The History of the Kerler House

The Kerlers - Emigration and Settlement

Johannes "John" Kerler was born August 11, 1800, in Memmingen, Bavaria. He lost both parents at a young age and was raised by his step-parents. John came from generations of wealth and was well-educated. As a young man, he took over ownership of an inn and brewery, and later worked as a forester.

In 1821, John married Veronica Herman. To John and Veronica were born four children: John, Jr. (1823), Edward (1827), Veronica (1828), and Louis (1830). John's wife Veronica died 1837. Since she was instrumental in the running of the business, running it alone was out of the question for John, and he felt obligated to sell it for the sake of their children. Shortly after, John married Veronica's sister, Regina Sturm, whose husband had died four years earlier. [An interesting fact to note is that intermarriage – marriage among step relations – was a way of keeping wealth within the family, and it was practiced by the Kerlers down through the generations. There is nothing inappropriate with intermarriage since step siblings are not related by blood, but it can make a family tree look less like a tree and more like an electrical circuit diagram.] Regina brought two step children into the family: John Sturm (1824-1843), and Regina Sturm (1828). John and Regina had a child of their own, Herman (1839). John's second wife, Regina, died in 1848.

Also in 1848, tension and violence were mounting in the wake of the German revolutions of 1848-49. Life in Bavaria was not safe. John dispatched his eldest son, John, Jr., to the United States to survey land on which to settle. While John, Jr. was surveying land in the United States, John, Sr. was liquidating his assets in Bavaria and preparing for a new life in a new country. John, Jr. first went to Michigan, then came to Wisconsin and found Milwaukee to be an ideal place on which to settle. He reported this information back to his father.

In 1849, John, Sr. and the rest of the family – Edward, Veronica, Louis, Regina, and Herman – left their homeland for the United States. They took a steam ship to New York where they picked up a hired hand, Elias Kusher. From New York, they traveled to Buffalo and across the Great Lakes to Milwaukee. In Milwaukee, they rented a room while John, Sr. and John, Jr. made excursions out to various farms, looking for property to purchase. They found the kind of land they were looking for in the Town of Greenfield. John Sr. purchased 200 acres. The property was bordered by the then-existing Beloit Road to the north and Cold Spring Road to the south, and what is now Highway 100 to the west and the I-894 bypass to the east.

The first thing the Kerlers did was expand an existing log house on the north end of property to fit the large family. Then they got to work erecting buildings. By the end of the year, the Kerlers had built a stall for two horses, a 50' x 30' barn with a stall underneath large enough to hold 22 head of cattle, and a 22' x 23' two-story house. The family moved into the new house in 1850.

John Kerler's first house, built in 1849. Neither the fate of the house nor its location on the farm property are clearly documented, however, deductive reasoning suggests this house was the one purchased by Regina Kerler and Henry Frank when they were married in 1853. That would put the approximate location of the house near what is now 104th & Plainfield. The photo is from the book "Pionierjahre der Deutsch-Amerikanischen Familien Frank-Kerler in Wisconsin und Michigan" published in 1911 by Dr. Louis Frederick Frank.

John, Jr., now 26-years-old, went back to Michigan to work in the tanning trade. John, Jr. and John, Sr. had a falling-out which led to a hostile relationship between the two. John, Jr. eventually left for the western frontier, working odd jobs and remaining estranged from his father for the rest of his life. He died in Montana in 1885 at the age of 62.

Herman was about ten years old when he emigrated with his family. After four years of schooling, instead of staying to work on the family farm, Herman chose to lead a merchant's life. He started working in his brother-in-law's dry-goods store in Milwaukee, then moved to New York several years later to land a successful career. He retired in 1894. After ten years of traveling, Herman died in Los Angeles in 1904.

Sons Louis and Edward stayed to clear the land and work on the farm, which became quite popular. In an 1850 letter to his cousin in Bavaria, John Kerler remarked that his farm had become a somewhat famous and that he and his family were held in high esteem. His farm had so many visitors (up fifteen neighbors on Sundays) that it was becoming a burden to entertain them all.

Shortly after settling, John Kerler recalled a form a "street justice" that took place in the City of Milwaukee. A man was said to have caused the death of his wife by leaving her alone and helpless as she was about to deliver a baby. Since there was no witness to the allegation, the man was freed. A relative of the deceased showed up at the accused man's house with a mob. They tarred and feathered him, tied him to a fence rail, and paraded him around the city. Before letting him go, they dunked him in the water.

The family worked the bottom 160 acres and John rented out the top forty. In 1851, John, gave 42 acres each to Louis and Edward. Edward married Mathilda Kuener and built a new house, which was approximately located at what is now 3977 S. 104th Street.

Edwards Kerler's house, built in 1851. The photo is from the book "Pionierjahre der Deutsch-Amerikanischen Familien Frank-Kerler in Wisconsin und Michigan" published in 1911 by Dr. Louis Frederick Frank.

"There is also no lack of taverns here in the country. I have three in my neighborhood, in front, to the back, and at the side..."
- John Kerler, 1850

In 1852, Veronica Kerler married August Frank, a businessman, and left the farm to live in Milwaukee.

In 1853, Regina Kerler married Henry Frank, August's brother. Henry, Regina, and Louis bought the southern and eastern 74 acres of their father John's farm. Shortly after a lease agreement with a tenant farmer from a nearby property fell through, John, Sr. turned over the top forty acres to Edward and Louis.

Also in 1853, Louis built his own house, which was located at approximately what is now 4055 S. 103rd Street.

Louis Kerler's first house, built in 1853. Photo supplied by Frank Baldwin.

John, now living with Regina and Henry, often found himself in the middle of their newlywed quarrels. Sometimes he would leave for the night and find a place to stay in town, but found the best solution to be moving out. Having doled out the last of his farm property, John set aside a two-acre plot of land for himself on which he built a new house in 1854.

John Kerler's second house, built in 1854. It's approximate location is believed to be in what is now the backyard of 4000 S. 104th Street. The fate of the house is not documented. The photo is from the book "Pionierjahre der Deutsch-Amerikanischen Familien Frank-Kerler in Wisconsin und Michigan" published in 1911 by Dr. Louis Frederick Frank.

A sketched plat of the 1854 Kerler Farm. Within five years of buying all this property, John Kerler gave and sold it all away to his sons and son-in-law, and kept for himself just a two-acre plot. The plat is from the book "Pionierjahre der Deutsch-Amerikanischen Familien Frank-Kerler in Wisconsin und Michigan" published in 1911 by Dr. Louis Frederick Frank.

The Kerler/Frank farms in 1854, superimposed over a present day street map of Greenfield. By cross-referencing the original land plats with aerial photos, satellite images, historical data, photos, and eyewitness accounts, this map was made to be as accurate as possible.

Shortly thereafter, August Frank bought John's two acre property so that his wife, Veronica, could spend time away from the city, living on the farm with her father.


© 2016, Tom Brusky