Forging Wagons and Molding Iron at 615-617 Elm in the Mid-1800s
Earliest recorded commercial uses of 1739 Elm—then listed as 615-617 Elm before Cincinnati renumbered its streets in the 1890s—included William Rottger’s wagon-making business and August Bode’s blacksmith shop in the 1860s and 1870s. City directories reported William’s operation at 615 Elm—the more southern storefront—and August’s at 617 Elm to the north.
The similar nature in work of these two ventures most likely indicated some symbiotic business relationship as wagon wheels and other parts would have been forged by a blacksmith. These two men leased the buildings from the famed Cincinnati brewer, John Hauck (1829-1896). William Rottger (ca. 1814-1887) was a German immigrant from Prussia. He, his wife Charlotte (1824-1867) and their children both lived and worked at 615 Elm in the 1860s and ‘70s (sadly, Charlotte died young in 1867). The death card of Elizabeth Rottger (1812-1871)—inferred to be William’s sister or some close relative—shows that she also lived with the family. Next door, August Bode (ca. 1840-1886) was from Braunschweig in what is now Germany.
He and his wife Pauline (from Prussia, born in 1851) along with their growing family lived elsewhere in Over-the-Rhine as August ran his blacksmith shop at 617 Elm in the 1870s.
The Fraenzel Furniture Business, 1880s-World War
From the late 1870s until World War I, Frederick Fraenzel (1841-1906) ran his furniture, carpets and appliances shop out of 615 Elm (later renumbered to 1739 Elm).
In the late 1870s, he left to found the business on Elm and Elder Streets. He originally partnered with Charles Messerschmidt and then Ferdinand Bader but within a few years, Frederick was the sole owner of his furniture company.
Involved in many German mutual-aid societies in his time in Over-the-Rhine, he was president of the Schwäbischer Unterstützungs-Verein for eight years and belonged to the Vereinigten Sängern, among other organizational affiliations. He was also married three different times.
First, he wed Theresa (originally Pfaff, then later Schultz) (1845-1917). Together, they had several children, including Annie, Clara, Ida, Ferdinand, Edward and Emil. The eldest three children were born in Baden, Germany like their parents. The couple separated at some point and Frederick married again. That did not stick, though. For his third marriage, he wed a widow, Elizabeth, in 1880.
Frederick and Elizabeth separated in 1905. As the divorce was pending in 1906, Frederick succumbed to pneumonia and was buried at Walnut Hills Cemetery. While Elizabeth expected to claim something from his estate and business, Frederick instead, in his will, bequeathed the family company to his son Ferdinand, including all business accounts. He also left money for his other children and grandchildren, utilizing money from his Germania Life Insurance Company policy.
After his father’s death, Ferdinand tried to sell the business at 1739 Elm. Yet something changed his mind, for Fraenzel Furniture at 1739-43 Elm lasted through World War I.
Next Door at Elm and Elder, Late 1800s-Early 20th Century
In the early 1880s, at 617 Elm—next door to the Fraenzel furniture store—was, briefly, a dry goods store run by Andrew Sauerman and John Theobold. By 1883, advertisements in local papers signaled that Andrew and John’s business had ended there.
Thereafter, next door to the Fraenzel furniture store were various millinery shops. Above this garment work lived various families and boarders. In the mid-to-late 1880s, Louisa Hoefle (1838-1921) ran a hat-making operation at Elm and Elder. Louisa was a German immigrant, born in Baden in 1838.
She wed Jakob Hoefle (1840-1886), a saloon keeper, in 1864 and the following year the couple immigrated to the U.S. In Cincinnati, Louisa had several children, including Charles (1865-1903), Mina (1866-1868), Louisa (1867-1868), Emil (1874-1878), Emil (1879-1880) and Frieda (1884-1884) (she had another four children as well, unlisted here).
As the life spans of these children show, many did not live very long. In fact, by 1900, she had given birth to ten children, five of whom had already died. This kind of infant and child mortality was common for the 19th and early 20th century, as it is estimated that between 15 and 20% of American infants, and upwards of 30% in cities, born in the second half of the 1800s died before they could celebrate their first birthday. Louisa was already a widow when she ran her millinery at 617 Elm; her husband Jakob had died in 1886.
Her work in the garment industry was representative of how huge numbers of immigrants, especially immigrant women, worked as seamstresses, dressmakers, milliners, shirt and collar makers and embroiderers in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Labor in this time was sex-segregated, with men working in “skilled” trades like brewing, butchering and carpentry as well as heavy industry in factories; women found jobs in light industrial labor like garment work and cigar-making as well as “unskilled” work such as domestic service and laundry.
Beginning in the early 19th century, textile mills offered women some of the first paid industrialized labor in the U.S., extending the feminine tradition of home-based cloth manufacturing into the factory, and throughout the century, more and more women worked in all the various stages of mechanized clothing production.
Garment making and silk mills in particular employed more immigrant women than any other entity. As manufacturers usually paid garment workers by the number of items produced, as opposed to a set rate per hour, workers were encouraged to “sweat more,” giving rise to “sweatshop labor.” All of this “sweating” was considered women’s work—except for the coveted position of the tailor. Many immigrant men, especially, worked as tailors, assuming the best position in an industry dominated by women. These trends held true for another milliner at 617 Elm—Mary (Hellmuth) Veser (1856-1922) who had a shop there in the 1890s.
By the turn of the 20th century, Mary Veser left 617 Elm. By then, her family was doing well financially. Her husband owned the building at 910 Findlay from which he ran his tailoring company. Mary and Jacob resided at this address until their deaths in the 1920s.
Thereafter, in the early 1900s, next door to the Fraenzel enterprise was Franz Fehr’s (1851-1902) wine house. Franz, born in 1851 in Baden, immigrated to the U.S. with his wife Rosa (1855-1951) and two children in the summer of 1887 through Le Havre, France (a common emigration point for European immigrants). After traveling across the Atlantic aboard the La Bretagne ship, the family arrived in New York City and promptly made their way to Cincinnati.
Married in 1877, Franz and Rosa were parents to Fred and Lizzie, both born in Baden prior to leaving for America. In Over-the-Rhine, the Fehrs—a Catholic family—lived above their wine store, along with three other German-speaking families—the Zobels, the Hausers and the Klines.
After Frank died in 1902, widowed Rosa continued to run the wine store for a few years, but she soon left Over-the-Rhine, moving to Hyde Park. After the Fehrs’ wine shop left 617 Elm, the Fraenzels combined the storefronts at 615 and 617 Elm for the furniture store. Their business lasted until World War I at which point Ferdinand wished to retire.
Ferdinand successfully sold his business this time. He relocated to Washington D.C. after the war.
Fabian & Albert Haussler Furniture in the 1920s
Following in the footsteps of the Fraenzel furniture store, a new furniture company sat inside 1739-43 Elm by the early 1920s (while tenants continued to live upstairs at 1743 Elm). This business stayed at this location through the years of Prohibition.
A successful upholsterer and later furniture dealer, Fabian Sebastian Haussler (1856-1935), born in Baden, immigrated in 1880. He was married to Agatha (Schertler) (1858-1935) who was also from Baden. The couple had (at least) two daughters, Anna and Rose, and three sons Edward, Albert and Carl. Many members of the family lived on Fairview Avenue while Fabian ran the business.
Fabian had started an upholstering business at 1731 Elm, so his move in the 1920s to 1739 Elm was not far. His son Albert (1885-1972) eventually joined the business.
Crown Furniture, the 1930s-70s
By the start of the Great Depression, yet another furniture business started at 1739 Elm. Run by Sol Levine (1900-2003), Crown Furniture was in 1739-1743 Elm until the 1970s.
Born in 1900 in the Russian Empire, Sol was a Russian-Polish Jewish immigrant who came to the U.S. with his parents Moses and Anna Levine and his older brother Abraham in the early 1900s. The Levines were most likely fleeing pogroms as the turn of the 20th century was a particularly violent, anti-Semitic time for many Jewish families in tsarist Russia.
After arrival in Cincinnati, Anna had several more children, including David, Harry, Sam and Tillie. As a young man, Sol got his start by working as a bookkeeper in his father’s furniture store with his older brother Abraham. Upon arriving in Cincinnati, Moses (ca. 1874-1942) had founded the Levine Furniture Company which influenced all of his sons to join the furniture industry.
By the 1930s, Sol was the proprietor of both the Crown and the Bell Furniture stores (the Bell Furniture Company was located at 1211 Central Avenue). A member of the Uptown Men’s Business Club and active in Findlay Market Association activities, he took the location of his store in stride.
Advertisements that he placed in local papers for his business conveniently noted that the Crown was just “opposite Findlay Market.” As Sol managed the building’s commercial activities, members of the Haefner family owned 1739 Elm until the 1950s.
Henry Haefner (1878-1926) and his wife Kunigunda (Schramm) (1883-1951) were both Bavarian immigrants who came to the U.S. around the turn of the 20th century and married in 1904.
In Cincinnati, they raised their children Norma, Alma and Edward. Henry—who was considered tall in his day at 5’9”—initially worked as a carpenter for a brewery in Cincinnati yet by World War I owned his own saloon. During Prohibition in Over-the-Rhine, he transitioned his bar into a soft drinks venue as did many other saloon keepers to keep businesses afloat.
After his death in 1926, the property at 1739 Elm reverted to Kunigunda; upon her death in 1951, their daughter Norma (1904-1998) received the building which she owned until 1971. (Thereafter, Henry Berg owned it in the early 1970s. 1739 Elm then changed landlords fairly frequently throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s).
In the late 1970s, Crown Furniture closed its doors at 1739 Elm.
The Late 20th Century at Elm & Elder
In the early ‘70s, the storefront space at 1739-1743 Elm transitioned to a retail liquor store—it had the third-largest sales in Ohio in 1976, totaling $2.08 million that year—and, in the early ‘80s the building was an office for the Cincinnati Health Department.
Thereafter, it housed a few stores and mini-marts in the 1990s and early 2000s, including R. B. Record & Variety Shop, Big D’s Supermarket, managed by David and Mustafa Shalash and M & F Market, as well as a Champ’s Gym. Sometime in the late 20th century, the two buildings behind 1739 Elm were demolished (rental ads for them appeared as late as 1988).
Beginning in 2011, Kimberly Starbuck and Kevin Pape renovated the building into an active events space. Utilizing federal and state historic tax credits, they preserved much of its historic integrity—including woodwork, flooring and plaster craftsmanship, among other features—and revived the historic storefront.