Johann Christian Heckenbach 1804-1885

Johann, the firstborn in his family, was born in Brohl in 1804. This was during the French occupation of the Rhineland. He started to work at Joseph Merzbach's papermill in Brohl at the age of 12. His father Christian was apparently an officer or one of five co-founders of the firm. Starting in 1839, new machines were installed and Johann rose to the position of foreman. At his retirement in 1866, he was given a silver cup acknowledging his 50 years' service. The cup still exists in the family. The firm was then known as J. Merzbach and Co. Founded in 1785, it still operates today under the name of Brohl Wellpappe, with 510 employees, producing cardboard, pasteboard, and boxes.

Johann had five daughters, three of whom had died by 1845. A fourth died in 1874 at the age of 24. His two sons lived and emigrated to America in the 1860s and were the forbears of the Heckenbachs in this country, leaving over 1000 descendants. From Johann's four brothers, only a handful of descendants remain to this day in Germany. Some never married, many more died, and others moved away from Brohl. His brother Phillip also had four daughters who came to the US and settled in St Louis.

In December 1861 there was a census taken in Brohl showing Johann Heckenbach, machinist, age 57, with his wife Katherine (Windheuser) age 55, son Christian age 21, daughter Margaretha age 14, living in House Number 84. At that time the street names were not noted in the census. Johann Adam was already out of the house by then.

He apparently was a man of some means, having a bank account and being able to send his elder son to university. Johann wrote his son Christian a letter probably in 1884 that has been preserved. He complained of being almost blind. He said that his brother had died a year ago, and his sister Margaret 6 months ago. 

He lived in Brohl and died on 5 May 1885, age 81. His death was recorded at Niederbreisig on 6 May.

  Doctor John Adam Heckenbach 1831-1913

Die Nona Augusti hora 6 matutina natus et cadem die baptizatus est Joannes Adamus, conjugam Joannis Heckenbach et Catherinae Windhäuser ex Brohl, filius.  Spondentibus Joanne Adamo Windhäuser et Margaretha Heckenbach, nata Horn, introque ex Brohl.
On the sixth day of August, 6:00 in the morning was born and the same day was baptized Johann Adam, son of Johann Heckenbach and Katherina Windhäuser of  Brohl, a son.  Godparents John Adam Windhäuser and Margaret Heckenbach, nee Horn, also of Brohl.

John Adam Heckenbach was also known as Johann Anton and as Adam.  He was the first son of Johann Heckenbach and Katherine Windheuser. As a young man Johann Anton attended the University of Bonn and afterward taught school there. He arrived in NY Jun 19 1862 on the Bavaria from Hamburg, listed as a merchant.

There was a family story about him that he was twice a "draft dodger." He does seem to be timing his movements around the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War.The following dates are all documented.

Aug. 9, 1831 He was born in Brohl-am-Rhein, Prussia.

Dec 3 1861 He does not appear in the census at home with his parents.

June 19, 1862 He arrived in New York, on the ship Bavaria, sailing from Hamburg.

1865 He returned to Germany and he married Franciska Sophia Fisher  (Jan. 27, 1838- Oct. 16, 1878) who may have been from Brohl, but no record has been found. 

Nov 14 1865 They had a baby Johann born in Brohl.

July 5 1866 They emigrated to America on  on the Bosphorus from Liverpool. He was listed as a farmer. They went directly to Chicago and the baby died when only 10 months old (1867).

They moved to Mayville, Dodge County, WI. They had other children born in Mayville: Henry in 1867, Annie in 1869, Amalia ("Mollie") in 1870, and Joe in 1872.

On July 22 1869 he received his first patent #91624 for a shotgun design He is in the 1870 census (Heckenbauer) in Williamsburg, Dodge County, WI and is listed as a carpenter.

Some time around 1872 he was in St Louis MO and was a choir director. His 4 female cousins had just emigrated and settled there, 3 in 1871 and one in 1872.

March 4 1873 patent issued for metronome. Address in Mayville, Dodge County, WI.

Feb 4 1874 Another child Chris was born in Chicago.

June 13 1876 he received a patent for an improved shotgun design. He was living in Kenosha, WI.

June 21, 1876 another child Margaret was born in Kenosha, Kenosha County, WI.

October 2, 1878 An article in the Juneau (WI) Telelgraph states that J. A. Heckenbach has returned to Mayville after living in Milwaukee, and taken over the gun and locksmith business of another resident who had moved on to Kansas.

Oct 16 1878 in Mayville, Dodge County, WI Franciska and her 8th child both died in childbirth.

July 15 1879 after returning to Chicago, he married Johanna Droege, also known as Jennie, who was born in 1838 in Hannover, Germany.

On May 25 1880 he is mentioned in the Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper as plaintiff in a chancery case, Heckenbach vs Droege, masters rent.
June 10th 1880 census, he is listed as an MD living on Halsted Street in Chicago with Johanna and her three children plus his four.  

He graduated as MD March 29 1882 from the Bennett Medical College in Chicago.  His certification from the State Board of Health dated Mar 29 1882 is still in the family. As a physician, he had a 100% success rate in diptheria cases. I have a copy of his diploma. He used the name "John Adam."  

June 25 1887 another Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper article: Draege vs Heckenbach, chancery case. Chancery law has to do with landlord/tenant issues.   

May 1 1888 another Chicago chancery case Johann Heckenbach vs Henry Draege and Jennie Draege. I think Draege=Droege, his second wife's name. Johanna's son Henry would have been about 26 at the time.

October 16, 1895 after returning to Mayville, another Juneau Telelgraph article states that he was widowed again. "Mrs. Heckenbach, wife of our gunsmith, died at their home this morning."

March 16, 1896 in Milwaukee, WI, Johann marries Agnes Nolan, the daughter of  Charles Nolan and Amande Lamare, who was born in Bennington, UT. This record was a total surprise showing up in the Wisconsin Marriage Index ( and nothing further is known.

According to old Chicago City Directories, Doctor Heckenbach's address in 1902 and 1903 was 1605 N Leavitt. His name also appeared in the 1902 McDonough's Chicago Medical Blue Book at that address. In 1909 Chicago's street address scheme was revised to  a city-wide system, so that his house number changed to 3052 N Leavitt. 

He gave violin lessons, repaired old violins (some of which are still in the family) and composed some waltzes.

Although he was said to be able to afford trips back to Germany, he ended up in modest circumstances.

In the 1910 census he's at the home of George and Molly Haar (his daughter) at 3531 Hermitage in Chicago, listed as a physician in general practice.

Dec 9 1913 He died in Chicago, age 82 years 4 months, of exhaustion and hypostatic pneumonia at the Hermitage address. 

Dec 12, 1913. He was buried St. Boniface Cemetery.  

John was issued two fire arms patents, no. 91,624 of June 22, 1869, and no. 178,636 of June 13, 1876.

Patent no. 91,624 is an interesting concept in that the action very closely resembles the German Collath design, but where the Collath uses an under lever and cam to keep it locked in the closed position, John Adam used a rather weak catch. In principle the barrels had a lug with a pin which traveled in a slot at the front end of the receiver, allowing the barrels to move forward and back. The receiver has two bosses on the standing breech which fit into recesses in the breech end of the barrels when the gun is in a closed position. His design includes a cartridge which has no rim and uses a percussion cap and nipple for ignition. No system for extraction of the shell was incorporated, and would have been difficult. The overall design is well thought out and with some modifications would have been effective, as is shown by the German Collath.  

John’s second gun patent no. 178,636 of June 13, 1876 covers an improvement to side by side break action guns whereby a removable plate is bolted to the standing breech allowing adjustments to take up wear when a gun becomes loose.  

In between the two gun patents he earned Patent #136,435 for improvements to a metronome, dated March 4 1873. And Patent #140,038 covered an Improvement in last-block fastenings June 17 1873. This was for securing the last, which is the spine of a shoe.

Patent No. 761,480. John A. Heckenbach May 31 1904. The object of this invention is to "provide a new and improved violin, violincello, or similar stringed musical instrument which is simple and durable in construction and arranged to insure the production of a full, sweet, and mellow tone when the instrument is played."

These patents are all viewable online at the US Patent and Trademark Office website.

I'm sure there are pictures of John Adam out there. Please share scans of any old pictures.

  Christian Heckenbach 1841-1920

Die decima tertia septembris hora undecima nocturna natus et die altera baptisatus est Christianus filius Jo-is Heckenbach et Catherinae Windheuser conjugam in Brohl paternis Christiano Heckenbach et Anna Windheuser nata Koch introque ex Brohl.
On the thirteenth day of September, 11:00 at night was born and the next day was baptized Christian, son of Johannes Heckenbach and Katherina Windheuser, married, of Brohl. Godparents Christian Heckenbach and Anna Windheuser, nee Koch, also of Brohl.

Johann Christian's second son was Christian, born 1841. In 1866, he married Sophia Spicker from Willich, near Düsseldorf. Sophia was the 5th child of Mathias Spicker and Maria Sophia von Rheidt. (Mathias was born Apr 22, 1801 in Büttgen, while Maria was born Dec 10, 1804 in Osterath.) Christian and Maria lived in Essen, where their first child Katherine Heckenbach was born on June 1, 1866. The young family sailed to New York on June 14, 1867. They joined his brother living near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin and worked a farm in Williamstown, near Mayville. Their next three children were born in Fond du Lac and Mayville.

By 1873, two years after the Chicago Fire, the growing family had moved to Chicago. Their 5th through 10th children were born there. Christian worked as a decorator and sign painter. Later they had owned a truck farm and greenhouses, on the property where Senn High School is now situated. Here they raised celery for seed, among other crops.

Later they bought and moved to another farm at 7548 N. Clark St., at the northern edge of Chicago. Although the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad had laid tracks through to Milwaukee and beyond by 1855, there is a land record showing that Christian sold a strip of land to the railroad in 1903. Also in 1903 he sold some land to the City of Chicago so that Howard Street could be widened to the west. He also subdivided the part of the farm west of the tracks, and his son Frank owned a house there.

In those years Christian and Sophia operated an ice cream parlor and lunchroom at the corner of Clark and Howard Streets.

He belonged to the Catholic Order of Foresters. At the 1911 Old Settlers' Picnic, Christian won the gold medal for having the largest family. Sophia died in 1915 and in November of that year Christian closed the business and sold the land between Clark Street and the railroad for the sum of $23,500 to Traugott Weber. In a 1919 letter, he wrote that he had been lucky to fetch such a high price; the land's value had since diminished. The group of shallow lots is now home to a Chase Bank location.

When he was 75, at the 1917 family reunion at the spacious home of his daughter Mrs. Martin Wiltgen, he had 72 of his 75 descendents there to honor him. (One daughter and her family lived in Nevada.) According to the newspaper, he left early in the evening, having had enough excitement for the day.

During his last years, Christian stayed alternately with his sons Joseph at the house on Clark Street, and John Adam in Evanston. In early 1919, in the midst of planning a summer trip back to Germany, he attended a funeral on an extremely cold day, and suffered a debilitating cold and flu. He also developed eye trouble, so he decided not to go.

Christian died on Jan 30 1920 and was remembered as a kindly man. Annual family picnics continued long after his death, and many of his 57 grandchildren kept in touch all their lives.

click here for pictures of Christian Heckenbach and his family

Update on their Arrival in America:

John Adam: According to a family story about him, John Adam "actively avoided" service in both the American Civil War, and the strife that led to the Franco-Prussian War, a conflict which finally erupted into war when Bismarck provoked Napoleon III into attacking Prussia in 1870. How could he have been a "draft dodger" in both wars? The following information explains it.

Johann Anton made his first voyage to the U.S on the ship Bavaria, which sailed from Hamburg to New York, arriving June 19, 1862, in the midst of the Civil War. The manifest listed a 31-year-old passenger named A. Heckenbach, apparently single, identified as a "merchant," although Johann Anton was not quite 31 on that date. He returned to Prussia and waited for the American Civil War to end in 1865, then returned with his wife and baby, as things were starting to heat up back in Prussia. This was on the ship Bosphorus, arriving July 5, 1866 in Boston, from Liverpool. He is listed as J A Hackanbach, age 27, farmer from Germany, with wife Sophia, age 28 and a son Johan, age 1. His age is off, but the other details are a good match. The baby died shortly afterward. In 1867 Johann Adam and Sophia had another child, and by 1870 they had settled in Williamstown, Dodge County, WI.

Christian: Meanwhile, on the passenger list of the ship America, which arrived in New York on June 14, 1867 from Bremen, are the following: entries:

Christian Heckenbach, age 25, occupation painter, {village-code}Essen
Marie Heckenbach, age 24
Catherina Heckenbach, age 11 months.

We know that Christian, his wife Maria, and baby Kate were living in Essen before leaving Prussia. Kate was born there. The US Census of June 1870 places them in the town of Fond du Lac, WI.

Some Cousins: Then on June 10, 1872, with 939 passengers, the ship SS Köln steamed into Baltimore from Bremen carrying

#343 Jos Heckenbach age 25
#344 Catharina Heckenbach age 22
#345 Kalchen Heckenbach age 19

We have learned elsewhere that sisters Anna Josephine, Katrin, and Gretchen Heckenbach arrived in St Louis and that Katrin's real name was Catherine. "Kalchen" must have been Gretchen's nickname. It took a while to realize that "Jos" was Anna Josephine, and it turns out that the three sisters were cousins of Johann Anton and Christian Heckenbach, through their Uncle Phillip who had 6 daughters. They settled in St. Louis. Katrin married Georg Löloff and Josephine married William Dufs, both in St. Louis, both in 1874. Kalchen married Lou Kaugman.

Another sister?: The year before, on June 19, 1871, the ship Herman arrived in New York from Bremen carrying Margaret Heckenbach, age 27, of Prussia. We don't know who this person was. JA and Christian had a sister Margaret who was born in 1845, but it's equally likely that this passenger was another sister of Anna Josephine, Katrin, and Gretchen. They did have a sister Margaret who was born in 1844. It's possible that it's the same person and that she led the way for her sisters. This is pure speculation. There is no family lore in either branch of the family about another sister. The ship lists at that time did not require information about the person's destination.

The late 1860s and early 1870s were a time of massive German immigrations to the US, not only beacuse of political tensions, but also because of the opening of the western states to development, while Prussia was suffering economic hardships. In 1880 in Mayville, Dodge County WI, something like 80% of the grammar school students had parents who were recent German immigrants.

Back to Top Page

Latest update July 29, 2018