Jacob Kirsch (1841-1917), Lynching Saloonist With a Glass Eye, 52 Ancestors #109

The Kirsch House was the gleaming diamond of the Kirsch family – an establishment in Aurora, Indiana that lasted for almost half a century and was remembered in glowing terms. Mom and I didn’t really expect to be able to find it nearly three quarters of a century later.  When we did, it was in terrible shape, a hollow shell of its once illustrious self.  This really didn’t surprise me, given that we could find the building at all.  It is, after all, roughly 150 years old, give or take a few years in either direction.  However, what did surprise me was the rest of the story.

Far from being overblown, the legend of the Kirsch House was only partly revealed in the family stories.  And it contained chapters that one could never, ever have guessed.  How I wish this building could talk!

Come along on my three decade journey of discovery. This ancestor, Jacob Kirsch, and his family are chocked full of amazing surprises and intrigue – and some of them are kind of, well…on the dark side!  Get a cup of tea and get comfortable…this is some story.  I think Jacob holds the OMG Ancestor Award – meaning I said that more researching him than anyone else.

jacob kirsch

This photo was noted as Jacob Kirsch in Mom’s “suitcase of my life” that she left me when she passed. The name is not on the back of the photo, but Mom says that she thinks this is Jacob.  We do have some photos of Jacob when he’s older that are positively him.  Note the military pin, probably privately made by a local jeweler.  I wonder where that pin is today.  Surely not in my jewelry box!

Jacob Kirsch was certainly an interesting man. For one thing, he had a glass eye.  When he was an old man, he used to sit outside the Kirsch House on the sidewalk in his chair, take his glass eye out and scare the children, who would run away screaming for their life…only to return for him to do it all over again.  Even more amazing, for a man who died in 1917, we have two eye-witness (pardon the pun) accounts!

As my mother, his great-granddaughter would have said, he was “some character.” How I would love to sit down in a chair beside him, watch him scare those kids and listen to stories about his life – and how he lost his eye.  Maybe the children would gather around and listen to his lifetime of adventures too!  Goodness, there were wars and murders and floods and elephants, oh my!

Eloise Lore, his granddaughter, said that Jacob’s eye was lost in a quail hunting accident, something about hiding behind a bush with another boy. Boys will be boys.  So when his mother lectured the other children about not “putting your eye out,” maybe they listened!  Nah!

Ironically, the glass eye would definitely affect two other things in Jacob’s life, although today we don’t know exactly how. First, depending the age at which the accident happened, it could have affected his ability to serve in the Civil War, as it would have affected his depth perception.  His obituary, with information obviously from a family source, said that even though he could not pass the Civil War physical, he went along anyway and served as the cook and teamster.  And yes, by the way, his family was “Union,” being from Indiana.

Additionally, another story about Jacob’s marksmanship survives within the family, but we really can’t gauge whether this is a true story or a tall tale. Eloise, his granddaughter who knew him well, told me that he was at one time called to the Cincinnati zoo to kill an elephant that had either broken out of the zoo or turned on its trainer.  In any event, the elephant had gone insane.  I shudder to think about why, but Jacob supposedly was summoned because of his superior marksmanship and went to kill the elephant.  One would think that with one eye, his marksmanship would be inferior, not superior, but then again, there are a lot of possible variables to this story.  Eloise, born in 1903, also said that he had a lot of “large hunting rifles” at the Kirsch House.  Jacob would have been 62 in 1903, so Eloise knew him from that time until his death in 1917.

The fact that Jacob does have a glass eye is visible in later photographs, if you realize what you’re looking for. In the earlier photo above, he doesn’t seem to have the glass eye, assuming that it is Jacob.  However, he is wearing some sort of apparent military pin.  I wish this pin were clearer in the photo.  That pin might hold another clue about his military service.

Certainly, all of these stories can’t be true…but we know for sure that one of them is. Telford Walker, a man in his 80s or so in the 1980s when Mom and I visited Aurora, Indiana, and the local historian, told us he was one of those small children who used to watch Jacob Kirsch remove his glass eye!!!  He told me that Jacob used to pop it in his mouth and then spit it out again.  No wonder those kids ran screaming.  That’s the stuff nightmares are made of.

Another local man, Earl Huffman, born in 1896 tells about the Kirsch House and Jacob in his column in the Journal Press, “Aurora As I Saw It Through the Years” on December 14, 1976. Earl says of Jacob, “He had only one eye but he saw everything.  He operated the business on a high level and catered only to high-level traveling men.”

Funny, that glass eye story is one Mom and I had never heard until Telford told us. We sat there in the old Kirsch House, dumbstruck, spellbound, staring at Telford and each other in disbelief.  Jacob must have been having a good laugh, watching his great-granddaughter and great-great-granddaughter come back to the Kirsch house to be shocked by his infamous glass eye.  Family memory can be quite selective – but you’d think that story would have been VERY memorable.  We asked Eloise, his granddaughter, who was elderly but still living when Mom and I first visited Aurora, and she confirmed the story.  She thought “everyone knew that,” so there was no need to mention it.

Germany to Indiana

Mutterstadt church

Photo compliments of Chris Young of the Weinacht family. http://www.seawhy.com/gvmuch.html

Jacob Kirsch was born in the Lutheran church in Mutterstadt, Germany (above) on May 1st, 1841 to Philipp Jacob Kirsch and Catharina Barbara Lemmert.

Jacob Kirsch birth

The church registry in Mutterstadt, above, records the birth of Jacob Kirsch on May 1st, 1841 and his baptism on May the 5th.  It states the names of his parents as well as his godparents, “Jacob Krick II and Anna Maria Lemmert, Protestant couple from here.”  Anna Maria was his mother’s sister, so Jacob was named for his mother’s sister’s husband.  The record also says Jacob immigrated with his parents in 1847.  Gotta love those German church records!!!

We don’t know if the church records were a year off, or it the family took some time after leaving Mutterstadt to get to their port of debarkation, because they didn’t actually set sail until June of 1848.

Another record of Jacob’s birth is from Nora Kirsch’s Bible

The following document was sent to my mother years ago by Eloise Lore, Jacob and Barbara’s granddaughter. It is from the Bible of Eloise’s mother, Nora Kirsch Lore.  The handwriting is my mother’s as she “fixed” things.  As you can see, sometimes her “fix” was inaccurate.

Nora's Bible2

Jacob and his family immigrated first to New Orleans, then boarded a steamer for Aurora, Indiana.  They left on June the 14, 1848 from the port of Le Havre in France and arriving in New Orleans on the 4th of July, the significance of which is not lost on me.

Although I’m sure it changed some between 1848 and 1920, here’s a postcard depicting the quayside in Le Havre.  Many of the old building would have been the same.  Jacob’s eyes must have been as big as saucers.

Jacob Kirsch Le Havre

I visited LeHavre in 2013, and although it didn’t look anything like the quayside above today, the surrounding countryside was still very quaint and villages were scattered about every couple miles or so – each one with a cluster of houses and a church. Scanning the horizon, you could see several at one time.  Little has probably changed between then and now except for power lines, paved roads and a few new buildings.  The little villages are still the little villages nestled in the countryside, the church at the center of the community.

The sea, however, I’m sure looks exactly the same. Timeless, vast, and sometimes dark and ominous in its beauty.

Le Havre sea

This must have been high adventure for a boy of 6 or 7 years. I bet his mother had a terrible time keeping track of him on the ships, because he would have been the perfect age to want to explore, run around and perhaps play like he was a mate or a pirate.  I wonder if he wore a patch over one eye!

1848 Ship Manifest

The ship’s passenger list gives Jacob’s age as 6.

This painting from the 1860s shows the port of New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Their landing would have looked something like this – amazing I’m sure to Jacob.  As far as he was concerned, this trip was the adventure of a lifetime.

Jacob Kirsch New Orleans

From New Orleans, the family boarded a river paddle steamer and steamed their way up the Mississippi River, angling northeast at the Ohio River. This steamboat on the Mississippi in 1853 is probably very close to what Jacob saw.

Jacob Kirsch riverboat

On the map of Dearborn County below, you can see the City of Aurora at the bend in the River, and Lawrenceburg upstream towards Ohio.  This would be the end of the line for the Kirsch family – and the beginning of their new life.

Dearborn map

Ripley County

Aurora, in Dearborn County, would play a large part in Jacob’s life as an adult, but first the family went to Ripley County, joining Dearborn County on the west near Moore’s Hill, where Jacob lived and grew up as a child. His first sight of Indiana was likely the steamboat dock at Aurora.  Ironically, that dock was less than a quarter mile from where Jacob would spent the majority of his life as an adult, the Kirsch House on Second Street.

aurora dock to Kirsch house

The Kirsch family is found living in Ripley County in the 1850 census, and Jacob had a new baby brother, Andreas, who would die as a young child. This child was listed as 1 year old, meaning he had had his birthday by August 20th, 1850.  The gravestone in the old Lutheran Cemetery is confusing and in very poor condition, but the date was still legible many years ago, February 6th.  If this child turned 1 on February 6, 1849, that means his mother was pregnant when she was on board that ship. If she had morning sickness on top of sea sickness, she would have been one miserable woman.

Andreas death date is also given as September 19th, 1821 and 1891.  Clearly, neither year can be accurate.  Another transcribed source says 1853, which is likely closer to the truth. The year was probably 1851 since both a 2 and a 9 can look like a 5 when the stone is worn,  and 1 is the constant last number in the 1821 and 1891 transcriptions.  We know Andreas is not in the 1860 census,

We don’t know if Jacob had experienced death before or not, but we do know that on September 19th, (probably) 1851 his baby brother, age 2 years and 7 months, died and they likely buried him in a small grave beside the Lutheran church that no longer exists, in the countryside, in their new country.  Jacob would have been 10 years old. He would certainly have remembered that day, probably vividly.

By 1860, the older family members were moving to town. Jacob’s sister Barbara married Martin Koehler in 1851 and brother Philip Kirsch was living with them in a boarding house in Aurora in 1860.  Brother Martin Kirsch was living with William Kraas, a German baker in Lawrenceburg.  The young Kirsch’s were fledging.

But Jacob, along with his brother John, born in 1835, are, well, missing, for lack of anything else to call it. Actually, we know John outlived Jacob because Jacob’s obituary provides us with that tidbit – so he’s not dead. And Jacob is very much alive too…someplace.  I just can’t find him!

On May 27th, 1866, Jacob Kirsch married Barbara Drechsel in Aurora, Indiana, a nice German girl.

Between the 1860 census where Jacob was missing and his 1866 wedding, life for the Kirsch family would change dramatically.

The Civil War

Jacob’s parents, Philipp Jacob Kirsch and his wife Katharina Barbara Lemmert had five sons. One died in infancy.  Three, and possibly four, served in the Civil War.  Martin served, but is never found in records again and likely died, either in active duty or by disease.

I believe that Jacob Kirsch also served in the War. He certainly was of the age where militia participation was required. There is, however, that little issue of a glass eye, and the obituary that says that he “was unable to pass the physical examination for admission, but served in the conflict as cook and teamster when but 19 years of age.”  And there’s the painting of him wearing what appears to be a Union uniform, passed down through the family.

Jacob Kirsch civil war painting

And not only am I confused about his service, but it appears that the government was too.

Jacob Kirsch pension app

Jacob’s widow, Barbara, applied for a Civil War pension after Jacob’s death. Her pension application was declined, but she gives Jacob’s unit number as the Indiana 137th Regiment Infantry, Company F and says he enlisted in Jefferson County, Indiana. This unit was organized at Indianapolis, Ind., and mustered into service May 26, 1864. If Jacob was in this unit, he was ordered to Tennessee and assigned to duty as Railroad Guard in Tennessee and Alabama, Dept. of the Cumberland, until September, 1864. Barbara did not say when he mustered out.  Given that Barbara likely knew Jacob during the Civil War, I find it unlikely that Jacob did not serve.  Furthermore, we have that painting of Jacob in uniform.

I researched the 137th regiment, and found a daily diary kept by another soldier, removing all doubt about whether or not that particular soldier served.  This man’s name was also not on the roll of the unit.  It appears that records were not well kept during the Civil War, so although Jacob Kirsch does not appear on the official federal roster of this unit, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that he did in fact serve.  We’ll likely never sort this out today, but I gave it my best shot!

When I received Jacob and Barbara’s records from the National archives, they included the intermingled records of two different Jacob Kirschs. Another Jacob Kirsch died in 1931 and his military records involving his burial allowance indicate that he served in company K, 13th regiment and enlisted on May 16, 1864, discharged on September 21, 1864.

The “other” Jacob Kirsch lived in North Madison, Indiana, when he died, was a cooper, born in Cincinnati, Ohio of German parents. His wife’s name was Eveline, but she predeceased him, according to his death certificate.  His step-daughter applied for burial benefits, so Eveline could have married Jacob when he was older.  In some of the service records, he is recorded as Jacob Cash.

A note on the request for award of benefits for the burial of the Jacob Kirsch in Madison County says, “Name not found on rolls of the 13th Indiana Infantry, Private Co., K 137th Indiana Infantry, 100 days, 1864, enlisted May 16, 1864, discharged September 21, 1864.”  Note, the underscore was theirs.

So, they denied Barbara’s pension request in 1929, but they “fixed” the request of the 1931 Jacob so his family could obtain the burial benefit.

Jacob Kirsch pension chart

Somehow, I just have the feeling that the mortician looked in that exact same book that I discovered, found Jacob Kirsch listed, and suggested that the “Other Jacob’s” step-daughter file for death benefits. The worst thing that could happen was that they would be turned down.  They weren’t.

I verified at Fold3.com that there is a service record index card for Jacob Kirsch, Company K, 137 Indiana infantry.

The Regiment is the same. The history of Regiment 137 shows us that it had 10 companies, lettered A to K, with different companies being raised from different geographic areas.

So, now we have Jacob of Madisonville who died in 1931 whose step-daughter claimed service in Company K, 13th Indiana infantry.  A Jacob Kirsch’s name was found on the 137th infantry, Company F.  And Barbara claims her Jacob served those same dates in the 137th, Company F but her widow’s claim was denied.

Company F shows a Jacob Kirsch from Jefferson County on the “Indiana Volunteers, 137th Regiment.”   Company K shows no Kirsch or Cash.

Jacob Kirsch enlistment document

Jacob Kirsch company F

Jacob Kirsch Company F 2

It’s beyond me why the Veteran’s Bureau could not find Jacob’s name on the roster for the unit in which Barbara says he served, when he is clearly there, and they corrected the application for another Jacob two years later. This list of rosters was published by the State of Indiana in 1867, so it was surely available in 1929, and the undertaker apparently found it two years later in 1931.

Had Barbara not believed that Jacob had served, she would not have filed for a pension. In a small community, one cannot claim service without the rest of the community knowing whether you actually served or not.  Apparently by 1929, Barbara was elderly and impoverished, and the family was very hopeful that his pension would help her.  I’m sure her daughters didn’t let Barbara starve, but it’s sad to see the widows of our servicemen reduced to dependence on others in their old age.

Jacob’s Brothers Who Served

From the Dearborn Co. History book, we find the list of men in the 32nd Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Infantry, described as “strictly a German regiment,” recruited in Sept 1861.  Dearborn Co. German men furnished most of two companies; Company C with John L. Giegoldt of Aurora as Captain, and Company D that included Martin Kirsch and Valentine Kirsch, a member of the Lawrenceburg Kirsch family.

Ripley County offered a $20 bounty for every man drafted, then in 1864, they offered a $100 bounty for every man who either served or found a suitable substitute within the county.

Jacob’s oldest brother, Philipp Kirsch served in the Civil War in the US Army Company D 3rd Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Infantry, known as the third Cavalry.  He was joined Aug. 22, 1861 at Madison, Indiana for the duration of the war.  He owned his own horse, but the equipment was furnished by the government.  He was in Capt. Keister’s company and mustered out at the end of the war on Sept. 9, 1864 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  He served a total of 3 years and a month.  Based on his regimental history, Philip was likely at the historic Battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest battle in American history, with 23,000 casualties in one day.

Miller Brethen church Antietam

Only one known photo of Philipp Kirsch who served in the Civil War exists, in the photo below with Philip on the left, Barbara Drechsel Kirsch in the middle and her husband, Philipp’s brother, Jacob Kirsch on the right. This photo had to have been taken before Philipp’s death in 1905.  Jacob Kirsch doesn’t look nearly as gray as he does in later photographs.

Philip Kirsch Barbara Drechsel Jacob Kirsch

Jacob’s brother Martin Kirsch also served in the Civil War, and may have been killed. I find nothing after the Civil War for Martin. He was recruited in 1861 and served in Company D 32nd Indiana Regiment. Part of the Army of the Ohio, the 32nd fought at Rowlett’s Station in Kentucky; Shiloh, Stones River, and Missionary Ridge in Tennessee; and Chickamauga in Georgia.

There is also a John Kirsch who served, but I’ve been unable to verify that the John who served is Jacob’s brother.

Starting a Family in Aurora

On May 27, 1866, Jacob Kirsch married Barbara Drechsel, daughter of Aurora residents George Drechsel and Barbara Mehlheimer. Barbara Drechsel was born in Germany too, and according to family members the entire group spoke German until WWI when they began speaking English publicly.  They were married by J.C. Schneider, minister at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran church, formed in 1856, where their children were subsequently baptized and attended school.  In 1866, the Lutherans would still have been renting the Baptist church, as the “new” church wasn’t built until 1874, so that’s likely where Jacob and Barbara were married.

Barbara’s father, George is listed as one of the Lutheran church founders, so Barbara had likely attended the Lutheran church in the Baptist church house her entire childhood. The current church was built in 1874, with Barbara and Jacob likely watching it be built and perhaps participating.

Jacob Kirsch st John Aurora

Here’s the Google street view of the church where many of these baptisms took place, but it looked a little different even 25 years ago when Mom and I visited.

Jacob Kirsch st John's google

The church in the early 1990s still had a grassy area along the side. Mom and I wondered if the Kirsch children played in this yard as they attended the Lutheran school.  They assuredly walked to school, being less than two blocks to the Kirsch house and only a couple blocks to their Drechsel grandparents as well.  Plus there would have been few strangers and everyone knew everyone else.

Jacob Kirsch St. John side

The Kirsch children were educated in St. John’s Lutheran School held in the church. Free schools did not exist in Aurora at that time, so everyone who educated their children paid tuition in some location for their children to attend school.

Mother and I visited this church and perused the records when we visited. The stained glass windows appeared to be original, and mother thought they were beautiful.  We took several photos, including the one below that shows mother pointing upwards.  Now she too has gone to join her ancestors who lived and worshiped here, and we are left with only the reflections of their lives on earth.

Mom church window

Religion played an important part in the lives of the German immigrants. Most of the German families were Protestant, but a few were Catholic.  Churches delivered their sermons in German until the advent of the First World War.  Eloise remembers hearing German spoken at the Kirsch House, but she recalls that the adult children of Jacob and Barbara Kirsch told them that they needed to speak English, not German, when WWI broke out, and they never spoke German again.  The family was afraid that people in America would thing they were not loyal.

I understand the concern, but it seems odd for a group of people who fought in the Civil War some half a century earlier.

The 1870 census shows that Jacob and Barbara had started a family.

They were living in Aurora, but didn’t own property, at least not yet. Jacob is listed as a cooper and they are living in a building with another German family and possibly some additional people as well.  Nora was 3, Martin 2 and the baby, Edward, was 3 months old.

A year later, on September 9th, 1871, they bought lot 6 in David Walser’s subdivision in the city of Aurora.

Jacob Kirsch Aurora map crop 3

Mom and I were given this 1875 plat map during our visit to Aurora, and we were able to locate the properties of importance to Jacob and Barbara Kirsch during their lifetime. Barbara Drechsel’s parents’ home is located on 4th Street, and the future Kirsch House, labeled as the French House, is located on Second Street beside the depot.

Their first home in Walser’s subdivision is near the bottom, with a pencil note indicating which lot was theirs. I wonder if they built that house or if it had been previously built.

Today, this property is along Lincoln Street where it splits from Conwell.

Jacob Kirsch first property

Old maps and Google street view today are wonderful tools used jointly. We can “drive along” Lincoln.

Jacob Kirsch Lincoln driveby

The original homes are probably gone today or well disguised under contemporary siding and modernization.

Jacob Kirsch Lincoln driveby 2

Jacob and Barbara didn’t live there long, because by August of 1875, they bought the property from James and Ellen French, renamed it the Kirsch House, of course, and moved the two blocks to town, right beside the depot.  Prior to this sale, the establishment was called the French House.  An ad in 1876 business directory shows Jacob Kirsch as the proprietor, still gives the name as the French House and says “The house is pleasantly situated near the railroad depot and will be found the most desirable place in the city of Aurora at which to stop.  Good wines, liquors and cigars.”

If you were going to have a bed and breakfast type of tavern in Aurora, this was the place to be. Earl Huffman in his article mentions the crowds of people at the train station awaiting the arrival of trains and references the Kirsch House of that era as a “glamorous hotel.”  I think I would have been outside with a tray of cold drinks in the summer and hot drinks in the winter, working the crowds!  The train depot delivered people to the doorstep, and directly down second street were the docks for the Ohio River.  As they say in real estate, “location, location, location.”

Jacob Kirsch Kirsch House satellite.jpg

As a proprietor, it doesn’t get any better.

In the 1880 census, Jacob is shown as a saloon keeper and having a boarding house. Indeed, they have 3 boarders and Barbara’s sister, Mary Drexler, age 17, is living with them as a servant.

Earl Huffman who knew Jacob Kirsch and the Kirsch House says that “The Kirsch House catered to tobacco buyers and other prominent business men who visited Aurora. It was a plush and modern hotel at that time, with a resplendent history and a stone gutter and a wooden portico over the cement sidewalk which was laid in 1905.  Jacob Kirsch catered to only high-level traveling men.  Aurora had some of these men, and they frequented, and some lived at, the Kirsch House.”  The Kirsch House may have been posh and had a portico over the sidewalk, but according to Huffman, at that time in history, the street was still dirt.  Of course, horses and carriages waited at the depot for visitors who needed a ride, so the clip-clop of hooves would have been a constant backdrop at the Kirsch House.

Kirsch House postcard

You can see the depot and the porch in the photo above, which was laminated on the bar in the old Kirsch House building when Mom and I visited in the 1990s.

The Kirsch House

From 1875 until 1921, for nearly half a century, the Kirsch House was a landmark establishment in Aurora as well as the hub of Kirsch family activity.  Memories of the Kirsch House, references to it and stories about it filled the 1900s and live into the 21st century, firmly planting the Kirsch House as an icon of the Kirsch family shortly after their immigration.  My mother may have been there as a child, but she had no recollection of it.  Her brother, Lore, did visit as a child, and Eloise, mother’s aunt, had many fond memories of the Kirsch House.  Eloise was the youngest child of Nora Kirsch and C.B. Lore, born in 1903, so she spent her entire childhood visiting the Kirsch House.  My grandmother, Edith Lore, Nora Kirsch’s daughter, lived at the Kirsch House while attending business school in Cincinnati between 1905 and 1908, taking the train back and forth to classes daily.

Eloise said that there was a bar on one side, and on the other there was a parlor, dining room and kitchen. The cooper’s wagon delivered beer to the Kirsch house and the beer was kept in the basement.  I’m surprised there was a basement with the river flooding issue.

Eloise said the stairs to the upstairs were curved, and that is the staircase that Nora descended to marry Curtis Lore, Eloise’s father.  Eloise also said that Jacob always said, “Another horse, by God,” and that he lost his eye behind a bush while quail hunting.  You know, I guess it’s possible that a stick poked Jacob’s eye out, given that bush part of the story, instead of a gunshot.  I really never thought about that possibility, but it wouldn’t make nearly as good of a story.

Kirsch house 1990s

Mother, my daughter and I visited the old Kirsch House in 1992 when it was Perrone’s restaurant. The bar is original, and may have already been installed prior to Jacob owning the property when it was the French House.  Regardless, Jacob Kirsch, with his glass eye, stood behind this bar for nearly 45 years and served his patrons.  I wonder how many different stories he had in his repertoire about how he lost his eye.  You know the patrons asked!

Based on the metal seal on the bar, it was manufactured in Cincinnati, but we don’t know when. It was beautifully restored when we visited in 1992, but was missing from the building in 2008.

Jacob Kirsch bar seal

Research on the Huss Brothers Manufacturing company tells us they were in business still in 1912 when an article in a woodcraft journal tells us they had a fire in their varnish room, but the machinery wasn’t damaged and that they made billiard and pool tables and bar fixtures. The company seems to be in business as early as 1890 and specialized in high end cabinetry, including musical instruments.  The bar probably arrived via rail, right next door.

Jacob Kirsch bar

I visited the Kirsch House one last time in 2008, when it was indeed in a sorry state. It had not been inhabited in the past 15 years or so, and the bar had become the subject of a lawsuit.  I’m guessing the bar is or was the single most valuable asset on that property, and it apparently “disappeared” at some point in a real estate transaction.  In 2008, the city was evaluating their options in terms of purchasing and restoring the building and had an architect provide an evaluation and recommendations.  The mayor at that time was kind enough to not only give us a complete tour, something I had never had before, but a copy of the recommendation as well.  I told him I was hoping to win the lottery, then he wouldn’t have a funding issue.  Needless to say, I didn’t win.  As of 2013, the building was still standing, but had not been restored.

The Kirsch House was located beside the depot on Second Street. This allowed the proprietors to take full advantage of any travelers arriving on the train, and they were only three blocks from the Ohio River where passengers arriving by steamer would disembark as well.  Because of the proximity to the train depot, the hobos would come to the back door of the Kirsch House and Barbara would feed them all.  The Kirsch’s were looked upon, according to Eloise, as upper class shop and property owners.  Photos above and below were from our late 1980s or early 1990s visits.

Jacob Kirsch house by depot

The Kirsch house, when Jacob owned it, had a roof covering the sidewalk. In 1992, the roof over the sidewalk was gone.

Jacob Kirsch house rear

Mother always spoke of the private garden area behind the house. I understood that this area was enclosed with brick for privacy, included a pump, and it is indeed where one of Jacob Kirsch’s son-in-laws’ committed suicide.

In the photo below, my mother and daughter are looking at the depot side of the Kirsch House. This is a very long building and this is about half its length.

Jacob Kirsch House side

You can see in essence the same view of the Kirsch House in the postcard below, also from the Kirsch House bar.

Jacob Kirsch house and depot

It looks a lot different today. Jacob and Barbara would probably be heartsick.

The following document provided by Telford Walker (now deceased) was an envelope singing the praises of Aurora sent from the Kirsch House in 1894.

Jacob Kirsch house envelope back

Jacob Kirsch House envelope front

The Kirsch House was purchased in August 1875 by Jacob Kirsch from James and Ellen French. Twelve years later, in February 1887, a very unusual transaction occurred and Jacob sold the Kirsch House to his wife Barbara Kirsch.

The family scuttlebutt was that Jacob had been involved somehow with the murder of an itinerant bricklayer who accosted a local gal and the bricklayer’s family subsequently sued the men who killed him. As it turns out, this story was based at least partially in truth, with a bit of icing on the cake.  A suit was filed in the Federal Court in Indianapolis.

Barbara eventually sold the property in March of 1921 after Jacob’s death to G. and L. Neaman.  This location comprises four city lots, lots 280-283.

In July of 1941, George and Louise Neaman sold the property to Fred Wellman, and in 1976, the Wellman’s sold it to PGR. In 1986 PGR sold it to Ann Craft who apparently still owned it when we visited in the late 80s or early 90s.  It was then an Italian Restaurant, Peronne’s.

Emmert. L. Kirsch of Lawrenceburg Indiana in 1993, provided the following information in a letter.

City of Aurora Directory, Dec. 5 1895 – Phil Kirsch, Retired
Jacob Kirsch, Proprietor
Ed Kirsch, Clerk

Kirsch House 162 and 164 Second Street.

Emmert notes that the above address raises the question of the actual location of this establishment.  An 1876 article indicates the north end of Second Street but the 1895 directory address indicates the south end of Second Street.   Emmert goes on to speculate that perhaps Jacob had a second location at the south end of Second Street at that time.  He says there is evidence of a track at that location.  I don’t think this is the case.

The current address for the property is 506 Second Street. In the 1875 deed, it is listed as 280-285 Second Street, which were the lot numbers, and in 1900, the census lists Jacob at 148 and his son Edward at 162 Second St.  There is evidence that the addresses on the Streets were changed at some point, and from the looks of the addresses, possibly twice.

We do know that the location of the Kirsch House that Mother and I found is at the North end of town, beside the depot, and Telford Walker knew Jacob Kirsch at the Kirsch House in that location. In fact, in an incredible twist of fate or moment of synchronicity, Telford was at a luncheon taking place at Perrone’s, the former Kirsch House, when mother and I visited.  The then current owner went and got Telford and introduced us.

In the courthouse at Lawrenceburg, there is a framed “Boland’s Location Map of the Business Center of Aurora, Indiana”. It says the coffin factory had just been erected, which was built in 1889 or 1890, so this map must be from the early 1890s.

At the top of this chart, separated from the O. & M. depot grounds by only an alley is located the Kirsch House conducted by Mr. J. Kirsch, with the following ad. “The traveling world will here find every comfort and convenience of a temporary home; good viands, good beds and courteous treatment. Keep the Kirsch House in your mind when you visit Aurora.”

On the map, the Kirsch House is located between Exporting and Bridgeway Streets on Second, the same location as today. The entire block behind the Kirsch House is taken up by the Samuel Wymond Cooperage stave yards and the train depot is next door.  Jacob Kirsch’s daughter, Carrie, would marry Samuel Wymond’s son.

Cousin Irene Bultman (now deceased) recalls of the Kirsch House:

Back in the 30s or 40s, my mother’s sister and her husband bought the Neaman House, the old Kirsch house, and found some pictures in the attic, but I don’t know what happened to them. Gladys and Fred Wellmann, then their son Thomas took ownership and had it until 1976. Thomas or Tommy, as he was known, refinished the counter behind the bar.  The dining room has been redone.  When Aunt Gladys lived there, on the ground floor was a living room and a large dining room and a large kitchen.  You could go into the saloon from the dining room.  I don’t remember whether there was a bedroom on the first floor and whether the living room was used as a bedroom. I know that my female cousin slept upstairs.  The Express Freight office was also connected to this building.

The following photo is of Jacob and Barbara Drechsel Kirsch in later years. Jacob’s beard and moustache were ever-present it seems.  Jacob was apparently carrying a pocket watch and I can’t tell for sure, but it looks like he might have been wearing a lapel pin.  I wonder if it was that same military pin.  He was also wearing a ring on his left hand.

Jacob Kirsch and Barbara Drechsel

Another photo of Jacob and the family exists. We can date it by the age of Eloise who is in the photo and looks to be about 3 or 4 years old, so the photo must have been taken about 1906 or 1907 but before 1909 when C. B. Lore dies.  These two photos appear to have been taken the same day, judging from the clothing.

Jacob Kirsch family photo crop

This is the only photo where all of the Kirsch children appear to be present with their parents.  Left to right, I can identify people as follows:

  • Seated left – one of the Kirsch sisters – possibly Carrie.
  • Standing male left behind chair – CB Lore – which places this photo before November 1909
  • Seated in chair in front of CB Lore in white dress – Nora Kirsch Lore
  • Male with bow tiestanding beside CB Lore – probably Edward Kirsch
  • Male standing beside him with no tie – probably Martin Kirsch
  • Woman standing in rear row – Kirsch sister, possibly Ida.
  • Standing right rear – Jacob Kirsch.
  • Front adult beside Nora – Kirsch sister, possibly Lou.
  • Child beside Nora – Mildred or Eloise Lore, probably Eloise
  • Adult woman, seated, with black skirt – Barbara Drechsel Kirsch
  • Young woman beside Barbara to her left with large white bow – probably Curtis Lore

Apparently Barbara maintained the Kirsch House, at least for a few years before she sold it after Jacob’s death in 1917.  We found stationery predated for the 1920s with 192_.  B. Kirsch is listed as proprietor.  She was 72 years old in 1920 when this stationery was printed. She was one ambitious and apparently tireless lady.

Barbara did not inherit the property when Jacob died because she already owned it, free and clear. Based on an 1887 deed, the Kirsch House legally belonged to Barbara alone, an extremely unusual situation for that time and place.

Mother and I found the February 1887 deed from Jacob to Barbara. This was a highly unusual move, especially since they did not divorce nor was there any oral history of discord.  We wondered why, and suspected that something was amiss, or at least that there was a good story lurking someplace.  However, we were certainly not prepared for what came next.

The Lynching

Jacob Kirsch was involved with a lynching. What appears below is the newspaper coverage we were able to find, followed by the actual court documents found at the National Archives branch in Chicago, Illinois in 2008.

Aug. 26, 1886 Newspaper article:

Swift Retribution

Louis Hilbert Murdered by a Tramp Bricklayer at Aurora

The Murderer Forfeits His Life Within Twenty Minutes After Killing His Victim

A frightful double tragedy occurred at Aurora on Thursday last about the noon hour, resulting in the death of two men. The announcement that a highly esteemed citizen had been murdered by a vagabond tramp convulsed the city with excitement, but retribution was quick and horrible. 

The murderer was hanged on the street in less than thirty minutes after the commission of his crime. The Aurora fair was in progress and the many thousand people who were in attendance were wild with excitement.  The particulars of the murder and lynching are as follows:

Mrs. Randolph is putting up a business building next to the First National Bank on the principal street. Her son-in-law, Louis Hilbert, of St. Louis was sent for and came to Aurora  to oversee the work. 

Two weeks ago a tramp bricklayer named Watkins engaged to work on the building. He worked steadily until Thursday, when about noon, he appeared at the Randolph building and Hilbert ordered him to go to work.  He had been drinking and spurned the order with an oath.  Hilbert then told him to leave the premises, when he drew a knife, and flourishing it, made for Hilbert.  Valentine Grossman, a laborer, tried to hold Watkins, but he struck at Grossman with the knife and intimidated him.  He then rushed viciously onto Hilbert and stabbed him 4 times in the breast and shoulder.  Hilbert sank to the ground dead. 

Several eye-witnesses detained the murdered until Officer Anderson arrived and placed him under arrest.

An examination of Hilbert proved that he was lifeless and the crowds on the street became furious. Watkins, the murdered, was placed in a buggy and with an officer on each side of him, an effort was made to take him to jail for safekeeping.  The crowd had now swelled to hundreds and the facts were passed from pallid lips to resolute hearers.

“Hang him!”, “Mob him!”, “Kill him!” was the cry on every hand. The horse which was drawing the murdered away was stopped, men climbed into the buggy from every side and over the buggy top like demons thirsting for human blood.  Watkins was torn from the powerless officers, a handy rope was tied around his neck and he was dragged and kicked through the streets to the coal yard enclosure of the Aurora Distilling Company.  The scaffold over an old well was utilized by the mob for a gallows and here Watkins was strung and paid the penalty of his awful crime.

Watkins lifeless body was cut down and taken to the Coroner’s office. From letters found upon his person it was found that he was a married man living at No. 153 S. Lombard St., between Ohio and Wayne Streets, Louisville, KY and that his name was William Watkins.  A letter from his wife of date August 13th, inst, discloses the name to be Eliza D. Watkins.  In the dead man’s pocket was found the following letter:

Aurora Indiana, Aug. 18th

Dear wife – I received your postal and was glad to hear from you. Got the two dollars.  Here is two more.  Best I can do at present.  Don’t answer till I write again.  Maybe I will stay.  Drop a postal anyhow.  It will be no loss and let me know whether you got the two dollars or not.  Sorry to hear Mother was sick.  God bless you all.  Good by.”

The knife Watkins used was an old shoemaker’s tool – a sharp blade only two and a half inches long.

This is the first hanging that has occurred in Dearborn County since the hanging of Fuller in 1820. Hilbert, the murdered man, married the daughter of Louis Rudolph, who a few years ago was brutally beaten to death with a dray pin by two young men named Cope and Johnson who died in the penitentiary while serving out a life sentence soon after their imprisonment.  An unfortunate and untimely death soon after carried off a beautiful daughter.  A fire a few months since destroyed the homestead, and the son-in-law attempting to rebuild it now loses his life in the attempt.  So it would seem that a strange and sad fatality was attending the family. 

Almost Another Murder

While the excitement attending the affair just described was at its height, Martin Garrity struck William Dixon, felling him insensible to the ground. Instantly, the cry was raised that another murder has been committed and from every side arose the cry of “Hang him”, and a crowd of excited fellows started to enjoy another lynching bee.  Sheriff Guard appointed a number of deputies and succeeded in quieting the excitement.  Dixon was seriously injured and for a time, his life was despaired of, but he is not thought to be in a fair way to recover.  He is an old and must esteemed citizen of Cochran.  Martin Garrity, the cowardly assailant of Dixon, in a worthless character.  He is now in jail awaiting the convening of court.

About March 10th, 1887, same newspaper:

Damages Wanted

The lynching of William F. Watkins at Aurora on August 19, 1886 will be remembered by our readers. Watkins was a Kentuckian, a citizen of Louisville, and a bricklayer by trade.  While doing work at Aurora, he had a quarrel with his boss, a well known and popular contractor, and stabbed him to death.  Public indignation was so great that Watkins was taken from the arresting officers and hanged by a mob.  On Thursday last, suit was begun in the Federal Court at Indianapolis by William W. Gibson as administrator of his estate and on behalf of the widow and children of the deceased, against Jacob Kirsch, William Gerlach, George Langford, Julius Hauck, Charles Baker, Joseph Schwartz, Adolph Schultz, William Thompson, Cyrus Sterling, Albert Bruce and Valentine Grossman for $10,000 damages.  The manner of Watkins’ death is not stated in the complaint, but it is alleged that the defendants, on the late-mentioned date “did kill and murder” the deceased, thus depriving his family of his support and leaving them unprovided with any means of gaining a livelihood.

Jacob Kirsch filing

The Lawsuit

This information was intriguing, and finding the original documents was a 15 year journey itself crossing the state of Indiana from Aurora to Indianapolis, then culminating with an archival technician in Chicago at the National Archives records center doing a personal favor and preserving these documents by cleaning them of coal dust and dirt before opening this packet that was sealed by the court 119 years ago. The technician made me copies of these documents, at the exorbitant copy fee of 75 cents per page, and sent me the entire case file.  I didn’t care how much it cost.  To me, it was gold.

The file shows that the suit was filed against all of the men accused of the murder of William Watkins by his estate administrator. All of the defendants, Jacob Kirsch included, retained the same law firm.  Much of the case file is the same pleadings and responses, word for word, being filed for each defendant.

The package included the actual pleading document itself, Jacob’s response, which was identical to that of the rest of the men, although Jacob is consistently named and mentioned first, perhaps implying that he had a leadership role (or that someone though he had more assets and would be the best legal target), the settlement document and the court’s finding.  All very interesting.

Jacob Kirsch summons

Later, I found this article as well published on March 3, 1887 in the Indianapolis News.


The Pleading

In the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Indiana, term 1887, William W. Gibson, the administrator of the estate of William F. Watkins, decd, plaintiff vs Jacob Kirsch (and the other 10 men named separately), shown here.

The plaintiff William W. Gibson who sues as administrator of the estate of William F. Watkins, decd, complains of the defendants, Jacob Kirsch (plus the list of other names) and says that the plaintiff is a citizen of and resident of the state of Kentucky and that the deceased herein named was at the time of his death and for 5 years theretofore a resident of the city of Louisville and that Eliza D. Watkins was on the 19th day of August 1886 a resident of Kentucky with her children.  And the plaintiff says that on the 24th day of February 1887 he was duly appointed administrator of the estate of William F. Watkins by the proper court of Jefferson County, Kentucky.

Plaintiff says that the deceased William F. Watkins was the husband of Eliza D. Watkins and that they were duly married at the City of Louisville in the State of Kentucky on December 23, 1873 and that they lived and cohabited together at said last named place as husband and wife from that time up to the time of his death hereinafter charged and that there were born to them three now surviving children, Sarah Blanche, aged 8, Francis Marion aged 6 and Emma Elizabeth aged 3 and that said Eliza Watkins and 3 children are now all living in the City of Louisville, Kentucky.

And the plaintiff says that on the 19th of August 1886 and for a short time theretofore the deceased William Watkins was temporarily in the City of Aurora, Dearborn County, Indiana employed at his usual avocation.  And plaintiff says that on said day the defendants and each and all of them at the City of Aurora unlawfully struck, beat, bruised, wounded, choked and strangled the said William Watkins and that then and there the said William Watkins died.  And the plaintiff says that the defendants and each of them did then and there kill and murder the said William Watkins and did then and there in the manner aforesaid wantonly, wickedly and unlawfully cause the death of the said Watkins.

And the said Watkins then and there died leaving surviving him as his only heirs at law the 3 children herein before named and the said Eliza Watkins, his widow.

Wherefore the plaintiff demands judgement against the defendants for the sum of $10,000 dollars and all further and proper reliefs.

Signed, George E. Downey, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, attorney for plaintiffs. Filed March 2, 1887.

As in all civil lawsuits, a response to the plaintiff’s complaint was filed, for each defendant, all of them reading the same except for the name. Sadly, all are signed by the attorney firm, not the defendant, so we don’t have a signature of Jacob Kirsch.

The Response

Now comes Jacob Kirsch, one of the defendants in the above entitled action, by Gordon, Roberts and Stapp, his attorneys, and answer to said plaintiff’s complaints says that he denies every allegation contained therein and specifically controverts the same.

And for further answer to the said complaint said defendant says that William F. Watkins, deceased, on August 19th 1886 in the City of Aurora, Indiana did feloniously, purposely and of and with his premeditated malice kill and murder one Lewis Hilbert, in the peace of God and the said State of Indiana, then and there being by then and there feloniously, purposely and of and with his the said Watkins, premeditated malice, with a certain deadly weapon, to wit, a knife which he, said Watkins, then and there had and held in his, said Watkins, right hand, striking, cutting, thrusting, stabbing and mortally wounding him the said Louis Hilbert, of which said striking, cutting, thrusting, stabbing and mortally wounding the said Hilbert then and there instantly died, and so he avers that the said William Watkins, decd, then and there became and was guilty of murder in the first degree, by reason of his then and there feloniously, purposely and of and with his premeditated malice, in manner and form aforesaid, stabbing, mortally wounding and killing the said Hilbert, and he says that immediately upon the aforesaid killing and murdering of the said Louis Hilbert by the said William Watkins, decd, in manner and form and  at the time and place aforesaid, the said William Watkins was by one Ben Anderson, a constable of the county lawfully acting as such, arrested and taken into custody and held prisoner for and on account of said murder, by him then and there committed in manner and form aforesaid, and while under said arrest, and prisoner as aforesaid in the hands and custody of said constable, and while the dead body of the said Louis Hilbert was lying on the ground, with the blood running out of the mortal wound in his body and person, which said Watkins, decd, had inflicted in the presence of the people of said city and county who were assembled in that city at and around the said dead body and scene of the said murder  – a great multitude of said people, so then and there assembled, upon seeing said murdered, William Watkins, decd, in the custody of said constable near the scene of the said murder, rushed spontaneously and simultaneously upon him and seizing him dragged him along the street of the said city to a derrick, then and there standing in the said city, and thereupon with a certain rope placed about his neck, suspending him by means of said rope to said derrick, and then and there let him hang by the neck until he was dead and whatsoever he may have done in aid or assistance of those who so hung said William Watkins, decd, or said by way of encouragement thereof before it was done or of approval afterwards, was done and said under the circumstances and in the way and manner and for the reason hereinbefore set forth and not at another time or place, or under different circumstances, or for any different reason whatever.  And he avers that at the time the said William Watkins decd was so hanged his whole natural life was forfeited and due the said State of Indiana, by reason of the deliberate, felonious and intentional killing and murdering of Louis Hilbert purposely and of his premediated malice in manner and form aforesaid, and no other person, under Heaven than said State had any legal estate, interest, right or title in or to the same and the same was of no pecuniary value in law to his said wife or children, or to his said administrator, William Gibson, in this case.

And further answering the said defendant says by the way and for the purpose of mitigating damages in this action that on the 19th of August 1886 in the City of Aurora the said Watkins did feloniously, purposefully and with and of his premedidated malice kill and murder one Louis Hilbert in the peace of God and the state then and there being, by the then and there with a certain deadly weapon, to wit, a knife which he had and held in his right hand, unlawfully and cruelly thrusting, cutting, stabbing and mortally wounding him the said Louis Hilbert of which he then and there instantly died and so he avers that the said Watkins, decd, became and was guilty of murder in the first degree, and he says that immediately upon and after the commission of the murder said Watkins was by Ben Anderson, an acting constable, lawfully authorized to act as such, duly and legally arrested and taken into custody and held prisoner for and on account of the said murder by him then and there committed in manner and form aforesaid and while so under arrest and held prisoner for said murder and while the said body of said Louis Hilbert was then and there lying dead upon the ground and the blood was running and bubbling out of his said dead body and from the mortal wounds cruelly and murderously inflicted by the said Watkins in the presence of a vast multitude of the people of the city who were assembled in the city at and around the dead body and scene of the said murder, upon seeing the said Watkins in the custody of the constable and near the dead body and scene of the said murder rushed spontaneously and simultaneously upon Watkins and seized him and dragged him upon and along the streets of said city to a derrick standing in said city and thereupon immediately with a rope placed about his neck suspended him by means of said rope to said derrick and then and there let him hang by his said neck until he was dead.  And he avers that at the time Watkins was so hanged his whole natural life was forfeited and due to the state aforesaid by reason of his murder of Hilbert and that no other person except the said State had any estate, interest, right or title in or to the same, either present or then prospective and the same was then and there of no pecuniary value in law whatever to his said wife and children, or to any of them, or to the said plaintiff.  And this he is ready to verify.  Wherefore he prays judgement and whether said plaintiff should further have and maintain his aforesaid action thereof against him.  Signed by his attorneys and filed in November 1888.

The Decision and Settlement

Next we find a handwritten note in the file dated February 1, 1889 from Jacob’s attorneys that says “the defendants here now offer to confess judgement for the sum of $5” and then a note that says “refused” and signed by the plaintiff’s attorney, George Downey.

Next we find that a letter from George Downey dated May 23, 1889 that states “On payment by the defendants of all unpaid costs herein it is agreed by the parties and requested that an entry by the parties showing submission of the cause to the court without the intervention of a jury and a finding for the defendants without judgement thereon.” From a sheet of paper in the file, it looks like the costs might have amounted to about $58.30.

The official court entry says; “No 8241, Civil Action…May 23, 1889 before the Honorable William A. Woods, Judge. “Come now the parties by their respective attorneys and thereupon agreement of the parties this cause is now submitted to the court for trial without the intervention of a jury.  And therefore the court upon agreement of the parties herein doth find for the defendants.”

Maddeningly, they never told us exactly WHAT the agreement was!

And that was the end of the lawsuit and the closing of this chapter of Jacob Kirsch’s life.  I’m left wondering what his wife and children thought of his actions.  I’m guessing no one ever messed with one of his daughters or granddaughters…at least not after that.

Knowing this tall tale wasn’t so tall and wasn’t a tale and actually did happen also perhaps provides some perspective as to why Curtis Lore married Nora Kirsch in quite the hurry that he did.

In Retrospect

I must admit, I’m totally stunned that Jacob Kirsch and the other men named were not arrested and prosecuted for murder. Today, they would unquestionably be tried, and likely convicted as well.  You can’t just take the law into your own hands, or the hands of a crowd, and lynch someone, regardless of whether they were guilty of the equivalent crime of murder or not.  And it’s not like there weren’t witnesses – there were – two police officers and the town fair taking place.  This seems to be a case of mob mentality taking over.

It’s interesting that the oral story morphed to be that Jacob killed a man, but it was protecting a woman’s honor who was being or had been attacked, the inference being that Jacob saved her from being raped and was clearly the hero in the story. Well, oral history didn’t fail us entirely, except for the rescuing the damsel in distress part which of course pokes a hole in that hero part too.

The lynching of William Watkins wasn’t’ the only drama in Jacob’s life.  He had daughters to contend with, and then there was also the matter of floods.

The Floods

Dearborn County along the Ohio was very prone to flooding. Stories were told in the Kirsch family about the flood waters, all sounding very dramatic.  In Aurora, industries established themselves along Hogan Creek, which, of course, fed the Ohio River.  The Kirsch House was located at the intersection of Second and Exporting, at the railroad tracks, near the intersection with the W. Eads Parkway today.

Aurora and creeks

Aurora was pretty much a peninsula surrounded by water, given that Hogan Creek was on two sides and the Ohio on the third. When the Ohio flooded, so did the Hogan Crreks and Aurora was underwater.

Aurora flood table*Thanks to Joe Grace for many of these numbers.

The devastating flood of 1913 was referred to as the “greatest disaster of modern times” when the water reached 69.8 feet and only the top of the depot beside the Kirsch House was visible.  That’s second floor level at the Kirsch House.  I wonder where the Kirsch family took refuge.  How did they ever get the house dried out and cleaned out?  How was it ever mold and mildew free?  Can you imagine shoveling out the basement which surely accumulated mud, trash and dead things.  I’m surprised that you can’t see water marks on the walls but maybe that’s because the water was to the top of the basement walls, and above, so there was no “line” to be seen.

Jacob Kirsch basement

The basements were probably the first to fill due to the outside access doors that were on the sidewalks and used for both loading coal for heat and the kegs of beer which needed to be kept cool. Surprisingly, the mayor told me during the tour that his family also had a hotel, with a basement, so it wasn’t uncommon.  Everyone just shoveled and cleaned.  It must have smelled terrible.

Jacob Kirsch sidewalk cellar entrance

The photo below shows the train plying flood waters near Hogan Creek.

Jacob Kirsch train in flood

Another challenge faced by the Kirsch family in Aurora was ice dams. In the winter of 1917-1918, it was bitterly cold, with only 3 days above freezing in two months, and the river froze solid at 53 feet with an ice gorge that broke with great destruction, carrying buildings away.  This was on top of 36 inches of snow.  Jacob Kirsch died in the summer of 1917, so Barbara was struggling as a widow when the elements seem to be stacked against her.  It’s amazing that she did not sell the Kirsch House then instead of in 1921.  Some of her daughters later lamented that they could not go and help when Barbara needed it.  This was surely the timeframe they were referring to.

Where I grew up in Indiana, the local creeks flooded once in a while and the main rivers too, but most people were out of harm’s way. One house I lived in got a foot or so in the yard and that was a “100 year” flood.  So, I thought to myself, how bad could these floods really have been?  The answer – they were devastating.

The 1883 and 1884 Floods

In the 1880s, a photographer named James Walton had a portrait studio in Aurora. Barbara Drechsel Kirsch had her picture taken there.  In 1884, Aurora experienced a devastating flood.

1883 Aurora Flood

The photo above is labeled 1883, and the 1884 flood was worse. It was said to have been to the second level of the Kirsch House and to the roof of the train depot.  I’m exceedingly grateful to James Walton for this photo, because it’s the only one of the town in the 1800s that I’ve seen that includes our family properties, plus it gives us some perspective on the floods in general, and how terrible it must have been a year later, in 1884.  In 1883, the river crested at 66 feet, in 1884, at 71.6 feet, so almost another 6 feet higher.  Roughly 50 feet is considered flood stage.

This photo was taken from Langley Hill, so we are looking straight down Exporting Street.

1883 Aurora flood family properties

The top right arrow off to the side of the picture is pointing to Third Street. The arrow below third street is pointing to Fourth Street, which is the first street running parallel with the bottom of the photo, closest to us.  The arrow on the corner of 4th Street and Exporting is the house that Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, Jacob’s wife, would purchase in 1921 when she sold the Kirsch House.

The top left arrow is pointing to the train depot, and the right arrow at the top is pointing to the Kirsch House, which fronts Second Street, further away. You can see its portico over the sidewalk appearing below the white front of the building.

The photo below is Second Street in the 1884 flood. The Kirsch House was located on the North end of Second Street, which is only 3 blocks long in total.  Notice that the people are standing on the second floor balconies of their homes, and the roofs at water level are the roofs normally over the sidewalks.

Jacob Kirsch 1884 flood

We know that the Kirsch family owned the Kirsch House during the 1884 flood and the subsequent floods in 1907 and two floods in 1913, just a few weeks apart, as well.  In Aurora, the floods are legendary…and devastating.

As properties in Aurora go, the Kirsch House was in a relatively safe place.  It flooded, but it was one of the last to flood.  By the time they were in trouble, so was everyone else.

The local newspaper has reported what happens in Aurora at various flood stages.  At 68 feet, water covers the intersection of 2nd and Mechanic.  They didn’t make note higher than that.  I think by then you’re in the OMG stage and everyone just needs to get the heck out of Dodge because pretty much everything is covered.  In 1937, when the river hit a historic 80 feet, every business was underwater, 780 of 1206 homes were underwater and over 3000 residents were displaced.  Floods last an average of 12 days, but the Kirsch House would only have been affected directly at the crest of the worst floods.  They probably provided shelter for displaced people the rest of the time.

One survivor of the 1937 flood, Bill McClure, said in an interview that the worst part was the mess afterwards, the mold and disease.  The drinking water wells were contaminated as well.  His sister contracted pneumonia and died in the aftermath the 1937 flood, so while she didn’t drown, the flood claimed her life just the same.

Life in Aurora

The Wymond Cooperage spanned two full blocks of Aurora along Hogan Creek, including the full block behind the Kirsch House. It’s no wonder that both Jacob and Phillip Kirsch were originally listed as coopers.  Many young men in Aurora were probably coopers. Barrels were needed for the whiskey distillers and to transport lots of things long the riverway.

Jacob Kirsch depot

With the cooperage on one side, the railroad depot (pictured here about 1920) on the other side offering passenger service, the boat dock at the far end of Second Street and the distillery nearby, the Kirsch House was ideally situated to cater to the needs of travelers as well as the local work force seeking a friendly local pub with good German food.

BLue Lick Well

The Blue Lick Well, above and below, was discovered in 1888 by Curtis Benjamin (CB) Lore, Jacob’s daughter’s husband, a well driller from Pennsylvania, who, along with others in his crew, accidentally discovered the well while drilling for gas.  Above, a photo of the Blue Lick artesian well given to Mother showing the well as it was originally.

Blue Lick Well Mom

The Blue Lick Well’s mineral waters would serve Aurora for years, and in fact, the well was still running when Mother and I visited in the early 1990s. The photo above is mother standing by the well that her Grandfather discovered about the time that he married her Grandmother, Nora Kirsch.  I wonder if C. B. Lore was a guest at the Kirsch House or if he met Nora while imbibing at the Pub, drinking some of those fine liquors and smoking cigars.  I can close my eyes and see the older, strong, tan well driller coyly flirting with the beautiful young daughter of the proprietor.

Aurora steamboat

Steamboats played an important role in life in Aurora. Not only was this the method of transportation that our Kirsch family used to thread their way from New Orleans to Wymond caneAurora when they emigrated, but steamboats were used daily to provide transportation between river towns. Night life, gambling and other less virtuous activities were readily available for the gentlemen in the Great Steamboat Era.

The temptation would prove too much for one son-in-law of Jacob  Kirsch.  Joseph Smithfield Wymond would shoot himself before he died a terrible death of syphilis after reportedly going insane from the effects of the disease, although the coroner’s report simply said, other than the gunshot wound, he had dyspepsia, which is basically indigestion.

Wymond’s wife, Jacob’s daughter, Caroline Kirsch Wymond, would also die of this hideous disease sixteen years later.  How heartbroken Jacob and Barbara must have been for their daughter.  Joseph Wymond’s gold tipped “fancy cane” is pictured here to the right.  This cane is lightweight and is not meant as a walking aid.  It was a fashion statement for a wealthy man.

Bicycling was a very fashionable and popular pastime. In the photo below from the Dearborn County Pictorial History book, these 5 cyclists posing in front of the Kirsch House appear to be the adult children of Jacob and Barbara Kirsch.  The style of the bicycles tell us that the photo was taken after 1887 when the new safety bicycle was invented, as opposed to the older bicycle with a very large front wheel.  The bicycle craze was at its height in the 1890s and many ministers thought it immoral because women wore bloomers and people were skipping church to go bicycling.

Jacob Kirsch children

The 1900 and 1910 Census

The 1900 census says Jacob lives at 162 Second Street, immigrated in 1847, has lived in the US for 53 years, is naturalized and is a “Saloonist.” I’ve never heard that term before.

Interestingly enough, another Jacob Kirsch is living with him, but I believe this is actually Philip (Philip Jacob), born in 1831, also immigrated in 1847, also naturalized, and a cooper. Daughters Carrie and Ida are living at home and unmarried, but Lulu is married to Charles Fisk, civil engineer, who is living there as well.  They have been married for 1 year.

Even more interesting is who else is living there. Joseph Wymond, the man who would marry Carrie Kirsch in 1902 and give her syphilis which would kill them both.  He is listed as “cooperage company” so he obviously wasn’t a laborer.  The Wymond Cooperage company was located directly behind the Kirsch House, so this was probably a very convenient place for a 38 year old single businessman to live, or at least live part of the time.  Carrie was all of 26.  Joseph Wymond would die in July of 1910 and Carrie would live another 16 years.  He may have already had the disease when he was living at the Kirsch House in 1900.

Syphilis takes between 10 and 20 years to kill people if untreated. Victims don’t actually die of syphilis itself, but from the effects of syphilis on the nervous system and the organs.  Syphilis affects different people differently, but it is always fatal without the use of antibiotics.  Penicillin was not discovered until 1928 so for Joseph Wymond and his unfortunate wife, Carrie Kirsch, syphilis was a slow and painful death sentence. Wymond ended his life with a gun.  Carrie suffered through until the end.  I bet she cursed him every single day.  I know her family did.

In the 1910 census, three of Jacob’s daughters are living with them at the Kirsch House, Carrie, Lulu and Ida. Ida was unmarried at 34.  The other two are widows.  Barbara immigrated in 1854.  Jacob immigrated in 1847, is naturalized, the landlord of a hotel, speaks English and both he and his wife can read and write.

It’s ironic that with all the information we do have about Jacob, we don’t have a signature.  Apparently a tracing of his signature was included in his Civil War application packet, but it was not in the package the National Archives sent me, although I could see the note saying it was in the file.  Wouldn’t you know!

Children of Jacob Kirsch and Barbara Drechsel Kirsch

Jacob Kirsch and Barbara Drechsel Kirsch had 6 children, 4 girls and 2 boys born between 1866 and 1876. While we have very few photos of the earlier generation, we have several of Jacob and Barbara’s children.  Their lives were filled with enough drama to rival any good soap opera.

Nora Kirsch Lore McCormick

Nora Kirsch wedding

My ancestor, Ellenore “Nora” Kirsch was the eldest child.  She was born on Christmas Eve in 1866 and was baptized in St. John’s Lutheran Church on July 5, 1868.  She died on Sept. 13, 1949 in Lockport, New York, living with her daughter Eloise.

Nora married Curtis Benjamin (known as C.B.) Lore on January 18, 1888 at the Kirsch House.  Jacob Kirsch signed for his daughter’s wedding the same day the wedding occurred, although he was probably not happy about the circumstances.  This is the only example of Jacob’s signature that we have.

Lore Kirsch Marriage

Nora’s children say she made her own wedding dress, and cake, and she descended the spiral staircase at the Kirsch House to marry her groom.  After Curtis Benjamin Lore’s death in 1909 in Rushville, Indiana, she married Tom McCormick, with whom she was never happy.  They never divorced, but neither did they live together. She is buried in Rushville beside C. B. Lore.

Nora Kirsch’s wedding photo, above. Below, C. B. Lore’s wedding photo.  Odd that there isn’t one together.  Little did she know that he was not yet divorced from his wife in Pennsylvania, but that story will have to wait until his article.

Curtis Lore Wedding

I know it doesn’t look like much today, but these are the stairs, in 2008, that Nora Kirsch would have descended in the Kirsch House to meet her groom. I’m sure Nora was thinking thoughts that all brides think.  How wonderful it is to start her new life.  How handsome the groom.  Am I going to trip on my dress and fall down the stairs?  Is my makeup running?  Or in her case, “I hope no one can tell that I’m pregnant?” and “Please tell me Dad didn’t bring the shotgun.”

Jacob Kirsch stairs

Curtis, or C.B. as he was known, on the other hand was probably having very different thoughts, ranging from, “has Jacob put that shotgun away?” to “he really will kill me if he finds out I’m already married.” I wonder, if you’re already married when you get married again, do you think of your first wife as your second wife descends the stairs in her wedding dress?

Of course, C.B. knew that Jacob Kirsch was indeed a man of action and perhaps with a somewhat volatile temper too, as proven by that lynching a year and a half before, in Augusts of 1886, still fresh in everyone’s mind, I’m sure…but especially preying on Curtis’s mind.

Georg Martin Kirsch

Jacob and Barbara Kirsch’s second child was Georg Martin Kirsch, who was called Martin, born March 18, 1868 and baptized July 5, 1868, the same day as his older sister. His grandfather, Georg Drechsel was his godfather.  Martin, as he was called, married Maude Powers on July 18, 1888.  It was a busy year for the Kirsch House with two weddings in just a few months, and two babies to follow.  In the family Bible, his marriage is recorded three months before it occurred.  The July date is from the church records where it says he was married in the rectory.  Martin died January 15, 1949.

German families of this era, and perhaps all families of this era, went to great pains to disguise pregnancies that did not last for 9 months and led to births that occurred “prematurely” after a marriage.  I know of at least three cases in this family of Bible records being modified or intentionally recorded incorrectly.

Martin and Maude had two children, a boy and girl. Edgar Kirsch was born Feb. 21, 1889, died Nov. 12, 1964, and married Freida Neely in 1929.  No more is known about this couple.  Martin’s second child was Cecil Kirsch, born Sept. 9, 1892 and died about 1988.  She married Frank Toner in 1923.  Cecil Toner who lived in Anderson, Indiana used to write to Mother.  Cecil was one of the last of the older generation to pass away, if not the last.  I remember Mom sadly saying, “there’s another one gone” when she died.  Mom felt her connection to her family and ancestors slipping away with each elder’s death.

CB Lore Martin Kirsch

Martin Kirsch on the left and Curtis Benjamin (C. B.) Lore on the right about 1886, possibly as late as 1888.

Martin Kirsch is buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery in Shelbyville, Indiana.

Martin Kirsch stone

Johann Edward Kirsch

Jacob and Barbara’s third child was Johann Edward Kirsch, called Edward, born July 30, 1870 and died about 1924. His baptism was witnessed by Johann Drechsel, his mother’s brother.  Edward married Emma Miller in 1891 and they had three children, two girls and a boy; Juanita Kirsch about whom nothing is known, Hazel Kirsch who was born in April and died in August of 1891, and Deveraux (also spelled Devero) Hoffer Kirsch born August 6, 1899 and died in Vigo Co., Indiana in December 1975.  Devero married Mary Schlater and they had one known child, Anita Kirsch about whom nothing is known.

Aunt Lula and Kirsch male

I believe this photo may be Edward Kirsch and his wife. What a fashionable hat! Mom’s note said Aunt Lula and Edgar Kirsch, a cousin.  Edgar would have been the son of Martin Kirsch and Maude Powers.  Lula, Martin’s sister, would have been an aunt to Edgar, not a cousin. We may never know.  None of the evidence adds up exactly.

Edward Kirsch is buried at Riverview Cemetery along with many of his siblings.

Edward Kirsch stone

Caroline Kirsch Wymond

Jacob and Barbara’s fourth child was Caroline “Carrie” Kirsch born Feb. 18, 1871. She died July 24, 1926 in a sanitarium in Madison, Jefferson Co., Indiana, of complications of syphilis which she contracted from her husband.  Mother referred to Carrie’s husband rather disdainfully as  a “Dandy,” which is defined as “a man who places particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language, and leisurely hobbies, pursued with the appearance of nonchalance in a cult of self.”

Carrie’s institutional records never mention syphilis directly, but do discuss Bright’s disease and other issues.

Carrie married Joseph Smithfield Wymond in 1902. He was 10 years older than Carrie and preceded her in death in 1910.  His family was wealthy and Eloise reported that his brothers cheated Carrie out of all of Joseph’s money and she died utterly destitute.  If that’s true, and it seems to be, he cheated on her in life, cheated her in death and then cheated her out of her life.  Wonderful man.

After Joseph’s death, Carrie and her sister Lou bought a house in Indianapolis and rented out rooms.  According to a family member, it was a brick home on the finest street in Indianapolis and had a veranda. Carrie lived in Indianapolis for a while, working at Blocks, then moved back to Aurora with her mother to help a at the Kirsch House after Jacob’s death.  After Barbara sold the Kirsch House in 1921, they purchased “the house on the hill,” according to Mother, which turned out to be at 4th and Exporting in Aurora, not in Indianapolis.  Carrie had lived in Indianapolis before returning to Aurora to help Barbara after Jacob died.  Sadly, it was only a couple years later that Carrie would have to be institutionalized.  Carrie was brought back to Aurora for burial.  She had no children, but her nieces thought the world of her.  She was spoken of very highly as a lively and vivacious and lovely woman.  Her photos show the same.

Carrie died as the Southeast Hospital for the Insane at 1:15 PM July 24, 1926 of general paralysis. She had resided there 2 years 5 months and 3 days before her death.

Holthouse was the undertaker and the body was embalmed. Carrie was 55 years 5 months and 3 days old.  Untreated syphilis is a horrible, agonizing, miserable death, and it appears that aside from destroying her organs, she also had the neurological form which causes dementia, seizures and insanity.  If you presume she contracted this disease when she married in 1902, and not later, it took 24 years to kill her.  Her husband’s obituary says he contracted it about 1907, so perhaps it only took 19 miserable years to kill her and not 24.

The 1910 census shows Carrie at the Kirsch House with her married name. Her husband is not listed, but she is noted as married for 6 years, 38 years old, not widowed. Given the circumstances, it’s not at all surprising that they were not living together at his death.  The only thing worse than contracting syphilis from your husband, which would assure your death, would be to have to care for him during his illness as well.

Joseph died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on July 3, 1910, so the census must have been taken just before that. It is typically taken “as of” June.

In 1917, Jacob’s obituary lists Carrie as living in Indianapolis.  In 1918 the Indianapolis City Directory shows Carrie as living at 525 North Delaware and lists her as the widow of Joseph S. Wymond.  This area today is restored brownstones in the downtown area, a living arrangement that would have required little or no maintenance from Carrie and would have been a thriving and vibrant community.

N Delaware Indianapolis

The 1920 census lists Carrie B. Wymond, a widow and as Barbara’s daughter, living at the Kirsch House and noted as “assistant” to Barbara who is the “keeper.”  Carrie came back home to help her Mom, in spite of her own illness.  Just 4 years later, early in 1924, Carrie would be so ill that they had to have her institutionalized.  I’m guessing that in 1921, the Kirsch House just became too much.  Barbara was 73 and Carrie was literally terminally ill.

Carrie Kirsch Wymond

Carrie Kirsch Wymond overlooking the Ohio River, above, and below, with her bicycle.

Carrie Kirsch bicycle

Interestingly, Carrie entered the Indiana State fair and on September 11, 1911, the Indianapolis Star lists here as a first place winner in the category of pyrography. I’m not even going to pretend I didn’t have to look this word up in the dictionary.  Pyrography is the technique of decorating wood or other materials with burn marks resulting from the controlled application of a heated object.

In 1914, the newspaper shows that she was one of several renting rooms on Winona Lake, a popular tourist attraction in Indiana, “14 rooms, rooms only on front terrace above Evangel Hall.”  Religious conferences were held at Winona Lake and cottages and rooms were rented to attendees.

Joe Wymond

Mom’s notes say this is Joe Wymond, the Dandy himself, about 1908. Ironic that his obituary says, “He was a striking specimen of the advantages derived from the training received in our military schools and his splendid personal appearance and magnificent physique was frequently spoken of and coveted by those less favorably endowed.”  I’ve never seen an obituary quite like this before, especially in light of what killed him, or surely would have taken his life had he not killed himself first.  I’m sure Carrie’s family had a different opinion of Joe.

Although the coroners report says he suffered from “dyspepsia,” in addition to the gunshot wound, there was clearly more to the story that wasn’t being publicly stated.  The obituary continues by saying, “The beginning of the prolonged sickness which resulted in the death of Mr. Wymond dates back to something like three years ago.”  If that is true, then he contracted syphilis five years after his marriage to Carrie in 1902.  The obituary then says “In the early part of the present year he was taken to the Sanatorium at Lafayette with the hope that he might there recover his health.  His condition was soon found to be hopeless and death at last relieved him from the suffering of an incurable disease.”

Both Joseph and Carrie were diagnosed with “Bright’s disease” but Bright’s disease is a chronic inflation of the kidneys and is typically a symptom of another systemic problem. In this case, the “other problem” was syphilis, although I doubt that was ever discussed in “polite company,” given that there is only one way to contract that disease.  Even two generations and some 70+ years later, it was still spoken of in whispers.

Carrie’s life and death were so unnecessarily tragic. Carrie was remembered so positively and the circumstances of her death with such sorrow.  Suffice it to say her husband was not remembered kindly within the family. It’s bad enough to betray your wife, but in this case, she suffered not only the emotional side of a marital betrayal, but actually died of it, after suffering physically for someplace between 19 and 24 years.  I’m surprised Jacob Kirsch didn’t kill Wymond and save Wymond the trouble – or perhaps Jacob felt Wymond deserved to suffer for what he had done to Carrie.

If you’re thinking right about now, “Maybe Jacob did kill Wymond,” I’ve had the same thought.  Wymond was shot in the chest, not through the head like a typical suicide.

Surprisingly, Carrie was buried on the Wymond lot in Riverview beside Joseph sixteen years after his death.

Margaretha Louise Kirsch Fiske

Jacob and Barbara’s fifth child was Margaretha Louise “Aunt Lou” Kirsch, born Oct. 25, 1873 and died June 1, 1940 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her baptism was witnessed by her mother’s sister, Louise Drechsel.  She married Charles “Todd” Fiske October 15, 1899.  The Fiske family owned the Fiske Carriage business in Aurora.

Two of Jacob’s daughters married into wealthy Aurora families.  Neither went well.

Todd committed suicide at the Kirsch House on October 31, 1908. His obituary is as follows:

Charles Fisk Jr, son of Charles and Laura Fisk born in Aurora…age 35, committed suicide last Sat. night by shooting himself through the temple with a 38 caliber revolver. He has filled some very responsible positions as civil engineer. He has been out of employment for several months owing to the business depression. It is thought that it was during a period of despondency that he committed this rash act. He leaves a wife, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Kirsch with whom they made their residence during their stay in Aurora.

Eloise said there was a “panic”, which we could call a recession today. He lost his job and was very depressed. There was a courtyard in the back of the Kirsch House that was bricked in and he went outside in the private courtyard and shot himself.

Apparently after Todd’s death in 1908, and her sister Carrie’s husband’s death in 1910, the two sisters decided to purchase a house together and move to Indianapolis.  After Jacob Kirsch’s death in 1917, Carrie moved back home to help her mother, and in 1920, Lou remarried.

Lou married Arthur Wellesley, a man born in Australia who lived in Chicago and listed his occupation as “orthopedic specialist” on their marriage license in 1920. She had no children and lived in Miami, Florida in her later years.

The Kirsch sisters remained very close and drew strength from each other during these difficult times.

Kirsch sisters Lake Winona

The Kirsch sisters at the lake in bathing suits!  Those rowdy girls!  This photo may help us figure out the identities in some other photos.  Mom said Carrie is “Aunt Cad.”  The photo says 1905 on the back, but 1911 on the front.  Is Ida the gal in the water?

Lou and Cad Kirsch

Mom’s copy says “Lou and Cad taken on our cottage porch at Winona last summer – year 1914”. Lou on left, Carrie on right.  Another note has them reversed.  This must be the cottage that Carrie is advertising with rooms for rent in the Indianapolis Star in 1914.

I just have to mention here that summers in Indiana are HOT!!!  Look at those clothes.  That porch looks quite inviting though.

Kirsch sisters white dresses

Above, Aunt Lula on left, Carrie in the middle and Edith on the right. Original is a post card that says “place 1 cent stamp here.”  I would guess this is before Edith’s marriage in 1908.

Mom said that Aunt Lou’s second husband owned land in Florida near a beach and he massaged feet on the beach for pay. Mom was 12 or 13 (so 1934-1935) at this time.  They came north for a couple of months.  They had a little dog that came with them.  When they visited, Lore, Mom’s brother, made a bed for himself in the pump house, Mom’s parents took Lore’s room and the guests took their room.

Lou Kirsch Fiske crop

Mom had these two photos labeled Lou Fiske, but I think they look a lot more like Carrie.

Lou Kirsch Fiske formal

The note on Mom’s copy of the above photo says Aunt Louise Fisk but my note says Carrie Kirsch Wymond. I’m not sure where I got Carrie’s name or if I just matched this photo against another one.  I don’t know which is right, but probably Mom’s note.

Lou Kirsch 1931

Mom’s photo says Sou Toa and Lou, Miami Beach, FL, Dec. 25, 1931.

Aunt Lou Kirsch Fiske Wellesley was brought home to Aurora and buried beside her first husband, Charles Fiske, below.

Fisk Wellesley stones

Ida Caroline Kirsch Galbreath

Ida Kirsch 1910

Ida Kirsch in 1910, according to a note on the back.

Jacob and Barbara’s sixth and last child was Ida Caroline Kirsch born December 12, 1876.  She died March 5, 1966 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her baptism was witnessed by “Lina” (probably Caroline) Drechsel, her mother’s sister, and Caroline Kirsch, probably Caroline Kuntz Kirsch who married Johann Wilhelm Kirsch, Jacob’s brother, two years earlier in the same church.  Ida married William “Billy” Galbreath in 1921.  Ida was 14 or 15 years older than William.  She was 45 when they married, he was 30, and they had no children.  William died twenty five years later in 1946 of “acute alcoholism” which is, in essence, drinking so much before you pass out that it kills you. He is buried in the Kirsch plot.  Mother recalled that he was incredibly mean.  Ida’s marriage could not have been pleasant.

Mom said Ida fell down the steps and caught her legs. She went to a nursing home in Cincinnati and lived for many years.  Eloise said she gave her money away, but mother said she paid it to the “widow’s home” in exchange for a place to live for the rest of her life.  She was the youngest of the sisters so there was no one to help her.

Nora Kirsch Lore and Ida Kirsch 1913

Nora and Ida in Florida about 1913.

Mom and Ida Kirsch 1950

Photo of Mom and Aunt Ida taken in Cincinnati about 1950, per Mom.  It may be out of focus and fuzzy, but they look like they are having fun don’t they – laughing and smiling.

Ida Kirsch c 1950

I had to laugh, because I think those are the same black “old lady” shoes my grandmother wore in my earliest memories of her.

Ida Kirsch and John Bucher

Mom says this is Aunt Ida Galbreath and Johnny (John Curtis Bucher) circa 1952. Her handwriting says Nora’s sister.  John was born in 1942.

Mom also recalls that Aunt Ida had one leg shorter than the other. Caroline Kirsch also had one short leg.  (I wonder if Mom was confused here.)

This following letter was found in the items Eloise sent to Mother. Lorine Weatherby is the daughter of Albert Weatherby and Mayme (Mary) Rabe, daughter of Margaretha Drechsel and Herm Rabe.  Margaretha was the sister of Barbara Drechsel who married Jacob Kirsch.

I have tried to piece together the people Lorine references in her letter and have come up with the following pedigree chart.  (Hint, you can double click on the image to make this larger.)

Drechsel Rabe pedigree

However, I have no idea who the Youngs are that Lorine references in her letter.  I suspect they are in the Drechsel line but that mystery will have to persist until another time.  If anyone knows, please give me a shout.

March 15, 1966

Dear Eloise,

I lost your address so that is why you have not heard from me. Today I was searching for unusual stamps for my nephew’s little boy’s stamp collection.  I had a box of mail that had been forwarded to Michigan last summer while I was vacationing there.  I always meant to sort it out but never got around to it.  Today I began to examine the mail for interesting stamps, and there I found your note.  I can’t read the post mark so don’t know if you wrote it last summer or in the spring.  All I can decipher is 1965.  But it does give me your address, so I can pass on to you what has occurred here.

Saturday evening March 5, my sister Juanity Heather phoned me that Bodman Widow’s Home called her to say that Ida had died that day after a short illness. She asked if they had notified any of the relatives and the woman who called said yes, you had been told.  I thought perhaps we might hear from you.  At that time, funeral arrangements had not been made.  Sunday the funeral director phoned and said services would be the following Wednesday morning at 10 with burial at Aurora Cemetery.  I phoned my cousins Eleanor, Robert and Donald Young and Eleanor and Sis phoned Ray and Wilbur Bosse (Aunt Lou’s grandsons) and the other Youngs.

We ordered a basket of flowers sent to the funeral home, white chrysanthemums, different shades of pink snap dragons and pale pink Gladiolas. And when we went to the funeral, we certainly were glad we had sent flowers, because nobody attended from the Bodman Widow’s Home and not even a small spray was sent.  Wilbur, his wife, Ray Bosse’s wife, Robert and Don and Eleanor and my sister and I were the only ones there.

The casket was a very plain gray, wood or cloth covered. Ida looked pretty with a gray silk dress with white silk collar and feather effect down front and around wrists.  Her hair was curled.  The last several times we saw her, her hair was in stringy straight patches, she was clean but in the poorest-looking faded flannelette nightgown, no stockings, propped in a metal chair, back in that basement room, mostly underground.  For awhile they had her in a ground level room, but about Nov. 1 when Sis and Eleanor and I went over to visit her, she was back in that underground room with nothing but the doll to look at.  The walls were light green and clean, the bed was clean, the white metal chair and metal stand were the only other furniture.  She was so thin, almost nothing left but skin and bones, all her teeth were out.  They were having a bazaar in the upper floors of the place.  We bought some cookies and cupcakes and I asked if I might give Ida some.  The nurse said “Only if you feed it to her.”   I broke off pieces, put them in her mouth and without teeth she managed to get it down.  She could not help herself at all, so I guess she was a great care to them.  She was mentally blank.

When I wrote to Edna Lunt at Christmas time, I asked her to send me your address, but I did not hear from Edna then or later. So I am wondering if she still is alive if she has had a stroke or other illness.  Do you ever hear from Edna Lunt (Lent?)?

William and I drove to Aurora. Sis and Eleanor went with me.  The two Bosse wives went with Wilbur.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  After the grave-side services, we walked around a bit.  And we discovered to our dismay that Ida’s grave marker was next to her mother’s grave, but they had buried Ida in a different row, next to your Aunt Lou Fisk Wellesley.  Wilbur and Sis were furious.  They told the cemetery people she would have to be moved.  Another funeral arrived at that time so we had to leave and of course we haven’t been back to see if they corrected the mistake.  There are 8 graves in the lot.

    1          2             3            4


    5          6             7            8

1=Ida’s grave next to 2
2=Barbara (Drechsel) Kirsch, Ida’s mother
3=Ida’s father (Jacob Kirsch)
4=Billy Galbreath
5=Charles “Todd” Fisk
7=Where they buried Ida
8=vacant grave (no marker)

Sometime in the near future, Sis and I intend to go back to Aurora and see what they did about their error. So far as I am concerned, I think it would be better to let her rest in peace beside her sister, Lou.  I always dearly loved Lou.  She was my godmother when I was baptized and my memories of her are very pleasant.

At the funeral service, the minister read a short life history of Ida. He said she was 90 years old.  I am sure that was wrong, because she was younger than Lou.  Lou and my mother were girlhood chums and the same age.  Mother would have been 90 last August 24.  So I am sure Ida was 2, 3 or 4 years younger.  Of course, it doesn’t matter, since only her name is on the grave marker.

This isn’t a very cheerful letter. I’m sorry to have to write you all this mournful news.

You asked in your note if I knew anything of Cecile or Juanity or Devereaux Kirsch. Cecile and I used to write to each other occasionally, but as time went on, we both were busy and stopped writing.  That was before she was married.  You said her name is Mrs. Frank Toner and she lives at Anderson.  Is in Indiana?  Does she have a street and number?

Juanita and Deveraux with their parents used to come here occasionally for a visit. Their home was somewhere in Kentucky, I believe Somerset but I’m not sure.  We haven’t heard from them for I guess about 50 years.  No doubt the parents are dead.  Ida probably was the last of that generation.

Edith Ferverda used to come here several times a year for a visit and so did Edna Lent. But since they no longer come we’ve lost track of what is happening in the relationship.  Our family is somewhat scattered.  My sister Mardie Endres retired from being a public school principal in Cincinnati and is teaching English as a Presbyterian mission College at West Point Mississippi.  Her daughter Linda is a junior at Trinity University (Presbyterian), San Antonia, Texas.  Mardie’s daughter Erin is married and lived at Anaheim, California.  She has a baby boy.  Sis has three children.  Roger, her son has two boys and a 3 year old girl.  Nita, her daughter, has two boys 9 and 6.  Loren Heather, Sis’s youngest is a heart specialist at Los Angeles Co. Hospital, California. He has 4 sons, 12, 9, 4 and 18 months.  They live at Newport Beach in southern California.

Is your sister Mildred living in Texas? Does she have any children?  If so, do they live in Texas?  Do you ever hear from Edith’s family?

I hope you can decipher this letter. And I hope also that someday you can come here for a visit.  The last time I saw you, you were an adorable little girl about 4 years old.  You probably don’t remember those days in Aurora do you?



I can’t even begin to express how sad I find this letter.  My worst fear is living and dying like Ida – alone and demented with a “blank mind” in a room in some “facility” with no one to watch over and advocate for me.  Somebody kill me please, or get me a gun while I can still do it myself.  That “life” is far worse than death and who knows how long she “lived” in that condition.  The poor soul.

On another piece of paper, I found the following:

L. Weatherby
1540 Northview Ave
Cincinnati (23), Ohio 45223

According to Eloise, Lorine’s mother (Mayne or Mary) was the same age as Lou who was born in 1875, so Lorine would be born about 1895-1915. I subsequently found Lorine in the census, born in 1894, the daughter of Mary Rabe and Albert Weatherby.  Mary, known as “Mayme” was the daughter of Margaretha Drechsel (Barbara Drechsel Kirsch’s sister) and Herb Rabe.  This family seems to break down as follows:

Mardie Endres

Dau Linda – junior at Trinity University in San Antonio (Presbyterian)

Dau Erin – married living in Anaheim California

Baby boy

Sis (Juanita Heather I believe)


Two boys and a 3 year old girl


Two boys 9 and 6

Loren Heather (the youngest) – heart specialist at LA county hospital, Ca. – lives    at Newport Beach

              4 sons, 12, 9, 4 and 18 mos

Ida Kirsch Galbreath’s stone at Riverview below, with her husband William J. Galbreath.

Galbreath stones.jpg

Riverview Cemetery

riverview entrance

The entrance to Riverview Cemetery where all of my ancestors from Aurora are buried, including the extended Kirsch/Koehler and Drechsel families.

Philip Jacob Kirsch monument daughter

The Philip Jacob Kirsch monument is shown above with my daughter leaning against one side. We had fun that day in the cemetery, but it was steaming hot.  We look a bit wilted.  Ok, maybe mother and I had fun, and my daughter simply tolerated us – but today, some 25 years later, and now that mother is gone, I’m sure my daughter is glad she went along.

Philip Jacob Kirsch, the emigrant, and his wife Catharina Barbara Lemmert Kirsch are the first of my ancestors to be buried in Riverview Cemetery. They are surrounded by  many family members, children and grandchildren, including their son, Jacob.

The first family member, their grandchild, was buried here in 1860, less than a decade after their son, Andreas was buried in Ripley County.  It’s sad that they didn’t move Andreas to Riverview to be with the rest of the family.  From the looks of things, it wasn’t Philip Jacob Kirsch and Catharina Barbara Lemmert themselves who were making these arrangements, but their children, Jacob Kirsch and his sister, Katharina Barbara Kirsch Koehler who had moved to Aurora before the 1860 census.  From this time forward, all of the Kirsch family members who died locally were buried at Riverview, and many who did not die locally were sent “home” for burial.

There is another Kirsch family in Lawrenceburg, Johannes Kirsch and his wife Margaretha Boehman, that is in fact related to our Kirsch family back in Fussgoenheim, Germany. Johannes Kirsch of Lawrenceburg was a wealthy farmer and owned vineyards, a craft which I’m sure he learned in Germany.  He was born October 11, 1804 in Mutterstadt, according to church records.  Fortunately, this family is not buried at Riverview so these two families are not intermixed after their immigration.

There are two plots that include Kirsch family members at Riverview. The first one was purchased sometime before or when the first burial occurred in that plot, about 1860.  I would refer to this first plot as the Koehler-Kirsch-Knoebel plot because it was likely purchased by Johann Martin Koehler and his wife Catharina Barbara Kirsch when their child, Elisia, died in 1860.  It also includes the burials of Catharina’s parents, Philip Jacob Kirsch and Katharina Barbara Lemmert.  Based on Find-A-Grave, this lot would be in section, H, Lot 28 and there were at least 8 graves in this lot, because Catharine Barbara Kirsch Koehler Snell is buried in grave 8.

The second lot was purchased by Jacob Kirsch in 1906 and I would refer to this one as the Jacob Kirsch lot, as many of his children and some of their spouses are buried here as well. The lots at Riverview were family plots, not individual lots and would hold numerous graves.  According to the letter from Lorine Weatherby, there were 8 graves in Jacob’s plot, and 2 remained vacant in 1966.

Mother and I visited the cemetery before we had put the various relationships together, so we initially found the various graves somewhat confusing, but later sorted through the people involved. If it ever really matters to anyone whom is buried by whom, I suggest a trip to the cemetery.

Let’s take a look at who is buried on these lots, because it helps to reassemble family groups.

The Koehler-Knoebel-Kirsch Graves

This lot is found in section H, Lot 28

Philip Kirsch Catharine Barbara Lemmert stone

The tombstone above is that of Jacob Kirsch’s parents, Philip Jacob Kirsch and Katharina Barbara Lemmert.  Philip Jacob died in 1880.  In 1887 the family sold the farm and Katharina Barbara came to Aurora to live with Jacob, along with her son, Philip, who lived with Jacob until his death as well.  Barbara died about 18 months after selling the farm and is buried alongside Philip Jacob.

The immigrant, Philip Jacob Kirsch’s daughter, Katharina Barbara Kirsch married Johann Martin Koehler, her first cousin, the son of Philip Jacob Kirsch’s sister, Anna Margaretha Kirsch who married Johann Martin Koehler who died in Germany. Anna Margaretha Kirsch Koehler immigrated with her brother to America, bringing along her children.  Her son Johann Martin Koehler, named for his father, married Philip Jacob Kirsch’s daughter, Katharina Barbara Kirsch and their daughter Elizabeth, known as Lizzie, married Christian Knoebel.  After Martin Koehler’s death, Katharina Barbara Kirsch Koehler remarried to Charles Schnell.

Koehler common pedigree

If you find this confusing, well, so did I.  And I like to never figured it out.  You’d think when people come to a new country that their relationships would be straightforward from that time into the future, but guess again.  You can leave the old country behind, but you cannot leave the cat’s cradle tangle of intermarried relationships of a few families in a small village behind – especially if you bring some of those people with you and marry them…again.

The stones below belong to Martin Koehler and wife Katharina Barbara Kirsch Koehler Schnell and their daughter Lizzie Koehler Knoebel.

Knoebel stones

Knoebel Koehler Schnell

Philip Kirsch, Jacob’s brother is buried in the plot as well and has two stones, one from the family and one that looks to be government issue. His Civil War unit is inscribed on the second stone.

Philip Kirsch d 1905 stone

In the Koehler-Knoebel-Kirsch plot, we find:

  • Elisia Koehler (1857-1860)
  • Anna Koehler (Anna and Elisia are the daughters of Johann Martin Koehler (1829-1879) and Catharina Barbara Kirsch (1833-1900))
  • Mary Hornberger daughter of Johann Martin Koehler and Catharine Barbara Kirsch Koehler Snell.  She was removed to Lawrenceburg when she died, age 28, lived in Omaha at the time of death. Born Jan. 8, 1852 and died Jan. 22, 1880.
  • Martin Koehler (1829-1879, Johann Martin Koehler mentioned above)
  • Philip Jacob Kirsch (1806-1880, the immigrant)
  • Lizzie Koehler Knoebel (1854-daughter of Johann Martin Koehler and Catherina Barbara Kirsch Koehler Snell)
  • Catharina Barbara Lemmert Kirsch (1807-1889, wife of Philipp Jacob Kirsch above)
  • Catharine Barbara (Kirsch Koehler) Snell (1833-1900,  daughter of Philipp Jacob Kirsch and Catharina Barbara Lemmert Kirsch, wife of Johann Martin Koehler)
  • Philip Kirsch (1830-1905, son of Philip Jacob Kirsch)

The Kirsch footstone below.

Kirsch footstone

The Jacob Kirsch Plot

Jacob Kirsch Barbara Drechsel stone

Jacob bought lot 111, Section M, in the Riverview Cemetery in 1906, a few months after his father-in-law died. Perhaps he was thinking about his own mortality and doing what German families seemed to try to do – making arrangements to “keep the family together” if at all possible. Perhaps after losing so much family to distance when immigrating, the family they do have becomes even more precious, causing them to clutch their relatives closely, even unto death.

Jacob Kirsch cemetery ownership

People buried in the Jacob Kirsch plot are:

  • Jacob Kirsch (1841-1917)
  • Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, wife of Jacob Kirsch (1848-1930)
  • Their daughter Ida Kirsch Galbreath (1876-1966)
  • William Galbreath, husband of Ida (1890/1891-1946)
  • Their daughter Margaretha Louise “Lou” Kirsch Fiske Wellesley (1873-1940)
  • Charles “Todd” Fiske, husband of Lou (1874-1908)

Mom recalls that Todd Fisk, Joe Wymond and Curtis Benjamin Lore all died within a year and 9 months of each other in October 1908, November 1909 and July 1910, respectively.  All 3 Kirsch sisters lost their husband’s, two with terminal illnesses and two via suicide.  It must have been a very difficult time for the family and extremely hard for Jacob and Barbara to see such devastation befall their daughters, especially after having just lost Jacob’s brother, Philip in 1905, Barbara’s mother in 1906 and her father earlier in 1908.  That’s 6 major deaths in 5 years, with Nora’s daughter to follow in 1912 after contracting tuberculosis from her father, Curtis Benjamin Lore, while caring for him before his death.  On top of all that, they would have known that Carrie was also eventually terminal and the horrific road that lay ahead for her.

Jacob managed to gather three of his six children to him in death. Three are buried elsewhere.  Nora Kirsch Lore McCormick is buried in Rushville, Indiana with C.B. Lore.  Carrie Kirsch Wymond is buried at Riverview, but in the Wymond plot beside Joseph, although I was amazed to discover her there, all things considered.  Martin Kirsch, is buried in Shelbyville, Indiana.

The Jacob Kirsch stone is grey granite with  beautifully carved scrolling K.

Jacob Kirsch K

At the end of the stone, the locations of both “father” and “mother” are marked, but of course, all of the children are gone now too, the last passing away and being buried on this plot in 1966. Today, we’re into the generation of their great-great-great-grandchildren who don’t even know the names of the other great-great-great-grandchildren or if any even exist.  Jacob’s burial took place just 99 years ago, but it seems like a very long time and far removed.  Very little oral history was preserved in those intervening generations, and had it not been for one particularly long-lived granddaughter, Eloise, we would have had almost nothing.

Jacob Kirsch stone

Mother was in awe when we found Jacob’s marker. “Look”, she said, “there’s Jacob.”    Mother was so happy to find Jacob – I think finding his grave made the legendary Jacob real to her.  It was as if she had been waiting to meet him all of her life.  He only died about 5 years before her birth, so she barely missed him!

Jacob Kirsch mother pointing crop

Mom’s with Jacob now. I surely hope she’s asking him about these lingering unanswered questions!  And I wish she would share those answers…

Jacob Kirsch stone with mother

We found Jacob’s obituary taped in the cemetery book, and my daughter copied it word for word on a hot summer day in 1991.

July 27, 1917

Jacob Kirsch

Jacob Kirsch, one of the best known residents of Aurora died at his home at the Kirsch House where he has been living for the past 42 years, died at 2 o’clock on Monday, July 23, 1917 after an illness of more than a years duration from cancer of the stomach. The deceased was born in Mutterstadt, Germany, May 1, 1841, and came to this country with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Philip Kirsch, at the age of six years.  The family settled at Milan this country.  Mr. Kirsch grew to manhood in this locality, and learned the trade of a cooper which he followed at the plant of the Gibson Cooperage in this city for a number of years.  He was unable to pass the physical examination for admission to the Army during the Civil War but served in the conflict as cook and teamster when but 19 years of age.

He was married May 27, 1866 to Miss. Barbara Drexel (Drexler), of Aurora, and they have settled in this place, where they have since resided. Six children were born to them , two boys and four girls, all of whom survived Mr. Kirsch’s death being first to occur in the family circle in 52 years of married life.  The children are: Mrs. Thomas McCormack of Wabash: Mrs. J.S. Wymond of Indianapolis; Mrs. Charles Fisk and Mrs. Ida Kirsch of this city.  Martin of Shelbyville and Edward of Vincennes.  One brother an one sister also survive, John Kirsch of Indianapolis and Mrs. Mary Kramer of St. Louis, together with 7 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild.

One last tidbit about Jacob’s life came in the form of a small article in the Hamilton, Ohio Evening Journal July 25, 1917.

Jacob Kirsch death


I wish we had a DNA sample from this family. We have none.  We don’t have either Y DNA or autosomal. There were very few males and people in Germany don’t tend to DNA test nearly as much as families in the US and other migration destinations looking for their roots back home.  For as close as the Kirsch family once was, the descendants are entirely scattered now and unknown to each other.

Of all my genealogical lines, this one and my Dutch line are genetically barren. Why?  One reason is that these lines are recent immigrants and they did not have prodigious numbers of children.  Of Jacob’s 6 children, only 3 had children and only 6 children between them that lived.  Our odds of finding an individual today with the Kirsch surname from this line that is interested in genealogy isn’t very good.  But I’m hopeful that these breadcrumbs will work.

Another reason more recent immigrants often have few matches is because the people back home in the old country don’t feel the need to DNA test to see where they are from…because they are living where they are from…or at least they think they are.

I am offering a DNA testing scholarship for any Kirsch male with proven descent from this Kirsch family line, either in the US or in Germany. This would include a male Kirsch from the Lawrenceburg line.

And Yes, This is Finally The End

Jacob did well for himself, even with only one eye. He went from being a the son of a German farmer with no land and no hope of ever owning land to a landowner and the proprietor of a hotel that became a landmark in Aurora.  In the world of the 1800s, this is upwardly mobile and far better than he could ever have done back home in Germany.  Jacob’s parents sacrificed and risked a lot by leaving, but from the distance of 168 years, it seems to have been worthwhile for them and for their children too, perhaps with the exception of Martin who may have died in the civil war.  Of course, there were wars in Germany too.

As I looked at the idyllic rolling hills along the Ohio river in the countryside, I can’t help but think how far removed this is from Germany, but in the same breath, it’s a lot like Mutterstadt and Fussgoenheim, along the banks of the Rhine. So while it was far away, it probably also felt strangely familiar.  That may be part of why so many people from that region of Germany settled in this area along the Ohio.

I began this search for these elusive Germans who lived in the “larger than life” Kirsch House years ago on a joint mission with my mother, and I am ending it without her. I never thought about this possibility when we were on our quest for information about our heritage.  In retrospect, even though my then teenage daughter was anything but enthusiastic about our trip together, I’m so glad I dragged her along.  Those joint memories and pictures are priceless now – regardless of how hot and miserable we were that day in the cemetery.  Now, there is no one to go along.  This journey is not nearly as much fun alone.

Mom began a fan chart and added to it some as we went. When we began, we didn’t know the names of Jacob Kirsch’s parents nor where his family was from.  We didn’t even know his wife’s surname.  We were thrilled every time we could add a name or a date or some tidbit, and we both sat there and watched as Mom carefully, almost sacredly, penned their named into the chart.  We looked at each other and smiled…job well done.  Success!

Jacob and the Kirsch House had been the legend in our family that was bigger than life and it seemed there was no history, or none worth knowing anyway, before Jacob. But there surely was…and Mom and I found it.

The Kirsch House was described in a bright and glowing way by the grandchildren of Jacob and Barbara, assuredly reflecting happy years spent with their grandparents visiting and participating in the daily life in the vibrant and bustling hotel and pub by the train depot. The Kirsch House represented a glamorous steamboat era of wealthy river barons sporting gold tipped canes and fancy ladies with dramatic hats and parasols.  An age that was golden and then was gone – living only in the memories of those who were children at that time…and now, living only in legend.

That glamorous, bustling era of women in starched white dresses and men in perfect suits, tipping their hats as ladies passed by, a bygone era, is how the Kirsch House, that time in history, and the people who lived there were described to us, decades later. It was with fond memories and smiles that Eloise recanted stories to us…the last living legend…and then she was no more – taking all of those memories with her.

Mom's Kirsch pedigree

I’m including this chart, not because it’s complete, because it isn’t, and it also has some inaccuracies – but because it’s in Mom’s handwriting. The pencil updates were mine.  Today, my records are all on my computer and my laptop and the digital camera goes along on these trips.  No more paper, no more microfilm and no more of that glossy slick copy paper that distorted everything and made it fuzzy either.

It was both sweet and bitter to find this old chart, written in Mom’s own hand, in my files. Made me smile and my heart warm at seeing something so familiar and comforting as mother’s handwriting while my eyes teared up and I choked with the loss of so much.

Bittersweet. Truly bittersweet.  Every generation takes so much with them when they leave.



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