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John G. Pfaffenberger

John G. Pfaffenberger, was one of the most successful German immigrants to settle in Seymour, Indiana. John is the only Pfaffenberger whose name is remembered in modern historical accounts of early Seymour.27, 28His career included farmer, miller, merchant and real estate developer. He was a bigger than life character who was willing to take risks to further his career. One rumor reported in the Jackson County Banner was that John had purchased an elephant from John Robinson's Circus and Menagerie. However, John corrected the record. "..he really did offer John Robinson $10,000 for his elephant, but his offer was declined by the venerable showman. He says he wanted the elephant for the delivery of goods through the city of Seymour."170

John Pfaffenberger, was born in Kulmbach, Bavaria on November 4, 1821.3, 29 John, the oldest child of Andrew and Catharine, was raised in Bavaria for his first 15 years. While it is unclear whether he received any formal education during his early years, his ability to conduct business and work within the legal system of his day would indicate he was an educated man.

The principal motivation for migrating from Europe to the U.S. in the early 1800's was economic betterment. Therefore, John very likely had first-hand knowledge of poverty and privation during his early years.

John migrated to the U.S. with his parents and four younger brothers during the late summer and fall of 1837. He turned 16 in the State of Pennsylvania and remained there through his 18th year. He may have traveled with his father during this time looking for a new land to settle. He arrived with his family in Jackson County, Indiana in 1842.3

On March 3, 1844, John married Margaret Arthur.30 It is unclear what he did as an occupation, during this time. On May 24, 1845, John purchased his first property, lot 19 in the town of Rockford, Indiana from Berry and Eliza Crisman for $200. This is very likely the location where John and Margaret first set up housekeeping.

In 1846, William H. Pfaffenberger was born to Margaret and John.31 Margaret may have died in childbirth or shortly thereafter.

In the March 1846 term of the Jackson County Circuit Court, John took the oath of U.S. citizenship with his father Andrew and numerous other immigrant pioneers of Jackson County.4 Two years later, April 16, 1848, John married Mary M. Secres, a 22 year old Swiss immigrant.32

John and Mary probably spent their first two years of marriage farming on rented property in Hamilton Township of Jackson County.31 On April 7, 1850, John and Mary purchased 98.1 acres in the Peter's Switch area from Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Musinger for $400 (No. 1 on map below).33 Even though this farm is in Redding Township, on August 15th the 1850 U.S. Census found John, Mary and William still living in Hamilton Township of Jackson County.31 On November 7 of that year John and Mary bought 32.7 acres immediately adjacent to their new farm from John D. Shayer for $175 (No. 2 on map below).34

As John was assembling the property for his new farm, Mary was preparing to give birth to their firstborn. Wilbur Fiske Pfaffenberger was born to the couple on February 16, 1851.35 On April 24, 1851, John and Mary sold lot 19,Rockford, to Andrew and Catharine Pfaffenberger for $200.11 The fact that Andrew never resided on this property, would indicate that he may have purchased this property to help John finance the next crop and develop his property.

The year 1852 marked the completion of the Jeffersonville and Indianapolis Railroad. John obviously recognized the economic impact that a railroad between two commercial centers would have on a developing community. Rockford was a community of 800-900 and appeared destined to be the center of population of the area.19 In that year John purchased two parcels in the Rockford area. He acquired the first, a 20 acre strip along what is now S.R. 11 between Redding and Enis Roads from Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Smith for $600.36 The second, lot 10 in the Rockford R Addition, was acquired from Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Kasting for $50.37 The fact that John was willing to pay $600 for a 20 acre strip, when he had only recently paid $675 for an entire quarter section, indicates that this purchase was a move into land speculation. This is also the first indication that agriculture was not in John's career objectives.

The events of the year 1854, would influence John the rest of his life. On April 6, John's second wife, Mary, died leaving him with two young boys to raise.38 Records suggest that Andrew and Catharine assisted with or assumed this responsibility after Mary's death.18 A second railroad, the Ohio and Mississippi (O&M) was completed on June 6.27 Important as the second railroad was, its major significance to John was that it intersected the J&I in the newly platted town of Seymour. John ended this eventful year by selling his farm to Samuel Able for $1,575 on December 13.39

It appears that during John's and Mary's short marriage, Mary and Wilbur had inherited some farm ground from Matthew Fryhoeffer (Fraeyhafer). This property is located between CR 525 N on the south, S.R. 258 on the north, Vehslage Road on the east and White River on the West. After Mary's death, John had control of Mary's 40 acres, however, he had to petition the circuit court to be declared Wilbur's guardian so that he could deal with the property. On July 23, 1856, the court appointed appraisers Andrew J. Pfaffenberger and John M. Lewis (I) determined that the value of Wilbur's share of the property was $269.20.40 The following March 27th, John sold both shares of this property to Wilkinson Reno, father of the to be infamous Reno Brothers, for $500.41 (see map below)

John continued purchasing property in the Rockford area. On January 30, 1858, he purchased a long narrow 40 acre strip of land from George and Fredricka Woodburn for $700.42 This parcel, located immediately south and east ofthe 20 acre strip acquired in 1852, lies one quarter mile east of the present S.R. 11 and runs between Enis Road and 16th Street. A year later on April 30, 1859, he purchased 17 acres on Redding Road, lying between the J&I Railroad and the White River for $3,500.43 This property, purchased from E. W. and Elizabeth Blish, had an active flour and corn meal mill on it. (see area highlighted in pink in the map above.)

The 1860 U.S. Census reached John's residence on June 8. John listed "miller" as his occupation. Living with John were 24 year old Samuel B. Hardin, a mill sawyer, and his 18 year old wife Christena. John's sons William and Wilbur were listed as residents with their grandparents Andrew and Catharine Pfaffenberger.18, 44

On July 2, 1860, John sold the strips of land that he had acquired in 1852 and 1858 (60 Acre total) to Catharine Tribselbauh for $2,000.45 His purpose for selling these properties was very likely to raise the capital to upgrade the milling equipment. An advertisement appearing the first time in the March 6, 1862, issue of the Seymour Times Weekly announces the mill is back in business (see reproduction of ad).

Records on John's activities during the Civil War period, April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865, are sparse. This does not mean his life was uneventful during the War. First, his youngest brother Joseph died in Indianapolis in 1862, only a few months after enlisting in the Union Army. His sister Margaret was married in the fall of 1863 and his mother died three months later. There is a strong possibility that John's oldest son William may have died during this period since he seems to have disappeared from the Census between 1860 and 1870.

If Andrew and Catharine had been caring for one or both of John's sons, Catharine's declining health and subsequent death may have prompted John to begin looking for a new wife. On May 25, 1865, John married Sarah E. Coons of Franklin County, Indiana.46, 47, 48, 171

With the War over and life with a new wife ahead, John again began to shift his business focus. On September 1, 1866, John purchased lots 1,2,3 and 7 in Block L in the City of Seymour for $3,500 from John W. and Ann E. Hollingsworth.49 This property is better described as the east side of Chestnut Street between Second and Third Streets. The first two buildings on the northeast corner of 2nd and Chestnut and the current City Hall building are on these lots. The precise time of construction of the old Bee Hive and Shoe Store buildings has not been established, however, John's first advertisement as a grocer appeared in the Seymour Times on February 1, 1872.

While it appears John had determined that future business opportunities were going to be better in Seymour, he continued to purchase property in Rockford. On November 7, 1867, he purchased lots 7 and 8 in the Wilson Addition from John W. Schmitt for $550.

Not only was John's business focus changing, so was his family status. On January 16, 1867, he and Sarah had their first child, a boy named Frankie. Later that year, John's interest in family affairs was affirmed. On May 14, his brother John Andrew, Brownstown, died leaving a widow and five minor children.By May 25, with the consent of his brother's widow Phoebe, the court had appointed John administrator of John Andrew's estate.50

John and Sarah lost Frankie the next year (1868) on March 1. Although no dates were established, it appears that they lost an infant son, Johnnie, the same year.29 In June, John's father, Andrew, remarried. Since the 1870 Census found Andrew in Rockford near John's residence, John likely provided the place for Andrew and his new wife, Elizabeth, to live.

On June 13, 1869, a daughter, Jennie B., was born.46, 51 (On her marriage license in 1919, Jennie reported her birth date as June 13, 1871, however, she was counted in the 1870 Census and listed as one year old. A month after Jennie was born, on July 20, John purchased lot 8 in Block L, Seymour business district, from Hannah Marbury for $450.52

The liquidation of John Andrew's property occupied quite a bit of John's time in March of 1870. Court appointed appraisers Lewis A. Schneck and George A. Robertson filed their appraisement with Jackson Circuit Court and John was ordered to sell the four parcels.53

On August 8, John purchased two more lots in the Rockford area (lots 9 and 10 New Rockford) from Henry, Jacob and Summerville Peters for $800.54 Jacob Peters was a dry-goods merchant and this may have been his commercial property. This was the last property that he purchased in the Rockford area.

While there are no records to substantiate it, John likely began to focus his business interest on Seymour at this time. The year 1871 probably saw the construction of the "Pfaffenberger Building" and "Pfaffenberger Dry Goods and Shoe Store". A drawing on the top half of page 66 in Elizabeth Rebber's Seymour: A Pictorial History shows how these two buildings looked in 1878.27 The buildings on the northeast corner of Second and Chestnut Streets are still standing in 2019 and look nearly the same as in the drawing.

As he moved from the milling business to the grocery and dry goods business, he entered into partnership with John C. Groub. On February 1, 1872, John and John C. Groub mutually dissolved their partnership. A notice that appeared in the Seymour Times on that date read: "Notice is hereby given that the partnership existing between myself and John C. Groub in the Family Grocery and Produce Business, is this day dissolved by mutual consent. Mr. Groub is retiring from the firm. All persons knowing themselves indebted to the late firm will please come forward and settle with me and me only. The business will hereafter be conducted by myself, and I solicit a continuance of the liberal patronage heretofore extended to the house. John Pfaffenberger, Feb 1 '72-3T"

In the years 1871 through 1875 John acquired a large number of Seymour residential and commercial properties. In 1872 and 1873, he acquired lot 391 in Block W from John D. and Caroline Sanders for $800 and lot 150 from Harriet Holmes for $31 on a tax sale.55,56 In 1874, he acquired lots 15 and 16 in Block T and lots 17 and 18 in Block O from Hannahet, Amelia and M. M. White for $389 and Block 27 from the Butler Murphey Trustees for $1,027.50 (This property was located south and west of the intersection of Brown and Walnut Streets).57

During this same period of time, John also tended to family matters. On October 18, 1871, John sold the four parcels that the court had ordered sold for the heirs of John Andrew Pfaffenberger. Upon completion of this transaction he was dismissed as administrator of this estate (January 1872).53 On March 1, 1873 his second daughter, Margaret Josephine (Josie) was born.58, 59

Again, he was asked to serve in the capacity of administrator of a brother's estate. In February, 1875, the court appointed him administrator of his brother, John Conrad's estate.60

Two mysteries involving John remain puzzling. The first is that during this period of time, John was arrested in Cincinnati for trying to liquidate a bond that had been taken in a train robbery by the Reno brothers. Although, he was never convicted of any misdeeds in the matter, how he acquired the bond may never be known.28 The second mystery occured in May 1875. Acting on an affidavit filed by John, a Jury consisting of Fredrick Stuckwish, John P. Bergen, Joseph C. Bowen, Richmond M. Cross, Milburn Nelson, Patrick Collier, James W. Allen, Ephram S. Malluond (sp), George Stilwell, Harvey Burk, Beverly Richardson and John H. McMahon heard evidence to determine Wilbur's soundness of mind. After hearing the evidence the jury foreman, Harvey Burk read, "We the jury find that said Wilbur Pfaffenberger is an inhabitant of Jackson County Indiana and that he is a person of unsound mind and incapable of managing his estate." The court then appointed John as Wilbur's guardian and placed him in control of Wilbur's estate appraised at $2,500.60

We may never learn John's motivation for initiating this action, however, the clerk of the court had to have the Marion County, Indiana Sheriff serve Wilbur the summons to appear. One can only speculate! It is well to note that Wilbur became wealthy in his own right and left a sizeable portion of his estate for the betterment of Seymour youth.

In 1877 and 1878, John began to liquidate his Rockford properties and make other property investments. On September 3, 1877, he sold lot 10 at New Rockford to John Sausterer for $500. The following March he sold 1/2 of lot 12 in Kisters Addition of New Rockford to John H. Peter for $75. The next month he purchased 160 acres in Hamilton Township, 1/2 mile south of Surprise for $1,347 from Mr. and Mrs. John Gorbett.61 This property lies in the next section south of the property that he sold for John Andrew's estate. Perhaps he had wanted this land for several years.

In addition to handling his own property transactions, John was again ordered by the court to sell property for one of his deceased brothers. On September 26, 1877, the circuit court ordered John to sell two 40 acre parcels in the Muscatatuck River bottoms. The Vernon Township parcels were located just east of the river on either side of what is now S.R. 250. He filed his required bond of $2,000 with Albert N. Meyer and Louis Schneck.63

The next year his sister Margaret lost her husband Fredrick Bush. On May 10, 1878, John applied for the guardianship responsibility for the five minor children of Fred and Margaret. John filed his required $4,000 bond with his brother George and George's oldest son Edward.64

His action in late 1879 may have been a clue to John's failing health. On December 16, John sold the Hamilton Township property he had acquired 19 months earlier for $1,200 to John Oathoudt.62 Although the whole story may never be known, taking a loss on a piece of property was uncharacteristic of John.

In the late 1870's John had moved his wife, daughters and sister-in-law to a temporary residence in the Dearborn County community of Moores Hill. His stated purpose in doing so was for the improvement of Sarah's health. (Higher altitude was thought to have been a better environment for respiratory ailments.) Since Moores Hill and Seymour were both located on the O&M Railroad, John was able to continue to conduct business in Seymour. He very likely continued to have living accommodations in the Pfaffenberger building for the times when the commute was not convenient or possible.3, 27

On May 27, 1880, John died of jaundice at his Moores Hill residence. A "largely attended" funeral was conducted in Seymour on May 29, and he was buried in Riverview Cemetery.3

Because of his large property holdings, business interests, and the fact he did not have a will, administering his estate was a complicated matter. However, his brother, George, was appointed administrator and proved to be up to the task.65 On September 16, 1881, George filed his report on the worth of the estate with the court. The report found the net worth of the estate (most likely exclusive of real estate) at $5,667.27.66

On Wednesday morning, May 3, 1882, John's heirs, their attorneys, and George entered the court to publish the final settlement. Wilbur filed an objection to the proposed settlement and the court sustained it.66 The court then appointed three commissioners to partition John's property. The three were John C. Groub, Columbus C. Isaacs and John B. Newsom, all local businessmen. The three commissioners filed their final report with the court on August 26, 1884. They based their property partition on a system of ninths. Sarah was to receive three ninths and the three surviving children, Wilbur, Jennie and Josie were to receive two ninths each. This resulted in Wilbur being awarded lot 2 in Block L (shoe store) and lot 3 in the same block. The commissioners determined that the value of Wilbur's award exceeded his two ninths share by $561.12, which he paid to the estate. Sarah and the two girls were then awarded the following on a system of sevenths. Sarah's share was three sevenths and Jennie and Josie were granted two sevenths each of the following properties and assets: 67

  • Lot 1, Block L (Pfaffenberger Building)
  • Lots 7 and 8 , Block L
  • Lot 391, Block W
  • Block 27, 6.85 acres, Butler Addition
  • Lots 17 and 18, Block Q, Butler Addition
  • Lots 3, 4 and 5, Block S, Butler Addition
  • Lots 15 and 16, Block T, Butler Addition
  • Lot 11, Block 53, City of Jeffersonville, IN
  • $561.12 paid to the estate by Wilbur
  • This final distribution of John's property left a number of properties unaccounted for. Further research would probably find that such properties were sold to finance the development of the commercial property in Seymour as well as other acquisitions of the 1870's. On the same date that the commissioners filed their partition of John's property, George filed the final distribution of cash from the estate with the court and was discharged as administrator.67

    John apparently was renting the Moores Hill property. However, on May 6, 1882, Sarah purchased the property from Orra P. John for $1,215. The property was better described as lot 1, J. C. & L. S. M. Addition.68

    All that is known about Sarah, prior to marrying John at age 28, is that she was born in the state of New York and relocated to Franklin County, Indiana with her mother and a sister. It appears that she was an educated woman, something unusual for that time period. Equally unique, she was appointed guardian of her daughters on February 2, 1884.67 During the time of her guardianship she submitted regular reports to the court. In 1888, the court to granted her permission to invest up to $600 of her daughter's inheritance in improvements to a house that they owned. Five months later (1/21/1889) she reported that the house was moved from lot 391 in Block W, improvements made, and she was receiving $10 per month rent.69

    Sarah, her daughters and sister Mary lived in Moores Hill through 1891 or 1892. Between January 26, 189170 and September 9, 189371, Sarah and the family moved to Indianapolis, where they resided at 1530 N. Senate Avenue. Sarah died on April 6, 1901, in Indianapolis and was buried in Riverview Cemetery, with John and their two sons.48

    Wilbur married Edith Myers in Jeffersonville, Indiana on July 27, 1892. After John's death he spent some of his career in operating a shoe store, however, most of his career was spent acquiring, operating and maintaining commercial property in Seymour and Jeffersonville. Wilbur died two days before his eighty eighth birthday on February 14, 1939. Edith passed away on September 22, 1931.35 Both are buried at Walnut Hill Cemetery in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

    Neither of John's daughters married early. Josie was 32 when she married Vernon B. Moore on September 19, 1905, in Indianapolis. (It is interesting to note that she reported her birth year as 1877, which would have made her appear to have been 28.)47 Jennie had passed her fiftieth birthday before she married William L. Hereth on October 11, 1919.72 There is no record of children from Josie and Vernon. Vernon Moore died on October 14, 1908 and Josie died on August 7, 1916. Jennie Died on August 30, 1959 in Indianapolis. Josie, Jennie and Vernon were all buried in Riverview Cemetery in Seymour in the same family plot as John, Sarah, Frankie and Johnny.

    John, Sarah and Wilbur were active in the Methodist Church. The Seymour Times writer of John's death article called him "one of the main pillars of the" At Sarah's death a short service was conducted at her home by four Methodist preachers, Dr. Robert Roberts, D. A. Robertson, Mr. Cooper and George Smith. Her funeral service conducted the next day in Seymour was officiated by Dr. E. H. Wood of Rockport, IN.48

    Although he had no grandchildren to carry on his branch of the family, John's legacy can still be seen in downtown Seymour. His original commercial buildings at the northeast corner of Second and Chestnut Streets are monuments to his memory.

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