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1932 Stories

A PIONEER OF DISTRICT 286
By Charles Schmitz, Dist. 286

My paternal great-grandfather, whose name was John Huelzer, was born in an obscure town of Germany on May 27, 1827, of poor parents.

As all German boys are taught a trade, my great-grandfather was taught to carve wood, which later played an important part in paying for his livelihood.

He was married to Cecelia Foxtarris, a young girl of seventeen. After being married they heard of the land we call America. They heard it described as "the land of opportunities." They boarded a large sailboat bound for America. It was in the spring of 1851, and the weather was usually calm, and after a delightful voyage of six weeks they caught sight of the forms of buildings on Staten Island.

They landed in New York, which was the largest city they had ever seen. Here they first learned of the dispute over slavery and formed an opinion immediately.

They started West with a train of people bound for Illinois. They stopped in Chicago and settled. He worked in factories, and in his spare time he invented the first practical merry-go-round. He carved the horses out of wood by hand and made the whole thing mostly of wood.

He was never satisfied, so he packed up his few belongings and moved on the construction train of the Rock Island railroad, which was then being built between Chicago and Peru, a promising young city on the banks of the Illinois river. He got a job in a planing mill where he worked for nineteen years. He secured his pay in gold. Of this gold he saved a large amount. He traded this for greenbacks, receiving two dollars and eighty cents in greenbacks for every gold dollar. By this deal he made a small fortune, because paper money immediately began to rise in value.

With this he was able to buy an eighty acre farm, about five miles northeast of Mendota, in section fourteen. Mendota was then a small prosperous city, with two good railroads.

As there were no buildings on this farm, he and his family of seven were forced to live in a schoolhouse which he moved from the land across the road, owned by Mr. Meath. The land was mostly swampy, so he and his sons set about to drain a slough. He began by digging a small ditch. The neighbors, Mr. Mclntyre, Mr. Meath and Mr. McGinnis, made similar ditches in their places. This ditch washed out its banks until it is now a large creek and is known as the Little Vermilion.

This slough land is very fertile and this farm raised the best of crops.

Before this slough was drained, my great-grandfather erected another merry-go-round and placed this on the ice. This provided winter sport for all of the neighboring children.

After living for several years in a schoolhouse he decided it was too small for a family of seven and immediately made plans for the buiding of a larger and more satisfactory dwelling place. He erected in 1877 a modern nine-room house, which is still standing. He carved the window and door sills by hand and sandpapered all of the woodwork.

After living in this house a short time he decided to retire. He bought a house in Mendota, where he died November 10, 1912, and was interred in the Catholic cemetery north of Mendota.

Shortly after coming here from Peru, Helena, his daughter, was married to William Schmitz, who was my paternal grandfather. He was from Peru, where he had met his wife.

He bought this farm of my great-grandfather and lived there until 1909, when he retired and my parents then moved on the place and lived there until my father's death in 1927. My mother and her three children lived there until March, 1932, when she moved to another farm.

This house is full of pleasant memories and you may be sure it was with many heart aches and backward looks that we left this house, but it was necessary because of the death of my grandmother, Helena Schmitz, who owned the place, and the heirs wanted their money.

This story was supplied by Charles Huelzer, of Centralia, Missouri.

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