G. Kerndt & Brothers

Moritz Kerndt

One of the most familiar names in Allamakee county is that of Kerndt, honored and respected, as generation has followed generation, to the present day, for what members of the family have done in advancing the interest of the section in various ways. We first present a chronological record of these distinguished pioneers and their descendants, who played so great a part in the history of this county for sixty years and builded a reputation which is more lasting than tomes in stone and marble. Their history reveals an interesting bit of the early life and early settlers in the middle west. It gives a vivid picture of the trials and hardships of the early pioneer and to what tasks and occupations one had to turn in order to gain a living and a foothold in a new country yet unsettled. The story increases the respect one has for the early settlers who developed civilization out of a wilderness and made possible the prosperous conditions the present generation enjoys. Our particular story tells how a family courageously set out from hearth and home in order to find new opportunities and improve them, and furnishes a worthy example of inspiration to the your men of today, being a spring of hope to everyone who labors under difficult conditions and an incitement to again take up the burden of the daily tasks, no matter how discouraging.

The first ancestor to be here recorded is Johann August Kerndt. He was born in 1801, in the province of Silesia, Germany, married in 1822, and of this marriage were born five sons and three daughters. Herman was born in 1823, married in Germany in 1846, his wife passing away in 1901, leaving five children. Herman Kerndt died on his farm in 1911. Gustav, the second in order of birth, was born in 1825. He emigrated to America in 1849 and died on January 5, 1873. He held the office of supervisor for ten years, was elected, in 1865, president of the First National Bank of Lansing and held the office until his death. William Kerndt was born in 1826 and married in Germany in 1852. His wife arrived in Lansing in 1866 with three children. They are two daughters, who are married, and one son, G. W. Kerndt, the present vice president of the State Bank of Lansing. William Kerndt died in 1898 and his wife followed him to the better land in 1905. Moritz Kerndt was born in 1830, married in 1863 Mary Nimsgern, who was born in Alsace-Lorraine, at the time of her birth a province of France but now a part of Germany. They were the parents of eleven children, of whom three died, four sons and four daughters growing to maturity. Moritz Kerndt was a member of the city council of Lansing for eleven years and in 1873 was elected president of the State Bank, holding the office until 1893, when he retired, remaining a director. Of his sons, Charles married, in 1891 Frieda Grulich, of Milwaukee. The oldest daughter of Mr. And Mrs. Moritz Kerndt was married on 1901 to M. F. Healy, of Fort dodge, this state, and second was married in 1895 to H. F. Grau, of Milwaukee. Moritz Kerndt, Jr. Was in 1908 married to Miss Mary Martin, of Oskaloosa, Iowa. The next son of Johann August Kerndt was Julius, born in 1834, who married Margaret (Gretchen) Gruber in 1857. He died in 1871 and his wife in 1872. They had five sons, four of whom, after they had grown to manhood, engaged in business in Kansas, Theodore, the youngest, is at present a partner in the firm of Nielander & Company. Clara Kerndt was born in 1838 and in 1858 married Jacob Haas. She died in 1877, leaving one son and one daughter, the latter marrying Jacob Keffler, both settling in Sturgis, South Dakota. Jacob Haas died in 1882. He was engaged in the brewing business with Julius Kerndt as his partner. The oldest daughter of Johann August Kerndt was married to John Rieth, in Dubuque, in 1855, and the second in 1856 to Eduard Boeckh. Mrs. Rieth died in 1873, leaving six children, and Mrs. Koekh in 1910, leaving the same number of descendants. Eduard Boeckh died in 1910. Mr. Rieth and Mr. Boeckh were partners in the foundry business and both built a large brick factory in 1868 in Lansing, Iowa.

Jacob Haas, engaged in the brewing business, removed to the “old building” in 1869 and subsequently erected a large new brick brewery building at a cost of fourteen thousand dollars, the whole cost of the plant, including malt house, ice house, power house, underground vaults and residence, being about forty thousand dollars. In 1886, when prohibition law was enforced, the brewery was closed and it stood idle until 1903, when the whole property was sold for one thousand dollars, so that his two children received but one thousand dollars from the father’s estate-an example of how a law generally beneficial worked a great hardship upon one who legitimately followed an honest calling.

In 1820, when nineteen years of age the father, Johann August Kerndt, inherited a small tannery in Germany which he operated for a few years, at the end of which time he branched out into contracting and building. This venture, however, by a peculiar accident, proved most lamentable for the family. A small village in the fatherland, including church and schoolhouse, had burned to the ground when he made a contract to rebuild, and all went well until the work was nearly finished, when, on a dark night, coming home on horseback, his pony stumbled and he fell. They brought him to his home and for five days he lay unconscious, passing away without recognizing a member of the family after the accident happened. As the work was then not finished and had to be completed by others, his death also resulted in the loss of his fortune to the family, it taking seven years for two guardians, who were appointed, to settle the estate, and after the intricate law problems were worked out there was left not much beside the little tannery which was given him by hid father. Johann August Kerndt was a broad-minded man, a man far above ordinary intelligence in his time and a man with a wonderful memory-not one who had gained his knowledge in books but a man of the world who had learned in the university of life and was gifted with mother wit and natural abilities. To gain a living for the large family the mother carried on the tannery in order to educated her children, who attended school to the age of fourteen, when they were turned out to make their way in the world. Herman embarked in the same business as his father-that of building. Gustav apprenticed himself to learn the grocery business and had to stay for six years under contract. William learned the tanner’s trade and so did Moritz. Julius, who had an advantage in regard to educational opportunities, became an architect. The two oldest daughters also had to work out in order to be self-supporting and contribute to the family exchequer.

In 1849, when twenty-four years of age, Gustav Kerndt decided to emigrate to America to test out the stories which he had heard of the advantageous conditions prevailing in this country and to gain, if such were within the reach of possibility, a position of substance. He had not enough money to engage in business in the fatherland and saw no road ahead of him which would lead to independence. Therefore taking a step in an unknown and uncertain future, he came to Schenectady, New York, where he soon found work in a broom factory, being so engaged for tow years. He then learned to make cigars and afterward kept a little cigar stand. Industriously applying himself to the task in hand and thriftily laying dollar upon dollar, he became encouraged with the outlook and in 1852 wrote to the family in Germany that it would be well for them to emigrate. In the spring of 1853 he became more insistent and advised them to sell out as quickly as possible and that Moritz should come at once to find a place where the family could settle. Encouraged by these reports, Moritz started out immediately and landed in New York in October, 1853, staying there until early in spring, when he left for the west, going by railroad to Cincinnati and thence by the steamer Franklin on the Ohio river to Cairo and St. Louis, where he made a sojourn of a couple of days. He then went to Fort Madison and, in order to become acquainted with land conditions, there hired out to an American farmer for six dollars a month or about twenty cents a day, this munificent remuneration giving an idea how hard it was in those times to lay a foundation for independence. The farmers at that early time could really afford to pay no more for help, as eggs in those days were sold at the rate of three cents a dozen and dressed pork at the price of one and one-half cents a pound. For two and a half months he so worked, benefiting by learning the English language, which he was forced to speak, as there was no one near him who could speak his mother tongue. This experience he always considered one of the best parts of his American education, as it helped him not only to learn the native tongue but also to become acquainted with American methods of agriculture. While near Fort Madison he heard of Dubuque and that railroad construction was going on there, a road being build from Chicago. When he camped there the railroad had been built about twenty-five miles east of the river and Dubuque was but a small place. The outlook seemed discouraging, as work was not easily to be had and money was scarce even for those days. Moritz Kerndt, however, made up his mind to succeed at whatever cost and after a week of assiduous hunting for work he found a place of employment at Harmony Hall, the remuneration being thirteen dollars per month. He then wrote to Gustav, who was still in New York, that they all should come from Germany. They had sold out their little interest in the meantime and in July, 1854, the family arrived by sailing vessel, after a long, tedious, even perilous journey of six weeks, in New York. Gustav had also sold out his cigar stand and the family arrived in Dubuque in August by the old Walker stage coaches, the emigrant company consisting of about thirty people. The family included the mother, Herman with his father and mother-in-law and five children, Gustav, William, Julius and the three daughters. The party also included the Ruprecht family and the Ritter family. Herman Kerndt and Mr. Ruprecht began at once to look for a suitable farm property on which to settle and in search of the new home they came to Allamakee county, where Herman bought land at Lycurgus. Mr. Ruprecht also stayed at a farm near there but subsequently moved to Lansing, where he entered in the hotel business. Herman came to Dubuque after his family had settled there in September, 1854, and Gustav then rented a store building, where he and his brother William made cigars. Moritz stayed on his place until 1856, and Julius, in the spring of that year, also went to Lansing to build a store and broom shop. This was finished by October and the whole family then settled in Lansing in 1856, Messrs. Rieth and Boeckh, and two sons-in-law, coming from Dubuque in 1857. Gustav and William manufactured cigars and made brooms the material for which came from Herman’s farm, and Moritz attended to the selling end of the business by conducting the store. To begin with Moritz had a very small stock which some friends in Dubuque had let him have and though all worked hard, the returns were small. The winter from 1856 to 1857 was severe in the extreme, with much snow, many deer being destroyed by the extreme, with much snow, many deer being destroyed by the extreme weather and many starving to death. In 1857 the farmers, on account of the severe weather, had little to sell and even for what there was no price could be obtained, oats and corn selling for ten and twelve cents a bushel and wheat at the price of thirty-five cents. In 1858 the neighborhood became settled more quickly and there was plenty of grain, prices rose and the goods in the store could be moved. However, the broom business was not a financial success and money was yet scarce, so that often the Kerntz turned back in thought to their little comfortable home in the fatherland and discouragement well nigh overtook them. Another incident which added to the sorrows of the family was the death of the beloved mother, who died in November, 1856, when they came to Lansing. In the fall of 1858 a gentleman from Galena, William Ryan, came into the store and inquired after business conditions. Moritz told him that goods could be sold then if he had them, but that they as yet had not the means to acquire a large stock. Mr. Ryan, being convinced of the honesty of purpose of these sturdy sons from the German soil, said; “ I will give you the goods,” and sold a big bill various merchandise on long credit. This was the beginning of the firm of G. Kerndt and Brothers, the personnel of the concern consisting of Gustav, William and Moritz. In 1859 they bought a lot on the levee and built a warehouse, branching out into the grain business, and in 1861 they built a substantial brick store, twenty-five by eighty, three stories in height, quite an improvement over the little broom stand where Moritz had at first attended to an occasional customer. In 1866 an addition was build covering the same amount of space as the original store and making in all a building fifty by eighty feet. In 1868 they removed the frame warehouse where grain was stored and constructed a brick elevator. Already in 1862 they had added to their line of groceries dry goods and crockery, and after 1865 the Kerndt brothers conducted a regular department store, as good as could be found in the county. During war times business was good and farmers came to Lansing with twenty or even thirty miles away. Although there were fourteen warehouses, farmers had often to wait in line to unload. As the years went by the business grew in volume, in financial stability and in the variety of goods carried, having become one of the foremost enterprises of its kind in this part of the county. In 1885 William Kerndt was enabled to retire from the firm and gave his interest to his son, G. W. The firm was incorporated with a capital stock of twenty-five thousand dollars, the stock being divided between Moritz, his sons and F. W. In 1900 G. W. Kerndt sold out and the business was then carried on under the name of G. Kerndt & Brothers by Gustav, William and Moritz, Jr., sons of Moritz, the same names under which it was started in 1856. In 1908 the Kerndt Brothers Savings Bank was founded by M. Kerndt and his four sons with a capital of thirty thousand dollars, its officers being: Gustav Kerndt, president; Charles Kerndt, cashier; Moritz, Jr. Vice president; and Moritz Kerndt, Sr., and William M. Kerndt, directors. The bank has wonderfully prospered ever since its foundation and as the name of Kerndt has had for sixty years the highest reputation in the county, is well entitled to the confidence it s given by its patrons. All members of the family connected with the bank are capable, Ernst and conscientious, ever observant of the smallest detail that might contribute to the prestige of the institution, careful in the investments of the resources of the bank and ever ready to extend credit to a worthy applicant.

As indicated in the first part of this sketch, many members of the Kerndt family have taken active part in the public life of the county and this section and have ever been conspicuous for their public spirit and their liberality in contributing to a public cause. That tenacious, fighting spirit peculiar to the German race has stood them in good stead and brought them to the fore among the most influential citizens of the county. What they have achieved personally is worthy of the highest commendation and worthy of their efforts, yet their real importance lies in the pioneer work they have done and the role they have played in advancing the interest of allamakee county, having been not only witnesses of the wonderful transformation that has occurred here but helpful and cooperant factors in the general advancement along material, moral and intellectual line.

-source: Past & Present of Allamakee County; by Ellery M. Hancock; S. J. Clarke Pub. Co.; 1913
-transcribed by Diana Diedrich

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