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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History

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The Pioneer, a monthly supplement to the Sheboygan Press

Sheboygan Press - June 23, 1925

Henry Otten, Enterprising Sheboygan Pioneer

No history of the early days of Sheboygan's commercial and social development would be comprehensive did it not include the name of the subject of this sketch, Henry Otten, who, although he was not among the earliest comers to our city, made up for lost time with characteristic energy and application, to which a monument stands in the center of our business district to this day - the Otten Block on North Eighth street at Center avenue, which was in its day one of our city's finest business blocks, but more of this anon.

Henry Otten was born on February 13, 1808, in Alt Lueneburg in the then kingdom of Hanover, Germany. His parents were Christian and Anna (Teitgen) Otten. He was educated in his native country, spent several years in travel in Europe, and in early manhood he emigrated to America, locating then in New York City, where he was naturalized July 27, 1829. The records show that he was a member of the New York State militia for seven years.

The Family

Mr. Otten's marriage certificate sets forth the fact that he was married to Miss Maria Catherine Dieckmann (also a native of Hanover), in New York City on March 30, 1841, by the Rev. Carl Frederick E. Stockholm, pastor of the Reformed church there.

In January, 1852, the Otten family came to Sheboygan, where they spent the remainder of their lives. Eight children were born to them. The eldest one died at the age of four years. Anna became the wife of Henry K. Voight, a Sheboygan merchant. Gerhard, Jr., a dealer in real estate, was married to Miss Louise Kent, a daughter of one of Sheboygan's earliest German settlers. Christopher married Miss Louise Halbach. Henry was a prominent merchant here and married Miss Laura Rabe. Louise was the wife of Hans Van Kaas, a hardware merchant and painter. Adolph was accidentally drowned in 1863, at the age of ten years. Caroline, the youngest child, became the wife of Ferdinand W. Thieman, a well known local druggist. All the children have joined their parents in The Beyond, the last one to go being Christopher, last year. All those who married into the Otten family were members of Sheboygan pioneer families. Some of their descendants are prominent citizens of Sheboygan today.

The Otten Block

On coming to Sheboygan, Henry Otten invested extensively in real estate. He soon erected the Otten Block, already mentioned above. This for the time very ambitious structure was originally built three stories high and was used for stores on the ground floor, for offices on the second floor, and for a large hall on the top floor, which was much used for balls, theatricals and other social functions. At one time the county offices were located on the second floor, until the building was partially destroyed by fire the night of January 1, 1860 - an intensely cold night, when the volunteer fireman of the time suffered severely and had a hard time fighting the flames with the primitive means at their command.

But for that time big fire did not discourage Henry Otten, although it caused him a big loss. The following building season he, in company with this brother-in-law, Gerhard Dieckmann, rebuilt the block, but only two stories high, as it now stands, the property of Otten heirs.

Other Otten Properties

Mr. Otten also owned other now valuable properties of the Otten heirs, the principal ones comprising the entire south half of Block 106 of the original plat of the city of Sheboygan, fronting east on North Eighth street, north of Niagara avenue. The corner lot was originally occupied by the Otten homestead, the dwelling, one of the most excellent in its time and then the center of many social activities, being later moved west and facing Niagara avenue, to make room for the row of brick store structures now gracing the whole half block front on North Eighth street. The site of the dwelling moved to face Niagara avenue is now occupied by the Thiemann Ford salesrooms and repair shop building.

A Modest Man - Capable Wife

Mr. Otten was a democrat from the time he came to this country, but he never desired political prominence or public office. He was quiet and unassuming by nature, but possessed a good business ability, combined with strict integrity and other qualities of manhood that command esteem and respect.

Both Henry Otten and his wife were consistent members of the Reformed church. He passed away February 8, 1861, and she on May 1, 1888. Between these two dates Mrs. Otten was acting administrator of the Otten estate, and she discharged her trust as such most faithfully and with rare judgment, preserving the considerable properties intact and while increasing in value space with the growth of the city, for the benefit of the children.

Otten Block Tenants

The city of Sheboygan was for many years the "steadiest" tenant of Otten's block. Until the new City Hall was built, the corner hall on the second floor of the block was the meeting place of our city fathers, in.a., our common council, and the city clerk also had his office there. And of all the men who occupied that office, Charles Adelphi and Wenzel Kunz, in the order here given, will be most vividly remembered by surviving old-timers - the one for his rather brusque and the other for his exceedingly courteous manner. Both men were German university graduates. Adolphi was a rather crusty, portly, spectacled old bachelor, but kind of heart. Kunz came by his courtly manner honestly, for he was a scion of a noble Austrian family, which fact he for reasons of his own never referred to. His diminutive person was always dapper in faultless apparel, his fancy silk vests and snowy linen were the envy of all young Sheboygan dandies (and there were quite a number of them then, as there are now).

"Kunzl" as he was familiarly called, had a wife who matched him in quite all his characteristics. They were both talented actors and could have succeeded as such professionally had they chosen the stage. But they were happy and content to contribute to the success of the German theatricals which flourished mightily in Blocki's theater, then existing on the northeast corner of Fifth street and Center avenue (this was in the Fifties and Sixties), and in Otten's hall and later in the old Turner hall on Jefferson avenue, which building was destroyed winter before last, after it had for many later years been devoted to industrial use.

Among other tenants of the rebuilt Otten's block was Carl Zillier, who had the editorial room, office and printing plant of the National Democrat (the same German-language weekly still published - now twice weekly - by the Democrat Printing Company) established in the middle of the second floor. Here Frank Gottsacker served his printer apprenticeship and later advanced to foreman and finally, some years before Mr. Zillier's death, to editor. The Democrat office and printing plant was later removed to its present location in the company's own building.

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