ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin

Carl Schurz Home

749 North Church St today

1855      The Schurz home was built



Carl Schurz, residence of, postcard.  Home was destroyed by 1912 fire


1856      SUBDIVIDED PROPERTY, scathing article about 


Uncertain dates





Carl Schurz's old homestead will, on Oct. 17, be sold at sheriff's auction to satisfy a judgment.  The property, which is located in the Fifth ward, will go under the hammer at 2 p. m.  Sheriff William F. Miller of Dodge County will be the auctioneer.  It is believed that the home will be sold at a low figure.  It is urged here that the city purchase the homestead and preserve it as a memorial park to the great German-American.  WG


10 02       PURCHASING SCHURZ HOME.  Meeting held regarding purchase of Schurz homestead and turning it into a memorial park.   WG


10 09       E. G. Broennimann sends $50   WG


10 16       Memorial park proposed for site of homestead and estate.  The quaint house is rapidly falling to pieces.     WG



01 29       Homecoming Club to purchase Schurz homestead and transform it into a public park      WG



12 12

Carl Schurz Home Destroyed by Fire


Firemen handicapped by low water pressure

House was occupied by Thomas Donohue and family


At 9:45 o'clock last Wednesday night fire broke out in the old Carl Schurz homestead in the Fifth ward, occupied by Thomas Donohue and family, and owned by the Milwaukee Light, Heat and Traction Co.  The fire department responded promptly, but considerable delay was experienced in getting water onto the tire, the nearest hydrant being 1050 feet away and the building on fire was on one of the highest elevations in the city.  The building is a total loss and was partially covered by insurance.  The Donohue family saved most of their furniture, but lost most of their clothing, on which they carried some Insurance.  The weather was at zero and the firemen had a hard time fighting the fire.


The burning of the Schurz residence removes from our city one of its oldest landmarks and around which hangs much of historical interest, for it was built in 1856 [1855-56] by that noted statesman, the late Carl Schurz, and it was while residing there he held his first political office in this country, being elected alderman of the Fifth ward in 1857.  In the years to follow he was elected to the United States senate from several other states and was Secretary of the Interior in the late President Hayes' cabinet. 


The Donohue family is composed of the father and mother and eight small children, and not in very good circumstances.  Their burning out during this cold weather is indeed a sad thing.  At present the family is being cared for among the neighbors.


The fire was caused by an over-heated stovepipe passing from a lower room to the room above.   WG

                              Cross Reference:




Watertown Daily Times, 02 24 2001


Over the last couple of weeks we've used this column to acquaint our readers with Carl Schurz, one of Watertown's most famous persons, and also on the fact that he would be honored in April by the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame for his many conservation efforts he initiated during his long career in government.


We included in the column the comments on Schurz written by our longtime friend Bill Berry, former editor of the Stevens Point Journal and now an official with the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame. Well, Berry's comments included a sentence which said, "The Schurz home is an historic attraction in Watertown."


We had fully intended to "improve" on the sentence a bit but in the rush of things it was overlooked. The bottom line is that the Schurz home is no more.


The home was built by Schurz in the 1850s on a hill overlooking the Rock River. It was located off of North Church Street on the property of the current Karlshuegel Bed and Breakfast, 749 N. Church St.


The original home was an elaborate mansion with a great deal of fretwork around the porch roof which spanned the front and side of the house. It gave the home kind of a lacy look and made it quite distinctive.


Schurz used his home for many social gatherings and remained standing until 1912 when it was destroyed by fire. The property on which the home was located was bordered by an old spur line of the old Chicago and North Western tracks (now Union Pacific) which crossed Silver Creek skating pond and then traveled south nearly to Cady Street.


The hill on which Schurz built his home was known as Karlshuegel which was German for Carl's Hill. That's why the bed and breakfast, owned by Cy and Judy Quam, is known by that name.




Watertown Daily Times, 12 28 1991

Plans by Cy and Judy Quam to turn the Sweeney home at 749 N. Church St. into a bed and breakfast lodging operation brought back memories of the history of that property for local history buffs.


That home is located on the property where Carl Schurz built his home back over a century ago. Schurz was one of the most distinguished of all Watertown 48ers. He came to a booming Watertown in 1853 and saw a grand future for the city.


He bought a farm of 89 acres on the northwest side of the city, now the site of the bed and breakfast. He built a huge German villa type house, complete with gingerbread trim.


His plans were to pay off the $8,500 mortgage by selling lots as the rapidly growing city expanded. Unfortunately, the depression of 1857 put an end to his hopes and it took him years to repay the debts.


It was back in 1912 that the home, at the time occupied by the Donahue family, burned to the ground.


Jerome Donahue, now 90 years old, visited the Times offices this week and said he was a youngster back in 1915 when it burned.


His recollections were that the fire started about midnight when he and his whole family were sleeping. No one was hurt in the fire, but the home was completely destroyed. He said the family members had only the clothes on their backs when they found shelter from nearby neighbors.


He said, "I can remember it was cold out, that we all had nightshirts on. That's what we wore in them days."


Jerome said he could remember the fire department had to pump water from a hydrant at the Fifth Ward Tavern, now Timmel's Tap. That was the closest one.


He said, "My dad's brother (Jim Donahue) was there that night. There was a stove in the living room and my mother started a fire so there would be heat in that room. That's where he slept."  In the house that night, in addition to Jerome and Jim were Jerome's brother Jim and his sisters, Constance, Loretta, Frances and Catherine.


The family rented the house, and Jerome believes they lived there about six years before the fire. The family received many donations from friends in the community and relocated to a home on North Washington Street, now the home of Bill and Abby Potter.


That close brush with a devastating fire was ironic in that he later made a career of fighting fires. He served as mechanic for the Watertown Fire Department for over 35 years before retiring.


The late Dr. Elmer C. Kiessling, retired professor at Northwestern College and author of Watertown Remembered, said in that book, "The Schurz, house was just being turned into a museum when it burnt to the ground one night in 1915. I stood on the charred ruins the next day and composed a sentimental elegy. As a member of the editorial staff, I managed to have it published in the Black and Red, the Northwestern College student magazine."


We enlisted the help of Professor Dave Gosdeck of the Northwestern College staff to check the college's archives for that elegy. He found it in the November 1916 issue and we are reprinting it here:


"Full sixty years, the sun o'er this small brow

Has ris'n and set, since first thou stoodest here

And gazedst on this city's young career.

Thou hadst a vision then of what is now,

For soon thy sturdy axe of shrub and bough

This chosen coign of vantage had made clear;

Thy home was built, - a landmark far and near,

Which naught save fire's might at last could bow.

Yet shall we grieve that nothing more remains

Than ruins, that e'en the site now stands apart

Where thou forsaws't the city's busiest lanes?

'This better thus. Some vulgar birth or mart

Had fast effaced the thoughts this spot retains

Of thee, thou deep and noble German Heart.

- E. C. K.




The State Historical Society has announced that a historical marker has been approved for the Carl Schurz home in Watertown.  The home is among five new official historical sites in Wisconsin approved for markers by the Wisconsin Historical Markers Commission.


The original Carl Schurz home is located at 749 North Church Street.  It is now owned and occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Leo M. Sweeney and family.


For years Watertown was the home of Gen. Carl Schurz, noted German-American patriot, educator and statesman.


The home in Watertown will become one of 180 sites approved by the commission for historical markers.  The commission is directed by law to stimulate interest in and knowledge of the state by marking sites of special historical, archeological, geological or legendary significance.


Mr. Schurz was born on March 2, 1829 at Liblar, near Bonn on the Rhine, the son of a schoolmaster under whose direction he was educated in his native village, in Cologne and at the University of Bonn.  As a youth he espoused the cause of democracy which swept Europe in 1848, taking an active part in the movement for a unified, Germany under a constitutional-government.


During the uprising in 1849, he served as military aide to Col. Fritz Anneke, but the campaign proved a failure, and he made a remarkable escape to France.  In 1850 he returned incognito to Germany and rescued Prof. Gottfried Kinkel from the military prison at Spandau, a sensational achievement.  Discouraged by the seeming failure of the liberal cause m Europe, emphasized by the downfall of the recently created French Republic, and not foreseeing the realization of his youthful dreams in the unification (in 1871) of Germany under a constitution patterned after that of the United States, after two years in exile abroad, Schurz turned to this country.


Wed Margarethe Meyer


Accordingly, shortly after his marriage in London to Margaretha Meyer, a cultured German young woman, the young couple sailed for America, arriving in New York, Sept. 17, 1852.


After a residence in Philadelphia where he studied the American language and government, he visited the principal western cities in 1854, locating in Watertown, where he had relatives.  In 1855, he returned to Europe with his wife on account of her health, but they were back in Watertown in May, 1856. Although his countrymen were mainly Democrats, he espoused the anti-slavery cause, joined the new Republican Party and made effective speeches in German in behalf of their presidential candidate.  He was a member of the Watertown city council from the old Fifth ward.


In 1857 the Republicans nominated him for lieutenant governor, but due to a land grants scandal the election was close, and Schurz was defeated by 107 votes, while Randall, the Republican candidate for governor, won by a few hundred.


First Kindergarten


Mrs. Schurz, a pupil of Froebel, conducted the first kindergarten in the United States at Watertown.  In 1858 Schurz made many speeches for the Republicans in Illinois where Lincoln was pitted against Douglas for the United States senate.  He spoke both in English and German, his great speech on “The Irrepressible Conflict” made in Chicago was published in full by the leading Republican papers in the country, and a million copies were separately circulated throughout the North.


Admitted to the bar in 1859 he practiced his profession to some extent in Milwaukee, but he was in such demand as a lecturer, especially in the east, that his earnings in that field provided the larger of his income.


In 1860 he was elected a regent of the University of Wisconsin and chairman of the delegation to the Republican National Convention in Chicago, which nominated Lincoln for president.  He was a member of the committee which notified Lincoln of his nomination.


Other highlights in his career included his appointment by President Lincoln as minister to Spain, his appointment later as brigadier general, his promotion to the rank of major general. He was later editor of the Detroit Post and during a visit to Germany was invited by Otto von Bismarck to pay him a visit which he did.


Mr. Schurz also was the author of many books and pamphlets, among which was his “Life of Henry Clay” which enjoyed a large sale.  He also served as editor in chief of the New York Post.  In 1905 he received from the University of Wisconsin .the degree doctor of literature.  He died at New York on May 14, 1906, and is ranked as one of the commanding figures in political and educational life of America.




Plans to turn a palatial home on a historic site in Watertown into a supper club with fine food, dancing and room for large banquets came a step closer to reality.  The Watertown Planning Commission voted to recommend a zoning change for 749 North Church Street, also known as Carl's Huegel.  Bernetta Coughlin, former owner of the Sharp Corner Inn and owner of Coughlin's Coffee Shop, plans to buy the 1,800-square-foot home on 7 1/2 acres between Church Street and the Rock River and turn it into a supper club.   WDT




Much to the dismay of a resident in attendance, the Watertown Site Plan Review Committee recommended approval of the site plans for a condominium subdivision at 749 N. Church St. under the condition certain criteria are met.  Those criteria include an approved landscaping plan, the sewer and water throughout the property remain public and accessed by easement, approval of the general development concept by the Watertown Plan Commission, adequate water pressure to all buildings, removing the cement islands in the roadways and keeping all storm water utilities on site. 


Owner Mike Martin originally sought to open La Belle Street for access to the subdivision, but after the Watertown Common Council denied this request in February the site plans have changed so that traffic can enter or exit the property from North Church Street.   WDT



Plan commission members also granted a conditional use permit to Mike Martin for a group development at 741 and 749 N. Church St.  Martin is proposing to construct 16 duplexes on the site, with each unit in every building ranging from 1,600 to 2,000 square feet.   WDT



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Cross Reference:

First Kindergarten 




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History of Watertown, Wisconsin