written and contributed by Jim
John Klemp -Early 1900s
John Klemp was born in
There must have been mixed emotions and feelings
of uncertainty, relief, chaos, fatigue, and being homesick as John and
his family walked through the ports of
This long trip across the North Atlantic Sea was probably followed by additional long journeys from New York to Wisconsin through the Erie Canal and on through to the Great Lakes to the western ports of Lake Michigan (Possibly Two Rivers, WI).
“In the early 1850’s, before the train lines were very extensive, the most
common route was to take a boat up the Hudson River in New York to
around Albany. Then travelers switched to
a barge that traversed
After many weeks and miles of traveling, John's
family finally settled in Reedsville/
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday. Even through the hardships, the Klemp family had a lot to be thankful for.
When John was 20 years old, he entered into the
Civil War by volunteering for military service in the town of
During his service he became friends with Charles McKenzie and Joseph Helmke who would later help him start his own business. McKenzie and Helmke had settled in a town called Gillett in Wisconsin before they left for service in 1862. Helmke arrived in Gillett from Maglenberg, Germany in 1856. In 1861, Helmke enlisted into the military 32nd Division (The “River Drivers”) after his wife and three children died from Black Diphtheria. Mr. Helmke buried not only his family but his tool chest before leaving for the Civil War.
Career and Family
John returned home to
Sometime prior to 1874, the Klemps moved a little west to the town of Gillett where John's Civil War buddies Charles McKenzie and Joseph Helmke helped open the door for John to become the first blacksmith in Gillett in 1878. John sharpened plow shares, shod horses, and did general repair work. Joseph Helmke had returned to his cabin in Gillett in 1865 and found that his tool chest was in good condition after being buried for four years. Joseph also remarried a woman named Mary and was given a deed to the property from the United States Government signed by Ulysses S. Grant. Both Helmke and McKenzie were farmers after the war.
Gillett was and still is a small town that consists mostly of farm families. According to the book “America-Land I Love”:
“Farm families worked hard to make a living, and each family member did his share of the chores. Farm life, though busy, was seasoned with fun and laughter and offered many rewards, including abundant food, safe surroundings, close family ties, and the satisfaction of a job well done. At the close of the day, families often read stories and sang together; many families finished the day with Bible reading and prayer. Sometimes, several families got together for corn husking, quilting party, barn raising, or church social (picnic or games). Hunting and fishing were also popular pastimes and helped provide food for the family table.”
“The farm provided a number of places for children to romp and play after their chores were finished. When weather permitted, they might play hide-and-seek in the barn. Between work and play, farm children never ran out of things to do. In spring and fall, younger children attended the little red schoolhouse while most of the older brothers and sisters worked on the farm. In winter, older children also attended school. Farm children often walked several miles to get to school.”
Between 1870 and
1881, John and Emilie gave birth to at least seven more children (William, Carl, Erdman, Frank,
Louisa, Otto, and Wilhelmina) while living in
Oconto and Gillett. Many of their children were documented as
being baptized at the
According to the Oconto County Reporter in June 1876, “one of the fiercest tornados to visit Oconto County cut a five-mile strip through the territory, doing the greatest damage at Gillett. Among the buildings destroyed by the wind are Rodney Gillett’s barn, Matt Finnegan’s house and barn, Thomas Rierdon’s house and barn, Mr. Bruses’s buildings, Thomas Johnson’s roof, Oconto Company’s barn on the McDougal farm, and the smoke stack of the mill. At the time of the tornado, John Volk and his wife were returning from Gillett to Oconto Falls in a buggy and narrowly escaped death when a tree fell across their path, killing their horse.” I am sure that this had some impact on all of the residents of Gillett, including the Klemp Family. John and his family probably helped repair the damage done to the town of Gillett.
Another tragedy occurred in Gillett seven years later. Although she appeared to be in "robust" health at age 35, Emilie Klemp died on 2 May 1883 due to heart failure according to the Oconto County Reporter newspaper (5 May 1883). Further, the newspaper said, “She went to bed Wednesday evening . . . arose and passed from her bed room into the sitting room where she expired in the arms of her husband who had followed her. She was a very estimable woman, universally loved and respected, and her sudden demise has cast a gloom over the entire community.” Later in 1883, John married a woman named Augusta (Maiden name "Trebes").
According to the book “History of Gillett,
“Between 1884 when Gillett was platted,
and 1900 when it was incorporated, there was a rapid growth with many
new businesses and industries being started. This
was partly because a railroad line now connected Gillett and Oconto. Stores, saloons, a cheese factory, a butcher
shop, a brickyard, and a barbershop were started. The
Gillett Times, a weekly newspaper was started … L.B Stuelke
established the first drugstore . . .built …the first hardware
store . . . L.J. Newald started the first
bank . The
As Gillett grew during this time period, the
Klemp family also had a growth spurt. Between
1885 and 1901 John
and Augusta gave birth to at least six children (Gustav, Annie, Louis,
Ida, Marie, August). Most of the Klemp
children were baptized at the St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran
Church located at 101 Main Street in Gillett.
In 1884, a larger schoolhouse was built on
During this time of blessing, hardships also continued to come also. In February 1886, a German man named Nieman had one finger cut off and two more badly damaged while working at the mill of (Calvin?) Gale and John Klemp according to the Oconto County Reporter. On 1 January 1887, the same newspaper stated that “Marks and Klemp opened up a blacksmith and wagon shop located opposite the mill.” On 14 July 1891, the Klemp's barn was destroyed by fire along with the loss of three pigs and a light wagon. There was no “big bad wolf” sited at the scene though. There was also no chartered fire department at the time. The loss was a heavy one, since the building was not insured. The biggest loss though was probably the impact of the fire on his son Gustav, one of two boys who started the fire while playing with matches. The traumatic experience led his son Gustav to choose to live at an institution for almost all of the remaining years of his life.
The Klemp family experienced several other
significant events through the 1890’s. John applied for a pension
on 5 July 1892 for his service during the Civil War.
In 1892, there was a Civil War Veteran’s reunion in Oconto. John's oldest daughter Louise married Louis
Hanstedt at the
At age 58, John was unable to work for 10 months in the year
1900 according to the Census records due to an unknown reason. At
this time, Matt Wagner was now the town blacksmith.
In 1900, the Klemp’s neighbors were Railroad man Jack
Saubert and Miller Saw owner William F. Krueger. John
Klemp’s son Frank married Minnie Seidel on 20 June 1900 and his
daughter Wilhelmina married Ed Krueger in 1900 in
On 24 June
1900, John’s stepfather William Zahn died due to unknown causes
at the age of 66. This followed the death
of John’s half-brother William Zahn, Junior who died at the age
of 34 on 14 January 1900. They both were
buried at the
John is shown as living in Newald,
On 21 August 1909, John’s
mother Ernestine Zahn passed away at the age of 87 in
John's son Louis married Leola Monroe in the
“stone house” in Antigo,
Many years later John was reunited with his
three children that had been sent out for adoption: Louis, Ida (
Ploeger), and Marie (Mucha). His son Louis
was credited with finding his two sisters. Klemp descendents
claim that sometime prior to 1913, Louis walked 70 miles
from Antigo to
On 6 April 1917,
the United States declared war on Germany due to the sinking of unarmed
American ships including the Lusitania and the possibility of the
enlisting of Mexico and Japan into the Central Powers (Germany,
Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria) that was outlined in a telegram sent
from the German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman.
John Klemp must have felt safe to be living in the
In the early 1920's, John visited with his children while living
at the Old Soldiers Home in
John Klemp Gravesite