Monday, October 8, 2012

The Wehrles of Cincinnati, Late 1800s-1920

Back in Cincinnati

The first census record for the Wehrles was the 1870 Ohio census, after Valentine and Maria returned to Cincinnati.  Valentine, age 41, and Mary A. 39, together with their seven children, are living in Cincinnati's 18th ward.  Valentine's occupation is Dealer in Charcoal, probably selling the charcoal used in the irons at that time for pressing clothes.  These early irons had hinged openings to a hollow space that could be filled with hot charcoal briquettes.  Mary is "keeping house."  No street address is given for the 1870 census.  

1870 United States Federal Census Valentin Wehrle
Valentin Wehrle
Age in 1870:
Birth Year:
abt 1829
Home in 1870:
Cincinnati Ward 18, Hamilton, Ohio
Post Office:
Value of real estate:
Household Members:

In the next census, 1880, Valentine at age 54 is a “huckster.”  Maria is age 50 and has changed her place of birth from “Bavaria” to Baden.  Her occupation is listed as “keeps  house.”  They are living on Westwood Avenue, but the street addresses are not noted, only the number of the houses in order visited.  

In the Williams Cincinnati Directory for 1872, Valentine is also listed as a Huckster and living on Harrison Pike in Fairmont.

Children still at home are: 

Barbara, age 18, “at home”
Annie, instead of "Appolina," age 15, “at home”
Joseph, age 14, also a "huckster"
Lizzie, age 10, “at home”

The occupation “huckster” has a bad connotation, thought of as maybe a shyster, one of those “snake-oil” tricksters.  Actually, there were several types of work that fell under the category of huckster in 1880 and later. 

A “peddler” is another term for huckster, someone who sold goods of different types, either door to door or in a stall, perhaps in the city open-air market.  Additionally, hucksters who lived outside the city, and owned a mule or horse and a cart, traveled a route where they bought goods—usually eggs, chickens, vegetables, fruits, and assorted household items—and then sold these items at a profit.  They might buy products from stores or shops, or from average people who sold goods so they could buy other items they needed. 

Street Vendors, or Peddlers and Hucksters, Google Photos

It’s safe to say Valentine was not rich.  Cincinnati was full of poor German immigrants, most who were farmers in the old country.  Now they lived in crowded cities of cement and brick with not even a yard to tend.  Their days were spent trying to make enough money to feed their families. 
Information on the “Cincinnati-City of Immigrants” website explains further the difficulty that German Catholics, in particular, faced in trying to get jobs.
Many German immigrants arrived in Cincinnati searching for new opportunities and some came with funds to buy land. They often had technical skills or could work as tradesmen, such as butchers, bakers, or tailors; however, German Catholic immigrants were often denied work at publicly financed construction jobs, and were excluded from joining clubs established by native-born Cincinnatians. German customs clashed with the lifestyle of American-born Protestants who frowned upon the way that German families spent Sundays in theaters, saloons, and various singing societies. Catholic loyalty to the pope in Rome seemed to prohibit the notion that these foreigners could ever become proper American citizens. ~ HTTP://WWW.CINCINNATI-CITYOFIMMIGRANTS.COM/CCI/GERMAN.HTM
This was the climate that birthed the Know-Nothing party, the native citizens who became so frightened of their city being overrun with a lower class of immigrant population that they resorted to all-out war against them.

According to David Blackbourne in The Long Nineteenth Century: A History of Germany 1780-1900, the majority of German immigrants who came to America in the early part of the 1800s (pre-1880) were lower-class peasants, craftsmen, and farmers, who left because of crop failure and economic depression.  

As stated earlier, these facts could have contributed to Valentine moving his family to Indiana for better employment opportunities.

In 1873, a severe international economic depression broke out in both Europe and the United States and lasted until 1879.  This was known as the Great Depression until the 1930s when another depression took place, so the earlier one became the “Long Depression,”or the Panic of 1873.

In 1879, Thomas Edison invented a long lasting incandescent light bulb which originally lasted for about 40 hours. and by 1880, lasted for about 1200 hours. Shortly after, in the early 1880s, the new electric lighting was introduced in Cincinnati, and by 1883 small electric generating companies were sprouting up throughout the city.

In the 1890 city directory, Valentine’s occupation is now renamed to “peddler,” and the address is 103 Westwood Avenue. Son Joseph, my great grandfather, is also listed in the same directory as a peddler, living at 261 Forbus, in the 30th Ward.  

Valentine died on November 8, 1899, buried in Old St. Joseph's Cemetery 

Wehrles in the 1900s

In the 1900 census, Maria, now a widow, has moved and is listed as "head" of house, at 1693 Westwood Avenue, which she rents.  Living with her is son Peter, whose occupation, according to the 1900 census, was “hair spinner.” 

Cincinnati's huge pork industry meant lots of pigs slaughtered.  These animals' hair was sold to factories for spinning into goods, such as low-priced toothbrushes.  Peter was obviously one of these hair spinners.  

1693 Westwood Avenue (photo taken by me in June 2012).
The house Maria rented for her and son Peter and his family in 1900, 
after husband Valentine died.

Valentine, Jr., age 39 in 1900, owns his own home at 1776 Queen City Avenue.  

According to the census that year, he is employed as a driver for a bakery.  He is married to Frances, age 40, and they have four children:  Barbara, age 18, William, 19, and Frank, 8

Valentine, Jr.'s home at 1776 Queen City Avenue.  (Author Photo June 2012)

Joseph, now age 34, also appears in the 1900 census, showing his marriage in 1888 to Mary Wehrle, whose maiden name was Wagner.  They have five children:  Mary , age 11, Joseph age 9, Edward 6, Clara (my grandmother) 4, and Loretta  2.  

Joseph’s occupation in 1900 is listed as “agt. Peddler,” They are living at 1769 Westwood Avenue, so Joseph lives just a few doors down from his brother Peter and his mother Maria. 

1769 Westwood Avenue, the home owned and mortgaged by Joseph and Mary Weber Wehrle,
my great grandparents in 1900, when my Grandma Clara was age 4.  (Author photo June 2012)

The "agt" peddler, meaning agent, could very well have been operating a stall in Findlay Market, where he sold produce either bought from a grower or supplier or selling on a commission basis for a supplier.  At any rate, the house at 1769 Westwood Avenue would have been a modest but fine home in 1900, and Joseph's peddler's salary must have been sufficient to purchase the property.

Financial Panics Then as Now

Ten years later, in the 1910 census, Joseph is working as a laborer in a lumber yard.  Joseph, Jr., age 19, is also a laborer, but the place of employment is unclear.  "Eddie," who appears as "Edna" on several records, age 16, works in a box factory as a “machine hand.”  Clara, my grandmother, age 14, is also employed at the box factory as some type of “maid,” the handwriting there also hard to decipher..  Clarence is 9, Eleanora 7, and William 2. 

Joseph and his family are now living in the rear of 1012 York Street, according to the 1910 Williams Directory, and they are now renting.  What happened to their large brick home on Westwood Avenue?

1012 York Street (photo by me in June 2012) where Joseph, Mary, and their children lived in the "rear" in 1910.
A financial recession occurred between 1900,  which led to the "Bank Panic of 1907," beginning in New York and spreading out to other U.S. cities.  Cincinnati was not exempt.  

"Crash, Crash, Crash," a Boston Post article, October 18, 1907, describes the panic:
By most measures, it was not the worst panic in U.S. history. But in retrospect, it was a watershed event that had a lasting impact on the financial system. ~
The Post's article goes on to explain how financial panics develop.  The same today as they took place back then...
The misfortunes of a prominent speculator would undermine public confidence in the financial system. Panic-stricken investors would then scramble to cut their losses. And because it wasn't uncommon for speculators to double as bank officials, worried depositors would rush to withdraw their money from any bank associated with a troubled speculator. 

Whether the panic had any bearing on the financial condition of the Wehrle family would only be speculation, but it doesn't take too much of a change in the financial atmosphere to cause unemployment and prices too high on necessities, especially for lower- to middle-class citizens.  The "Blue-Collar Workers."  

Now there were four blue-collar workers in Joseph and Mary's family.  Joseph, Sr., Joseph, Jr., and daughter Clara, age 14, and her brother Edward, age 16.  

For whatever reason or circumstance, people do not just move to a much smaller home in a lesser neighborhood, giving up a nice, large home, just for the excitement of the move.  

My grandmother, Clara Wehrle Dean, was a financially cautious person--a frugal lady.  She always managed to live well on a sparse income from hard work.  She, no doubt, learned this growing up watching her parents, adopting their morals and values.  

On my shopping trips with Grandma after she retired, when I saw something I wanted, she always had a way of showing me a less expensive option, explaining to me she was on social security and had to be careful how much she spent on things.  She was the queen of sales shopping, always able to snatch an unbelievable deal in Shillito's bargain basement, which explains the pretty cotton house dresses she wore every day.

One trip downtown on the Clifton bus, we spied thick, juicy hamburgers in one of the restaurant windows.  Grandma said, "Bettyann, you and I are going to stop at the grocery and go home and make us some hamburgers better than those."

True to her word, we got off the bus at the little store across the street from her McMillan Avenue apartment, picked up ground beef, an onion, a tomato, and some buns.  After climbing the three flights of steps to her little apartment, she showed me how to make the best burger I think I've ever eaten.  And she reminded me how much money we saved.  

Great Uncles and 2nd Great Grandmother Maria

The 1910 census lists "Mary A. Wehrle," now age 80, widow of Valentine, still living with my Great Uncle Peter, her son, though I should say Peter lives with her, because she is listed as "head" of household.  She now rents a home at 1799 Queen City Avenue.  Peter is still a "hair spinner," and his family now includes wife Catherine and children, John, age 16, Leo 12, Louis 11.

Original home in rundown condition and now boarded up--1799 Queen City Avenue, home of
Maria Wehrle,  widow of Valentine, and her son Valentine, Jr., and his family.
 (Photo by me in June 2012)

Valentine, Jr., appears in the 1910 city directory, still living at 1776 Queen City Avenue, so his mother and brother Peter are now neighbors.  Valentine works as a laborer.  

1917 House of Wehrles:

The 1917 Williams Cincinnati Directory shows Maria (Mary A.) still together with Peter, but they now live at 1852 Westwood Avenue (house has been demolished).  Other Wehrle residents in the home include Leo D. Wehrle, who is a jeweler, and Louis C. Wehrle, a "trimmer."  

I'm not sure if these two Wehrles are relatives or boarders who just happen to be Wehrles.

My great grandfather Joseph now resides at 1216 Poplar, the home my Grandma Clara lived in when she married one year later, in 1919.  Also living at that address is Joseph, Jr., a woodworker, and Edward Wehrle, a "sander." This is probably "Eddie," my Grandma's older brother who worked in the box factory with her previously.

Valentine, Jr.'s wife Frances is now a widow, living with their son William, a shoe pattern-maker, on Lahmann Road South of Dremen Avenue.  Valentine, Jr. died June 4, 1914, at age 54.  


In the 1919 city directory, we see (Maria) Mary A., "wid of Valentine," living at 1912 Montrose in South Fairmont.  No other Wehrle is listed living at that address with Maria.  Peter is listed as still at the Westwood  Avenue address.

1912 Montrose in South Fairmont, home of Maria (Mary A.) Wehrle,
widow of Valentine

A year later, Maria is living with daughter Barbara Emlich and her family, at 1912 Montrose Street, South Fairmont.  

It is here that Maria,  or Mary A., passes away on May 2, 1920, at age 89.  She is buried in Old St. Joseph's Cemetery.

The above photo was posted on Ancestry by the Emlich family, originally taken by the  Hamilton County Auditor.

Clara and Frank's Story next.  

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