Johann Jacob Gegenheimer and Maria DePrez

Story contributed by Fred Gahimer, 11 Oct 2001. Cover Photo: Johann Jacob Gegenheimer log cabin in 2003

Johann Jacob Gegenheimer, son of Johann George Gegenheimer and Margaretha Hartmen, was born on May 23, 1804 in the small village of Freckenfeld, Rhein-Pfalz, Germany. His mother died soon after his birth, and his father died in less than nine years. He attended school until he was fourteen years old, after which he followed the occupations of teaming and farming.

On March 11, 1828 in Kandel, Germany, he was married to Maria Anne DePrez, daughter of Daniel and Maria Bossart DePrez; her birth date being February 27, 1808. Both of Maria DePrez’ parents were of French origin. According to family tradition, the DePrez’s were Huguenots who left France and fled to safety over the border into the Rhein-Phalz where they settled in the village of Billigheim, Germany, and never returned.

Over the next 3 years, three children were born to them: Anna Catherine (born Sep. 15, 1828), Michael (born Nov. 6, 1830), and Eva (born Sep. 10, 1831).

On April 17, 1833, these sturdy pioneers with their three children, Anna Catherine (age 4), Michael (age 2), and Eva (age 1), embarked for America at LeHav’re, a seaport on the English Channel. Turning their backs on the old world, and with hopeful hearts, they faced the long journey that would take them to the new world about which they had heard such good reports from Maria’s sister Eva, and Eva’s husband George Michael Haehl, Jr. George and Eva had come over to America in 1832, the year before, and he and his father had a wagon shop in Cincinnati at the time.

Theirs was a stormy voyage, lasting fifty-nine days. One man on the ship, a tailor named Ferbei’ Fritz, sat on his trunk and sewed. During the stormy weather, the waves tossed the ship and caused the trunk to slide back and forth across the deck, taking the tailor with it.

When a day and a half from land, Eva, the youngest child, died. The mother entreated the captain to allow them to bring the body ashore for burial; to which he agreed if the sharks did not bother the ship too much. They arrived in New Orleans on June 15, 1833, and left little Eva’s body to be buried there.

Leaving New Orleans, they came up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to Cincinnati, Ohio, where they were met by their brother-in-law, George Michael Haehl, Jr., whose wife was the former Eva Maria DePrez, a sister of Maria Gegenheimer. They came overland by wagon to Rush County and settled in Walker Township. They bought eighty acres of land from William and Elizabeth Rader for four hundred dollars on September 8, 1834, and on the next day, they bought forty more acres from the government for $1.25 an acre. Both deeds were signed by Andrew Jackson, the President at the time. They built a small log cabin while they worked to clear the land. At some later time they built a large two-story log house which is still inhabited today (1997) – see the cover photo.

The forest was typically cleared over several years by cutting and burning, filling the air with smoke. The roots and stumps took years to eliminate, and plowing was a hard and frustrating task. The earth was too fertile to plant wheat because it would grow too tall and fall over, losing the grain. Thus, they could plant only corn, and cornbread was their staple for many years, along with wild game.

First they put out one and a half acres of corn, which the squirrels ate. Sometimes the squirrels came in swarms. The settlers killed the squirrels and at first threw them away, not knowing they could be used for food. When they were used for food, usually only the hams and back were eaten. They raised a few hogs on beechnuts and acorns, then fed them corn as soon as they had better luck growing it. They bought a team of horses and a wagon and killed their hogs on the farm and hauled them to Cincinnati. This had to be done in the winter, so the hog carcasses would be preserved by freezing during the trip. It took three days to go and three more to return. Some settlers combined their hog herds and drove their hogs to Cincinnati much like the western cattle drives. Instead of brands, the hogs were identified by ear marks. The trip took two or three weeks, and had to be done in the winter because that is the only time the packers worked. Also, the drives had to be done when the ground was soft, because frozen ground cut the hog’s feet. They sold the hogs for $1.80 a hundred pounds. Mother Gegenheimer would stay home with the children, and the deer and wolves would come around the cabin and nearly frighten them to death.

They became very discouraged, and would have gone back to Germany if they would have had enough money to make the trip. But in time the conditions got better, they got more land cleared, and they bought seed wheat, and sowed it. They used reap hooks to garner it, then on a windy day, would stand on a stump and let the wind blow away the chaff, thus cleaning it fairly good. They worked very hard clearing the land, building log houses, barns, and rail fences, and prospered, and were able to give each of their children a farm, besides the 120 acre farm on which they lived.

The Haehls and Gegenheimers were among the first from the Bavarian district of Europe to come to Rush and Shelby Counties and form a German colony. They spoke only the German language, and by 1836 felt the need for a church, and with other German families formed the congregation called the Evangelical Protestant Zion Church, and erected a 25′ x 35′ log church. The preaching was done in German until 1911 and then changed to English for the benefit of the younger generation.

Six children were born after their arrival in Rush County: Jacob, 1835; John, 1838; Margaret, 1840; William, 1843; Daniel, 1846; and Mary, 1851.

Maria Gegenheimer died February 25, 1882 at the age of 73, and Jacob followed her 6 years later (November 26, 1888) at the age of 84.

Anna Catherine married John Haehl. Their one child died in infancy. John died in 1899. Anna died in 1902 at the age of 74.

Michael married Margaret Howell. They had nine children: William, Henry, John, Charles, Margaret, Frank, Michael, Fred, and Mary. Margaret died in 1916 and Michael died a year later at the age of 86.

Jacob married Catherine Theobald. They had two children to die in infancy, and seven who grew to maturity: Jacob, Caroline, Margaret, Catherine, Mary, Louis, and Wilhelmina. Jacob died in 1916 at age 81. Catherine died in 1928.

John married Barbara Haug on March 26, 1860. They had six children: Mary, John, Andrew, Jacob, Catharine, and Emma. John died in 1914 at the age of 75. Barbara died in 1932.

Margaret married Andrew Kuhn, and their children were: William, Frederick, John, and George. A daughter, Caroline, died at age three. Andrew died in 1881 at the age of 47. Margaret died in 1922 at age 82.

William (age 25) married Catherine Letherman (age 17) in 1868. The four children born to them were: Julius, George, August, and John William. Catherine died in 1879 at the age of 27 when the youngest, John William, was still an infant. Later that year William married Salome Hirtzel (both at age 36), and three children were born to them: Adeline, Conrad, and Edward. Two other sons died in infancy. Salome died in 1903 at the age of 59. William died in 1924 at age 81.

Daniel married Arkansas Hilligoss, and their three children were: Elias Love, Nancy Trust, and Nellie Ivona. Arkansas died in 1888. Three years later, Daniel (age 45) married Florence Phillips (age 30), and one son, Ercell, was born to them. Daniel died in 1929 at age 83. Florence died in 1942.

Mary married Charles Miller. Their children were: Emma, Charles, Lenora, Florence, and Leona. Mary died in 1922 at age 71. Charles died the same year.

NOTE: The “log cabin” in the following article is not the original cabin, but is the two-story log house built later, not in 1835.

The Shelbyville News; Saturday, September 28, 1996 1835


4-year effort revealed work of pioneer family

The concept of a dream home can be as varied as the families doing the building and the living in them. For Thomas L. and Patricia A. Lux, it has always been an 1835 log cabin; an original log cabin, that is. When the Luxes bought the farm on which they reside in 1974, they knew that at least part of the original cabin remained because of the wider-than-usual windowsills and doorways. Pat Lux said the cabin was underneath the weatherboarding exterior. Years of expansions and modernizations had left the home just south of Manilla at 4635S Rush County 925W looking like most others in the neighborhood. But that wasn’t what the Luxes’ grown children wanted.

“We always said we would tear away the weatherboarding some day so we could expose the log cabin,” Lux said. “Kyle (one of the grown children) was over one day, and we just started tearing off the weatherboard.” That was in June 1991, and it officially launched a unique renovation and restoration project that took 4 1/2 years to complete. The finished product is a rustic and fashionable farmhouse that preserves a piece of Rush County’s history and the quality of 1835 workmanship.

The Luxes also tore down a small log barn on their dairy farm and moved the logs to the homesite where they were reset as an addition to the house. Pat Lux said her “mud room” is part of the new addition. That’s where she has her washer and dryer, along with some relics such as a 1907 Detroit Jewel gas stove with porcelain handles and a for-looks-only Misty Oak brand potbellied stove. Pat said a screened-in porch was added along with two wooden porches and a long porch on the front of the house.

The original logs – some of them about two feet thick and presumably cut from woods on the farmland while it was being cleared – were in remarkable condition, considering they had been part of the house for 160 years. Lux said having weatherboarding over the log cabin frame for many decades shielded the logs from the elements. We haven’t been able to find out when the weatherboarding was put on,” said Lux, but no one familiar with the house or the location could remember the log cabin until the Luxes exposed it and began the work project.

Lux said additions that she and her husband had made through the years were renovated to blend into the log arrangement. Mud and straw packed in between the logs to mortar them together had to be removed and the logs brushed, washed and bleached before a new mortar mix for chinking was applied between the logs. Then a clear sealer was used to preserve the original log cabin. The mortar had rotted away in some places, and there was evidence of termites. Those spots were cut away. Poplar boards and barn siding have been used to keep the rustic, rough-cut decor in the home’s add-on areas that were not part of the original log cabin. Many of the furnishings are antique family heirlooms.</p> <p>The Luxes continued to live in the house during the remodeling. “It was a mess, but we lived in it for over four years. The living room was the worst. When we tore away to the original logs, they were black … covered with soot. When the house was built, the family had cooked in the living room,” Lux said.

The renovation was a family affair. Pat Lux, 53, and hubby Tom, 52, had help from their grown children. Pat Lux said son Jeff Lux, an electrical engineer for Trane Co., of Rushville, was “sort of like the family project engineer.” Daughter Kim Lux and sons Kyle Slaton and Matt Lux also spent many hours helping at home. Kyle is employed by Gecom in Greensburg, while Matt is a lineman for PSI Energy and Kim a worker at Shares, Inc., both of Shelbyville.

The cabin home was built by Jacob Gegenheimer (now spelled Gahimer). Gegenheimer was born in Freckfeld, Rheinpfol, Germany. He married Maria Anne DePrez in 1827, and on April 17, 1833, the couple and their three children set sail for America. It was a long and demanding journey, lasting 59 days before the family disembarked in New Orleans. Their youngest child, Eva, died less than two days before the ship docked in America.

According to family records obtained by Pat Lux, the Gegenheimers then sailed the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to Cincinnati, where a relative, identified only as Maria’s brother-in-law took them by wagon to the area in Walker Township, Rush County.

The family bought 80 acres of land from the U. S. government for $400 on Sept. 8, 1834. The next day, another 40 acres were purchased for $1.25 an acre. Both deeds bear the signature of the president of the United States, Andrew Jackson. The next spring, the two-story log cabin was built. Now, 161 years later, the Gegenheimers’ home-building skills clearly have withstood the test of time, with a little help from 1990s technology.

By JIM McKINNEY, Executive editor