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The Bremsers of Norwalk, Ohio and Rhineland-Pfalz, Germany

This is the story of both the Klein and Bremser families who came to live in Elyria and Norwalk, Ohio.

The first of the Klein family to come to the United States were brother and sister Haddie and Henry Klein. Family oral tradition says they left Burgschwalbach, Germany in the mid 1880s. They headed for Norwalk, Ohio, 37 miles from Elyria. Henry Klein first got a job with the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad. Another sister, Elizabeth "Lizzie" Klein (m. Ernst Loeffler) and then Karl Klein came next. These four saved money and sent it to Germany to bring over my great-grandparents, Philipena Klein Bremser and her husband, Heinrich Gottlieb Bremser.

My great-grandfather Heinrich "Henry" Gottlieb Bremser was born Philip Gottlieb Elias Bremser on September 22, 1864, in Map Link Grebenroth, Hessen-Nassau, Germany. (Read the story on how we finally learned his true identity.) Heinrich Bremser wanted to leave Germany to avoid the Kaiser's draft. (In the late 19th century, Germany has become a major world power. All eligible men were required by the German government to spend two or three years in the military.) His wife Phillipina Klein was born in the village of Map Link Burgschwalbach on March 11, 1863.


The Wedding Banns

The text of the Henry and Philipina's wedding banns (or announcement):

No. 12 (1888) (the number was mentioned in the church record) Hahnstaetten, at May 19, 1888.

In front of the signing registry officer showed up for the purpose of marriage:

  1. The farmer Philipp Gottlieb Elias Bremser, known by person, evangelic religion, born at September 22, 1864 in Grebenroth, living in Hahnstaetten, son of the linenweaver Philipp Nikolaus Karl Bremser and his dead wife Marie Jacobine born Weidenmueller, living in Grebenroth.
  2. Katharine Philippine Klein, known by person, evangelic religion, born at March 11, 1863 in Burgschwalbach, living in Burgschwalbach, daughter of the stonecutter Johann Jacob Klein and his dead wife Katharine Wilhelmine born Seel, living in Burgschwalbach.

Witnesses of his banns (wedding announcement) were:

  1. The cabinet-maker Philipp Wilhelm Busch, known by person, 21 years old, living in Burgschwalbach.
  2. The tailor Philipp Friedrich Debusmann, known by person, known by person, 26 years old, living in Hähnstaetten.

The Long Voyage to America

Henry arrived on Ellis Island in New York Harbor at age 28, on May 12, 1892, on board the Spree. With him was his wife, Phillipina Klein, and their two daughters, Elizabeth, age 4, and Anna Karlena (Lena), age 2. His wife's father, Johann Jacob Klein, also made the trip with his 16 year old son Karl. According to his great-granddaughter, Jane Beasley Raph, Jacob's health failed and he died the year after they arrived, in 1893. "They always said he died of homesickness," she told me. Jane also reported that, "Gramma's father would not have permitted her to marry Grandpa if she had not been pregnant with her first child when they married." Their marriage date is 27 May 1888; the first child, Elizabeth, was born 2 Nov 1888.

Jacob Klein's oldest son, Wilhelm II, remained in Germany and attained the highest rank in Forestry. He was married and had three children by his first wife: William (Wilhelm? — killed in WWI), Hedwing (Hedwig?), and Curt. (Curt later married his first cousin, Phillipena's daughter Wilhelmena "Minnie" Bremser.)

The Family Prospers

After Elizabeth was born, Henry and Phillipina later had four more children: Lena, born in 1891; Edna, was born in 1893 and died at age 4; Wilhelmina "Minnie", born in 1896, and later married her cousin, Curt Klein; and an unnamed son who died at childbirth in 1901. He was buried over Edna in the family plot in Norwalk.

Henry Bremser and his family joined the local German-speaking Lutheran congregation at St. Paul's German Lutheran Church. In about 1923, the number of German-speaking immigrants had seriously declined. The church could not afford to remain independent. It joined hands with the English-speaking congregation, and all services were conducted in English. In a warm welcome to the united church, the children were taught to sing a traditional German Christmas carol. My then 12-year old mother was one of the children who sang for her grandparents in December, 1938.

A new church building was raised in 1924. Several years later, during the depths of the Great Depression, Henry paid for a bell to be installed in the empty bell tower.

The Brothers Form Bremser Coal and Supply Co.

The Bremser Family in 1905, from front middle clockwise: Minnie, Bina, Lena, Lizzie, and Henry.

Henry Bremser had three brothers: Phillip, Karl, and Wilhelm. A baby sister apparently died in infancy. Karl followed his brothers Henry and Phillip to the United States on April 12, 1910. Two of Henry's brothers, Phillip and Wilhelm, came to Norwalk from Germany. Philip worked in the masonry business and Wilhelm helped make cement blocks.

Henry Bremser started making cement blocks in the basement of their home at 53 E. Elm St., Norwalk, Ohio."He made these mostly in the evenings after working as a mason all day, and Gramma Bremser had to put up with the cement dust filtering all around," according to her granddaughter, Jane Beasley. This small start led to the beginning of the Bremser Coal and Supply Co. on Woodlawn Ave.

In 1909, the current operator of the Bell Coal Company learned that natural gas would soon be piped into Norwalk. He interrupted Henry's walk home one day past his plant and offered to sell him the coal company. Henry, while also aware of the possible availability of natural gas in Norwalk, nonetheless said yes. Nearly the entire purchase was funded from savings Bina had secreted away.

Another Klein brother, Karl, was brought over later on. He did not fare as well, and returned to Germany within a few years of his arrival. He lived for some time and had a family, but apparently was never very successful. Minnie Bremser Klein, in a letter from 1922 after a visit to Burgschwabach, said he was still struggling.

Bremser brothers
The four Bremser brothers (clockwise from left) Wilhelm, Phillip, Karl and Heinrich.
Lizzie Bremser (center, rear) in about 1910, with friends outfitted in their finest millinery. Elizabeth Bremser and Johnson Beasley around 1913.
Elizabeth Bremser
Lizzie Bremser (left) with the two women who taught her to be a milliner (hat maker).

Apparently life was not easy at times for the children, who lived in the new America but experienced the old-world ways of their father.

Elizabeth apprenticed herself at age 12 or 13 in Norwalk, Ohio to a milliner (women's hat maker) for no pay. After a short time, less than a year, she left her family in Norwalk and moved to Columbus, Ohio. The two ladies who ran the millinery shop in Norwalk got her a job in a shop in Columbus and a place to stay in a Quaker boarding house.

 

Lizzie Moves to Chicago

Lizzie discovered that the milliner trade was seasonal and the next Christmas she got a job as a saleswoman. She found she liked that work more. The next winter, when hat season ended, she went with a friend to Chicago and got a temporary job at Marshall Fields, the largest retailer and most exclusive department store in the city. She outsold all the other employees and was given a full-time job. It was there that she met Johnson Tucker Beasley, who was selling stationary at the time. They dated and were engaged two months later. Lizzie wrote home, "I am going to be married Friday night at 8:30 and shall be at home to see you some time Sat. depends on trains and John is going to find out tomorrow and I shall let you know later. Now don't say I am foolish as my husband to be and myself are in our right minds. His name is John Beasley... [We] became engaged last Sunday and [I] shall be Mrs. Beasley by next Sunday."

Henry and Philippina Bremser (center) and their family. Back row, L-R Minnie Bremser (Klien), Lena Bremser (Miller), Elizabeth Bremser (Beasley), and Jake Miller; (middle row, L-R) Curt Klein, Thelma Miller, Leland Miller, Gramma Bremser, Grampa Bremser, Jane Beasley, and Marie Miller; (front row, L-R) Annabeth Beasley, Bob Klein, Mary Siefert, and Majorie Miller.

Elizabeth and Johnson Beasley faced unbearable challenges during their marriage. Their first child, Robert, was born 11 months after they married and died four days later. Three years later they had twin girls, Ruth and Jane. Only two years later, Ruth died in the 1919 worldwide flu pandemic. In 1920, Betty was born. The doctors said she had a congenital heart defect, and she would die young. Betty lived longer than expected, until she was four-and-a-half. The stress on the marriage was great; Johnson moved back to Chicago and they later divorced.

The Daughters Grow Up

Annabeth and Jane were raised by their mother, Elizabeth Bremser, who worked various jobs and moved several times between Norwalk, Kansas City, Detroit and Decatur. Unable to pay the mortgage on the house in Kansas City, she moved out and rented it. She worked as a governess within a children's home for a while. Elizabeth later found a job watching another family's children and was able to get a room in the house for her and Annabeth. For a period of time they stayed in Norwalk with her parents. Jane was off to college by around 1935, which Grampa Bremser, at Gramma Philippina's suggestion, helped with tuition.

Henry operated the coal company jointly with his mason and contracting business until his retirement in 1923. When Henry retired, the company was split between his two sons-in-laws, Jake Miller and Curt Klein.

Elizabeth, by this time separated or divorced from her husband Johnson, was told she would receive her share of the business when Henry and Philipina died. Instead, Philippina persuaded Henry to pay off the two mortgages on Elizabeth's home in Kansas City. This enabled Elizabeth and Annabeth to return to Kansas City and live there. Jane, making almost $750 a month at age 18 as a teacher, bought her mother and sister a new stove.

Elizabeth Bremser in 1952, shortly before she died. The picture on the table is of her first grandchild, Buddy (my brother), with his parents.

When the Depression hit, Johnson Beasley lost his well-paying job selling seats for a manufacturer. For a time, he managed the Bismarck Hotel in Chicago. Johnson remained in Chicago, largely estranged from his daughters, and died there in 1950 at age 64.

Elizabeth stayed in Ohio and moved to Sandusky. After a heart attack, she entered a convalescent facility, where she died in 1952.

Her daughter Jane had no children. Annabeth, my mother, married Hal Phelps and had two boys, myself (Brian) and my brother (Bud). Bud died in August, 2000. Jane passed away less than two weeks later. Annabeth died in her sleep within six months of her son and her sister, at age 73.

Curt and Jake ran the coal company from 1924 until the partnership was dissolved in about 1942. Curt then continued to operate the Bremser Coal Company until his retirement in 1955, having added a ready-mix cement plant to the business. The cement company went on to pour much of the concrete when the interstate highway system was built through the area.

In the dissolved partnership, Jake assumed control of the Norwalk Monument Company business, which the men had bought a few years before and operated as a separate part of the Bremser Coal Company. Jake ran it until his retirement in the early 1970s.