a year, as I recall. You could always get meat at the meat markets.
Philip Dinkel had a meat market and they slaughtered several times a year and they always advertised when that slaughtering was going to be. I guess hogs were about 2¢ to 4¢ a pound. Then, William Schelper had a slaughter house out at the north end of town where they'd do it most of the winter, you know, when they could get a lot of hogs and meat on hand. Old Mr. Schelper (Henry) had several daughters and they all helped in the store, too, with selling the meat. Mr. Dinkel was on one side of the canal (the drug store corner) and Mr. Schelper had his meat market farther up on the other side of the bridge. They were both on Monroe Street. There were sheep, but I don't know that I ever ate enough mutton and lamb to get fond of it.
For refrigeration, we used ice. The ice houses cut their own ice every winter from the canal. Sometimes people drowned there years ago.
To cure the meat we butchered, we had a big piano box in the backyard and they'd put hickory wood in there and smoke it. Then we had a smoke house - most farmers had their own smoke house. The pork was usually salted, except the hams and the shoulders and the sausages. We'd put them in that large piano box to smoke them and we'd put them in the smokehouse overnight, and out again. I don't know how long they had to be smoked. My father took care of that.
We would raise little chicks that we would hatch ourselves with a setting hen. One of my jobs was to watch those baby chicks so the cat wouldn't get them. That was what we did to keep busy. We had a nice garden, both at home and at my father's tile yard. My brother William helped to take care of the gardens. There were six acres at the tile yard, then my Grandfather was next and they had their yard and their flower beds there. Then the cooper shop was next, and the sawmill was next to that. Grandfather cut the wood, you know. He bought the wood and made the hoops and the staves for the barrels and all of that. When they'd run the planes over the wood, they'd get all those curls. My Grandfather was quite a tease and he'd put those curls in back of our ears. They didn't let us children have anything to do with those machines that shaped the barrel staves. It was too dangerous. I know Uncle Fred (Backhaus) was minus a thumb.
In those days, we didn't have any Trick or Treat at Halloween. Once in a while, we did dress in costumes. One year, on the 28th, we went out with corn and threw corn against the people's windows and shutters. That rattled, you know. Next morning, you should have seen the birds. The next night was cabbage night. That was the time of year when everybody was cutting the heads off their cabbage, and we'd pull up the stalks and throw them against the doors and that made a lot of noise. Then, the next night was gate night. Then we'd carry the steps and the gates away. Sometimes, they'd also tip over the outhouses and carry them off. They finally put a stop to that. One morning we went to school and there was a little outhouse sticking on top of the school outhouse. Sometimes we would also bell people when they got married.
Speckman and Nieter's Hall (later the Arcade) was across the canal (east) and Schwepe's Hall was on our side (west) of the canal. They had dances almost every Saturday. We had a bake sale for one of our plays at Boesel's Opera House on Monroe Street. We would have singing and plays like Little Boy Blue up there. The Chautauqua would come to town for one or two weeks in the summertime - that was generally held under a tent. We didn't have the money to go to those kinds of things, though - we gave it all to church. The church plays were usually given in the church.
On Washington Street was the Kuenzel Mills on the west side, on the east side was the Fire House, a shoe store, the bank and Dierker's place, a bakery, and my Uncle John Blase's grocery store. John was Irma's father (Irma Blase Drewes). There were all separate stores, and then they made that into the Arcade. Speckman and Nieter was on the (southeast) corner.
I left New Bremen in 1923. That's when I went to work (as a missionary).