Twice now, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the Kirsch House, or at least that’s what it was called when Jacob Kirsch and his wife, Barbara Drechsel owned the property.
Jacob and Barbara were immigrants, both born to German parents who immigrated in the 1850s and settled in Aurora, Indiana, a riverfront town a few blocks long nestled between the railroad depot and the Ohio River. The Depot is shown at the red arrow, beside the Kirsch House at the red pin.
In this postcard, you can see the Kirsch House to the right of the depot, with the freight ticket office – the white area behind the pole – where a large window is positioned today.
Behind these people on the platform, you can see the freight and ticket sales window. This had to be a good thing for the Kirsch House, because it encouraged travelers to mosey over that way. If Jacob and Barbara were early innovators, they might just have sold cold (or hot) drinks and snacks through that window for travelers who didn’t have time to go inside, sit down, and enjoy some beer or wine along with their renowned (mock) turtle soup, made every Tuesday by Barbara.
A door existed to the left of the little boy that doesn’t exist today. The sign on the door says “hotel” and the sign on the window says “hotel and bar.” Nothing like advertising facing the depot.
The family living quarters were located upstairs. When Mom and I visited in the 1980s, the bar was the front portion of the building and the restaurant was the room to the rear, starting with the “hotel” door and to the left in the photo above. The upstairs rooms were rented. We were able to see the public portions, but not the rest at that time.
In the 1800s, prime retail land in Aurora consisted of an establishment high enough from the river not to flood but close enough to both the river and the bustling depot to attract travelers.
Then as now, location, location, location!!! The Ohio River is at the end of the street, four blocks away.
When you look at the geography of the area, Aurora is surrounded on three sides by water, so floods are a real and present danger. The Ohio River is as far across as Aurora is wide. In other words, just about the entire town would fit in the river.
On May 27, 1866, Jacob and Barbara were married in St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, then held in the old Baptist church house.
A few years later, in August of 1875, Jacob and Barbara bought the property, named The French House, from James and Ellen French and renamed it the Kirsch House.
Their Kirsch House advertisement read, “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.” Of course, they forgot to mention Barbara’s wonderful German food, ordered by the locals and delivered by their daughters pulling a wagon.
The census notes Jacob as a saloon keeper and says that they ran a boarding house.
This photo was taken in front of the Kirsch House and shows 5 of Jacob and Barbara’s 6 children probably around the turn of the century. Bicycle-riding was quite the rage, even in skirts.
The street in front was still dirt, but Earl Huffman who knew Jacob Kirsch and the Kirsch House said that “The Kirsch House catered to tobacco buyers and other prominent businessmen 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.”
This undated photo shows part of the Kirsch House and the depot and was laminated onto the bar in the Kirsch House in the 1980s when Mom and I visited. Apparently, the sidewalk covered with a roof was quite the status symbol. Nora’s daughter, Eloise, and my mother, Nora’s granddaughter through daughter Edith both mentioned that covered walkway.
From 1875 until 1921, the Kirsch House was operated by Jacob and Barbara and functioned as the hub of the extended Kirsch and Drechsel families for almost half a century. This photo below, probably taken in 1907 but definitely after 1905 and before 1909 is the only known family photo that includes all of the Kirsch children, along with two grandchildren.
During this time, the Kirsch family saw their fair share of drama and tragedy. Perhaps more than their fair share.
- In 1879, Jacob’s brother-in-law, Martin Koehler died.
- In March 1880, Jacob entered politics in a bid for local councilman.
- In May 1880, Barbara’s brother, John Drechsel, died unexpectedly.
- In May 1880, Jacob’s father, Philip Jacob Kirsch, died.
- In 1887, Jacob “sold” the Kirsch house to his wife, Barbara, because he was being sued for his part in the 1886 lynching of an itinerant brick mason who was caught in the act of murdering a local resident.
- In 1889, Barbara’s sister, Margaretha died, leaving 5 young children, having already buried 2.
- In 1889, Jacob’s brother, William was involved in some kind of accident going over the Platte River Bridge and died in 1891 from those injuries.
- In 1889, a boarder shot himself in the right groin at the Kirsch House while target shooting.
- Jacob’s elderly mother, Katharina Barbara Lemmert, lived, and died, at the Kirsch House in 1889.
- Jacob and Barbara’s granddaughter, Hazel Kirsch, died in August of 1891.
- In 1892, Jacob lost one eye in a hunting accident. It was questionable whether he would live as the entire side of his face was affected. He was also a sharpshooter and won the tri-State championship AFTER this devastating accident that in essence destroyed half of his face. Jacob wore a glass eye after the accident and loved to scare the children by popping his eye out.
- Jacob and Barbara’s granddaughter, Pauline Kirsch, died in July of 1896.
- Jacob’s sister, Katharina Kirsch Koehler died in 1900.
- Jacob’s brother, a Civil War veteran and disabled pensioner lived with the family and died at the Kirsch House in 1905.
- Barbara’s parents, Barbara Mehlheimer and Georg Drechsel died in 1906 and 1908, respectively.
- Jacob and Barbara’s granddaughter, Curtis Lore, died in February 1912 after contracting tuberculosis from her father.
Amidst all of this, they fought the ever-present danger of massive floods and the soggy, stinky moldy mildewy aftermath.
Floodwaters reached the Kirsch house in 1883, 1884, 1907, twice, three months apart in 1913, and in 1917. 1913 must have been brutal. It would have destroyed lesser people.
The 1884 flood was said to have reached the second floor of the Kirsch House. In the above picture, people are standing on second-floor balconies along an Aurora street.
The April 1913 legendary flood was said to be “the greatest disaster of modern times.” The basement and walls of the Kirsch House carry those flood scars.
And then, there was the never-ceasing daughter drama!
- Jacob’s daughter, Carolyn “Carrie” Kirsch married in 1902 to Joseph Wymond, the wealthy son of a local businessman who owned the Wymond Cooperage. Joseph, however, was a debonair ladies’ man and riverboat gambler who carried a dapper gold-headed and gold-tipped cane. The problem was that he caught syphilis and of course gave it to Carrie. Syphilis was fatal. There was no cure. Amazingly, Jacob Kirsch didn’t kill the man, so Joe eventually took his own life in 1910. Sixteen years later, Carrie, institutionalized, succumbed to that horrific disease as well.
- Jacob’s daughter, Louise, known as “Aunt Lou” married Todd Fiske in 1899, son of the owners of the local Fiske Carriage Business. A civil engineer, Todd found himself out of work. Despondent, he took his own life with a gunshot to the head in the garden of the Kirsch House on October 31, 1908.
When Mom and I visited, there was no sign of a lovely garden, although Nora Kirsch’s daughter, Aunt Eloise, who visited the Kirsch House, spoke of it. The only place a “private garden” could have been located was on these two triangles of land.
Eloise and her sister, MIldred, at the depot beside the Kirsch House in 1907.
- Jacob’s daughter, Nora Kirsch, lost her husband, C. B. Lore, to tuberculosis in 1909. It’s unclear if Nora ever knew that C.B. had not divorced his previous wife in Pennsylvania before the shotgun wedding to Nora in 1888 – likely at the end of a shotgun held by Jacob himself. C. B. Lore was a handsome wildcatter, an oilman who likely stayed at the Kirsch House while he drilled for oil and gas locally, consuming wine, liquors, and fine cigars – and winning the heart of Nora in the process.
Nora made her own wedding gown and descended the stairs at the Kirsch House to meet her groom on their wedding day.
Nora was quite the seamstress, earning her living for decades with that trade after her husband died.
In 1933, Nora represented the State of Indiana at the Chicago World’s fair with one of her quilts.
Nora’s granddaughter, my mother, me, and my daughter many years ago with Nora’s winning quilt when it was honored at a museum exhibition.
I might have, just might, have inherited that “quilt gene” from Nora😊
- Daughter Ida had a physical disability and remained single for a long time, but married in 1921 to a man 15 years her senior who eventually died of “acute alcoholism” in 1946 and was known to be extremely mean and abusive.
Somehow, between cooking and cleaning, the Kirsch girls found time for sewing, quilting, and lacemaking.
This crazy quilt, sewn together by the Kirsch daughters incorporates a block dated 1884 and was made at the Kirsch House.
They surely sewed their hopes, dreams, cares, and tears into this quilt, together, probably by candlelight in the evenings.
During WWI and WWII, the bodies of servicemen lost in war were transported to the railroad depot, then carried next door to the Kirsch House where they were taken to private rooms and covered with flags while waiting for their families to claim their fallen members.
Jacob died, after a long battle with cancer in 1917, but Barbara struggled on to run the Kirsch House alone until 1921 when she sold it to the Neaman family who renamed it the Neaman House.
The 1989 Trip
In 1989, Mom, my daughter, and I traveled to Aurora and located the former Kirsch House. We planned our trip carefully with the hope of finding information about our ancestors. This was long before “online” anything existed. All we had to go on was oral history and the knowledge that it was beside the Depot.
We were very fortunate in that the former Kirsch House was a local restaurant and we could go inside and see for ourselves, including that stunning hand-carved bar. We were also in the right place at the right time, because Telford Walker, the local historian who had actually known Jacob Kirsch when Telford was a child happened to be eating lunch there with the Rotary Club on the day Mom and I visited.
Looking at the side of the Kirsch House building in the 1980s, you can see the structures of the earlier Depot era building. While the rear section of the Kirsch House was obviously added later than the original construction, it was already in place on an 1875 map, so Jacob and Barbara Kirsch bought this property in its current basic configuration.
Eventually, the restaurant closed and the property was abandoned. I visited again in 2008 when the Kirsch House, for sale, was in terrible shape. I wondered if there was any prayer of salvaging this building and wished that I could have afforded to do so.
After that visit, I became friendly with the local historian, Jenny Awad, who told me she would keep her eye on the Kirsch House property.
Then, miraculously, two things happened. And no, neither one was me winning the lottery.
You’ve Got Mail!
My husband went to retrieve the mail one day recently and came in telling me I had a very heavy padded envelope.
“What did you do,” he asked, “convince someone to mail you a brick?”
I laughed and said, “Well, I hope so.” He knows my penchant for having “something” of my ancestors, be it a brick or a rock from their land. Something to connect us.
But, as it turns out, he was right.
It really WAS a brick, from the Kirsch House, mailed by Jenny.
I was thrilled to receive this brick that connects me tangibly to my ancestors, 4 of them who lived in this building during their lifetimes, and two that died there, wrapped in love and history.
At first, I thought perhaps that the Kirsch House been torn down, but that wasn’t the case at all.
Jenny had another surprise for me.
Jenny reported that a new owner had purchased the Kirsch House and was doing an extensive remodel, turning the downstairs into retail stores with four apartments upstairs.
Jenny visited the local tire store where someone told her that a remodel was happening at the Kirsch House and that there were nails everyplace. Indeed, I’m sure there were. Jenny drove over to see and photograph.
Jenny, I can’t thank you enough!! What an amazing gift.
The great thing is that with the last century of updating stripped away, we can actually see the original building that would have been familiar to Jacob Kirsch and Barbara Drechsel as they went about their daily lives. The room where Barbara’s sisters lived as they worked in the Kirsch House before they married. The room that Nora grew up and quilted in. The room where Jacob and his mother both died. The room where Barbara slept by herself after Jacob’s death, until that last time she walked out the door. Forty-seven years, a half-century of our family history, exposed beneath the plaster.
Over the years as the building deteriorated, so did the clientele and the once resplendent Kirsch House became a flophouse, all too familiar to the local EMTs.
The family had once lived upstairs, above the restaurant and tavern, along with travelers and boarders.
You can see the roof of the Depot through the window above. The sound of the train whistle must have been so familiar that they probably didn’t even “hear” it anymore.
I wonder if those original floors were oak. These would have been the floors that Barbara and the girls scrubbed.
Oh, the stories these walls could tell if they could but talk.
The hallways were quite narrow. It wasn’t obvious if there were owners quarters separate from visitor rooms in the boarding house. Heat and electricity were retrofitted years later, of course.
Since these rooms connect, I wonder if they were some of the original Kirsch living quarters. Aside from bedrooms, they would have wanted some sort of family area, such as a living room or parlor where they could gather with some degree of privacy.
I can’t wait to see what the new owner does with these historic, haunted hallways.
This hand-shaped banister protects the one stairway between the floors and the landing from where Nora would have descended in her wedding dress.
I can see Nora walking, slowly, down, each step, one by one. Looking in the eyes of C.B. Lore, waiting for her.
C.B. Lore would have stood here, at the bottom waiting for his bride, hoping his father-in-law didn’t discover his guilty secret that included children.
We don’t know where Jacob’s office would have been in this building.
If you close your eyes, you can imagine Jacob’s desk looking much like this as he managed the boarding house, the tavern, cigar store, and the restaurant, along with family matters. Jenny sent this photo. We don’t know who it is, but it would have been a businessman that Jacob knew and probably frequented the Kirsch House.
Back to the Brick
What was I going to do with my brick? I love it, but what does one DO with a brick?
I had an idea.
I needed a doorstop, but I didn’t want to break a toe kicking the brick. I didn’t want to damage the wood floor with the brick scooting over the surface, and I didn’t want the brick to deteriorate. After all, the historical commission estimates the age of the building to be 1855ish – so this brick is 170ish years old and tiny pieces are shedding.
As I pondered the brick, I realized that the brick was passed to me, and so was the DNA of the ancestors who lived there. Both were random events.
As you know, I’m sure, I speak regularly at conferences, and each year I make a new DNA clothing item to wear.
In 2017, for my Ireland visit, I made a reversible DNA vest.
The way I construct the vests is to have the fabrics quilted first, then cut out and construct the vest. This means that I have pieces of quilted fabric left over.
Now, to figure out how to make a quilted brick cover that would allow me to see the brick, but that would protect both the brick, the floor, and my toes.
Hmmm, do I have any quilted DNA material scraps left anyplace? I had already made a bag, a laptop sleeve, and a few other things.
Yes, as it turns out, I did!
A few hours later I had made a quilted brick basket.
If you’re interested in how I did this, I’m including instructions so you can do something similar. If not, just scroll down to the next picture.
I measured my brick across the bottom and up the sides. I allowed an extra half inch at the top so that I could make a hem.
So, if the brick is 3 inches across and 6 inches long, and the sides are 2.5 inches each, the piece of already quilted fabric I cut was calculated:
- 3 inches wide brick
- 2 X 2.5 inch sides = 5 inches
- Extra half inch on both sides = 1 inch
- Total = 9 inches
- 9 inches long brick
- 2 X 2.5 inch sides = 5 inches
- Extra half inch on both sides = 1 inch
- Total = 15 inches
The handle was 2.5 inches wide and long enough that the brick could fit in the basket under the handle after allowing about 1.5 inches to sew both ends inside the basket. So, my handle is about 6 inches showing, with 1.5 inches sewn inside the basket on both ends for a cut piece of fabric of 9 inches by 2.5 inches.
First, I zigzagged all of the quilted fabric edges to avoid fraying. You can see that if you look closely inside.
Then, I turned the edges inside and zigzagged them flat for a hem on the main brick piece of fabric.
At that point, you have a large flat piece of fabric and you need a basket-shaped piece of fabric.
I sat the brick on the fabric, centering it exactly using a ruler, then folded the corners up like I was wrapping a gift. I pinned each corner in place. In my case, that meant when I took the brick out and went to sew the corners in place, I sewed a seam 2 inches exactly from the tip of the folded corner triangle of fabric.
After I sewed all 4 corners, I had these little ear flaps sticking out. I tried the basket on the brick for size. It fit, so I then flattened the corner triangles against the corners and sewed them flat on the basket edge. That gave me the cute little cat-ears. It also serves to buffer the corner of the brick which protects my toes from the brick, along with the corners of the brick.
You can practice with a sheet of paper to get the idea and dimensions. You can purchase pre-quilted fabrics at stores like Joann and online.
To finish the handle, fold the sides to the middle back and zigzag in place. Sew the bottom of the handle inside the basket at the bottom of the handle piece and again at the top of the handle where it touches the top of the basket.
Next, put your brick in your basket and you’re done. This project isn’t “quilt show” grade – but I was going for fun and function, and this was both!
I felt this was a wonderful way to honor my great-grandmother, Nora, her struggles, and her beautiful, creative quilting. It allowed me to remember wonderful adventures with my mother, now gone forever, and daughter, now grown, chasing those ancestors. I honored Jacob and Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, proprietors of the Kirsch House whose DNA I carry today. In all of their honor, I created a DNA-themed keepsake, a nod to me, that I hope will one day be an heirloom, holding a door open and loved by my descendants too.
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What a blessing and a joy for you! Have a wonderful week. I so enjoy your articles.
What an amazing trove of pictures you have accumulated. This is a fascinating article. Love all the pictures of the peeling paint and plaster falling down. What happened to the postcard that was laminated to the bar? Was Jenny able to retrieve that for the historical society?
Sadly, the bar disappeared sometime between the closing of the restaurant and 2008. I believe it was involved in either a bankruptcy or a tax sale and the bar was the only thing left of value and was sold. The owner is unknown.
Roberta, not sure if you are still doing research on this house (or others), but here is a guide from the Indiana Landmarks on how to research historic houses: https://www.indianalandmarks.org/2016/06/historic-house-research-guide/
I loved your story and feel closely connected to your interesting ancestors. Thanks for another great family story! Hugs,
Love you Bonny.