ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin

Carl Schurz Home

749 North Church St today

1856       The Schurz home was built



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


        Uncertain dates     




SUBDIVIDED PROPERTY, scathing article about 



Carl had ordered the preparation of what he considered a dream house for his Margarethe.  He described the place to her as exposed to the loveliest view of their farm and the river and overlooking Watertown in the distance.  The rooms in the house were fairly spacious, very high, not without a certain elegance, and at the same time livable and homelike.


The final selection of Watertown in 1855 by Carl Schurz must be considered one of the fatalities which came to Schurz occasionally to offset his good luck.  On going there he had promised Margarethe that he would be most circumspect about investments, studying all conditions carefully in advance.  This he doubtless did, but not without letting family interest and affection impart an unconscious bias to his reasoning concerning the facts.  Otherwise he could hardly have fixed upon Watertown either for business or for politics.


In September of 1855 Carl Schurz signed the papers which bound him to Watertown more firmly than he could have wished for in the future.  The arguments in favor of this town were superficially convincing.  Though small, it was at the moment the second largest town in Wisconsin, and it bade fair to become a railway center analogous to Indianapolis.  Schurz through his recent interest in the Indiana capital may well have made that comparison.  He had reported to Margarethe in 1854 from Indianapolis the striking fact that, at a given hour of the day, six trains would be seen moving out in different directions.


Watertown was preparing for a like distinction, which of course had not been attained when he settled there.  No railway as yet had reached Watertown in 1854.  The Milwaukee and Watertown Railroad was within a few miles and the Rock River Railroad was pushing south toward Watertown.  Still another railway was being built from the south.  After reaching Watertown in September of 1856, the Milwaukee and Watertown branched.  One division pushed toward Madison where it united with the Milwaukee and Mississippi, whose terminus was Prairie du Chien, the other pushed northwest toward La Crosse, to proceed thence to St. Paul.  "All these railroads" wrote Schurz in August of 1856, "are called into being by immediate need, and therefore have good prospects."


In November of 1855, the editor of the Milwaukee Daily Wisconsin pointed out that Watertown was likely to remain the terminus for a year.  He was right in his prediction.  If Schurz, as Margarethe had cautioned him to do, had investigated properly the evanescent character of western railway termini, he would probably have hesitated long before casting his fortunes with such a town.  Western life had many things to teach him, but for its business lessons he was destined to pay dearly.


The farm the Schurzs' purchased contained eighty-nine acres; however, the deed from John Jack-son to Charles Schurz dated September 12, 1855, does not show the purchase price. Schurz executed a mortgage to Jackson in the sum of $8,500, which doubtless represents nearly the whole of it.  Farm land there rarely brought one hundred dollars per acre at that time, however advantageously it might be located.  He probably paid down a few hundred dollars, so small a fraction that he could have regarded the transaction as a kind of option until, by selling a good share of it as city lots, he could pay off the purchase price.


That kind of speculation had often succeeded with others.  Why not with him?  His pleasant home, built on the most sightly point of the farm and affording charming views of the Rock River, the town of Watertown, and the neighboring woods, would attract purchasers of home sites — so Carl dreamed in 1856.


During the progress of the lot sales the farm land could be cultivated.  The sales began in a small way in 1856, but the panic of the following year, combined with the deflation of business due to the passing of the railway boom, stopped the progress of building.


In August of 1856 Carl and Margarethe Schurz were united with the other members of the Schurz family in Watertown.  At the time of Margarethe Meyer Schurz' arrival Watertown was a young flourishing town.  Its population had increased tenfold in five years (1850—1855) through the influx of German immigrants who flocked to Wisconsin and especially to Watertown.  In 1855 Watertown became the second largest city in Wisconsin, its population having reached 10,000 people.


The main street was full of teams, well laden with various kinds of farm produce which were bringing Milwaukee prices, less the cost of transportation.  It was pleasing to Margarethe to observe the happy look of the farmers.  And no wonder, when we contrast the prices they were receiving in 1856 with those of two or three years before, when they had to haul their grain, pork, and other products to Milwaukee through the mud and mire, and sell them at prices which paid them little more than their cost.


The farmers at this time were much indebted to the enterprising merchants of Watertown for the facilities they now enjoyed for readily disposing of their products.  The merchants, through their support of the large bonding issue, had been the prime movers in bringing the Milwaukee and Watertown railroad, as well as the splendid plank road from Milwaukee to their city.


Margarethe observed that although Watertown was considered the second largest town in Wisconsin at this time, conditions still remained primitive.  The streets with the exception of the plank road, were generally in dreadful condition.  Main Street was still a mud bottom with no stone gutters, and porkers wandering loose could find mud puddles eighteen inches deep.  Crosswalks were unknown.


Unfortunately, to their surprise, Carl and Margarethe found that their home was not yet ready, so for the first few weeks they had to quarter themselves in a small old house.


But they soon overcame this first disappointment and moved into their own home the last week in October.  The house was completely furnished with things made in Watertown, with the exception of a few necessities purchased in Milwaukee.  Carl Schurz described their home situation to his brother-in-law, Henry Meyer, in a letter dated November 20th:


I write you today out of the full pleasure of my home situation.  Picture to yourself a handsome country home, upon a gentle acclivity, a gunshot distance from the town, an unhampered view over stream and town and the encircling hills before it, and looking out at the back upon an oak forest enlivened here and there by small dwellings.  Within the house, to the right of the hallway, are two high spacious rooms connected by a wide sliding door.  In the bay window of the one room is where Margarethe sits at work and play; in the other is a person of the male species at the writing table, surrounded by books ... on the walls, guns, implements of the chase, and the like.  The ensemble so cheerful and agreeable.  The front room is also not without elegance.


Margarethe has an extended field for her activities. . .  Briefly, our house suits us so well that we prefer not to go out and there is nothing lacking in it but a visit from you and a piano, on which we could play with satisfaction.  For the rest, the house is situated so beautifully, and its external appearance is so tasty, that envious looks have already been cast upon it. . . .


Soon after they were settled, Carl and Margarethe received their first of many distinguished visitors during their residence in Watertown.  Mr. & Mrs. Wesendonk, originally from Dusseldorf, Germany, and now the owner of an excellent mercantile business in Philadelphia, spent several enjoyable days with the Schurzes of Watertown.


Margarethe Meyer Schurz- A Biography, by Hannah Werwath Swart




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



A meeting was held at the public library last Friday evening by those interested in the purchasing of the old Schurz homestead in North Church Street and turning it into a memorial park.  The matter to desire ways and means was turned over to the following gentlemen:  Park Commissioners—H. Wertheimer, Edward J. Brandt, E. J. Seifert, S. Molzahn.  Committee –Mayor Arthur Mulberger, Ex-Mayor W. F. Voss, C. F. Viebahn, C. E. Straw, J. W. Wiggenhorn, O. R. Krueger, E. F. Wieman.   WG


10 09       BROENNIMANN SENDS $50 

E. G. Broennimann, formerly of Watertown, writes Mayor Mulberger as follows:


New York, October 2, 1908.


Mr. Arthur Mulberger, Mayor, Watertown, Wis.


My Dear Arthur:  I am in receipt of yours 30th ultimo, calling my attention to the plan of raising funds by popular subscription for the purchase of the old Carl Schurz homestead.  I certainly am in accord with this movement, and feel it must be successful if the matter is properly brought to the attention of Carl Schurz's many admirers.  With the high place he made for himself in our national history, and the eminent regard for his memory throughout the land, as evidenced by similar movements here in New York and elsewhere, I feel Watertown is especially fortunate and should be particularly proud of the opportunity of honoring this great man in the way proposed.


I shall be glad to cooperate with Mr. Merkel, as you suggest, to interest other New Yorkers, and in the meantime beg to enclose my personal contribution herewith—check for fifty ($50) dollars payable to your order. 


Wishing you success.

Sincerely yours,

E. G. Broennimann.       WG




Watertown Homecoming Club Proposes to Purchase Historic Grounds by Subscription


After more than half a century of neglect and decay, the historical Carl Schurz homestead and estate is to be converted into a public memorial park, through the instrumentality of a country-wide movement inaugurated yesterday by the Watertown Homecoming Club of Milwaukee.  Subscriptions will be asked for among the 1,100 members of the club scattered over the United States for the purchase of the estate from the Milwaukee Light, Heat and Traction Company, who recently secured the property as a right of way on its northern extension from Watertown.


The traction company has signified a willingness to sell the estate at the original purchase price of $3,500 and to give the club an option of one year to close the deal, reserving only a narrow strip for the laying of rails.  That the movement will prove an instantaneous success is the opinion of Ernest A. Kehr, 105 Grand Aveune, president of the Watertown Homecoming Club of Milwaukee.  "It will take some time to reach all the members of the club," said Mr.Kehr, "but of the ultimate results there is not the slightest doubt.  In the Homecoming Club we have men in all lines of business who will undoubtedly make generous contributions.  One Milwaukee man yesterday offered to donate $100 before the movement was fairly under way.  "I feel that many Milwaukeeans not members of the club, but admirers of Carl Schurz, will help the project along in a financial way. It is not improbable that we will receive funds from Germans all over the United States."  The estate, of nearly eight acres, is said to be in bad condition and the quaint, old fashioned story and a half house rapidly falling to pieces.  The natural advantages of the place are such, however, that it is possible to convert it into a beautiful park.  The house will undoubtedly be restored to its original condition as built and occupied by Carl Schurz for two years in the early fifties.  The amount of money necessary to make contemplated improvements will be decided by a committee to be appointed at the next meeting.—[Milwaukee Sentinel article reprint]    WG



[this story appeared after the 10 16 story]

Clark M. Rosecrantz, attorney for the Milwaukee Heat, Light and Traction Company, bid in at sheriffs sale last Saturday the Schurz homestead, including seven acres of land, for $3,583.  The Begg's line will give the city an option on the property to continue for a year, reserving for its own use, however, a strip of the site for a right of way.  The city has no fund at present to buy the property, but will take the option.   WG



B. G. Heyn, treasurer of the Wisconsin Society in New York City, was in Watertown this week in the interest of the Carl Schurz memorial park.  On Wednesday he visited the old Carl Schurz homestead in North Church Street and in the afternoon held a conference at the public library with the local committee for the Schurz Memorial Park.   WG




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


It is now practically settled that the Watertown Homecoming Club, with the Milwaukee branch as the principal movers in the enterprise, is to purchase the old Carl Schurz homestead in Watertown and transform it into a public park.  The purchase money has already been raised, and the prospects are that the deal will soon be closed.  The homestead is now the property of the Milwaukee Light, Heat and Traction Company, which has offered to sell it at the price paid for the property by the company, to be used as a public park, which was $3,500.  The company, however, will reserve a strip upon which will be used as a right-of-way for its northern extension.


Ernest A. Kehr, who is president of the Milwaukee branch of the Watertown Homecoming Club, is authority for the statement that the money for the purchase of the property is available at this time, but he says the plans for the improvement of the grounds will involve an expenditure of $35,000.  It is proposed among other things to place a statue of Carl Schurz at the main entrance, and the making of an artificial lake.—[Milwaukee Daily News]      WG



The “Carl Schurz National Memorial” has become possible, says The Milwaukee Sentinel of Thursday.


The old homestead and its ten acres of ground in Watertown that formerly was the residence of the great soldier and statesman is to be purchased for $10,000 from the present owner, John I. Beggs, in the first part of September, and it will be maintained by the western association as a national park.


Ernest A. Kehr, chairman of the Milwaukee committee, was in New York last week and attended the banquet of the New York committee.


On this committee that has been raising funds in New York for the purchase of the Schurz homestead are Senator John C. Spooner and Edward Broennimann, among other Wisconsin men.  A meeting of the committee is to be held on September 1st, when it will be formally decided to purchase the homestead.


The western association, which comprises all the territory outside of New York, is raising an endowment fund of $40,000 which will be used to maintain the park.


“The homestead is in fairly good condition,” said Mr. Kehr, “but it will require the $10,000 raised by the New York committee to purchase the property and put the house into the condition we want it.


“The grounds are to be fitted out beautifully and all will be maintained as a national park.


“There is great interest all over the country in fitting up this old home as a perpetual, national memorial to a great man.”    WG



The Milwaukee Sentinel

      12 13 1912


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



10 27       B&B PROPOSED

The Watertown Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Nov. 25 for a proposed bed and breakfast inn at 479 N. Church St.  Sylvester and Judy Quam, 919 Charles St., are seeking a conditional use permit to allow the inn on the property, which is zoned two family residential.  The Quams have an option to purchase the property from Florence Sweeney.  The land is located west of Silver Creek Pond.




A bit of history has come back to Carl Schurz Hill with the opening of the Karlshuegel Inn, named after the German statesman who once lived on this site.  The new bed and breakfast establishment is run by local historians Sy and Judy Quam who have chosen to open their home and share their extensive knowledge of local lore with guests.  Although not the original house on the site, the Quam home at 749 N. Church St. is steeped in a history of its own.  The original Schurz home burned down in 1912 and was replaced with a house built by the Pratt family who enjoyed the elegance of formal lawn parties.  The Quams recently purchased the property from Florence Sweeney who lived there for 38 years with her large family.  The Quams have enhanced the history by adding Schurz memorabilia and pictures of ladies of the Hill.  The home is decorated with antique furniture, old art prints and dolls from their private collection.  Oriental rugs purchased from the previous owner enhance the beauty of the birchwood and oak parquet floors.   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