By Beth Dippel
Executive Director at the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center
Tucked away along the Sheboygan River, twelve miles northwest of the city of Sheboygan in Town Herman, sits an unincorporated village once known as Lippers Mills. Today we know it as Franklin, the little settlement closest to Lakeland, its rapidly growing university neighbor.
Lippers Mills was settled in 1847 by a group of immigrants from Lippe Detmold, a small principality in today’s North Rhine Westphalia region of Germany.
That group of 112 from the village of Langenholzhausen came to America in search of a better life full of opportunity; they wished to leave poverty, political chaos and religious persecution behind.
On March 4, 1847, this colony, led by Frederick Boeger Reineking, sailed down the Weser River to the port of Bremen. Five days later they boarded a small sailing ship named the Agnes von Bremen. Loaded well beyond its legal capacity with 400 passengers, the ship departed for New York. The crossing would be an arduous eight week long journey. Over-crowding, bad weather, bad food, shortage of fresh drinking water, bad sanitation, vermin, sea sickness and death marked the crossing. Because of the severe overloading, the ship was forced to land at Quebec rather than New York.
One man lost his wife and others lost children during the crossing; a total of fourteen died during the voyage and were buried at sea.
On July 25, 1847, eleven weeks after their departure from Bremen, the colonists finally arrived at their settlement destination in Sections 16 and 17 of the Town of Herman. The country was an unbroken old growth forest inhabited by wild animals and Indians living in wigwams and bark huts. There were no roads, just paths the Indians traveled from one place to another.
Each family purchased at least 40 acres of land at the cost of $1.25 per acre. The more well-to-do, such as Fred Reineking, bought 80 acres or more and helped their poorer brethren to purchase land. Reineking purchased a quarter section of land and added another 160 acres later. Assisted by his sons, he helped clear the forest and cut roads.
Lippers Mills, written by SCHRC volunteer Richard A. Stoelb, is a fascinating look back at the group’s trials and tribulations, but it also documents Franklin’s history from its beginning as Lippers Mills to its current situation.
Stoelb details many aspects of life pertinent to German immigrants, including timber frame construction, digging of wells, the stone oven and summer kitchen.
Summer kitchens were structures separate from the rest of the house, built to reduce the risk of house fires and keep the heat generated from cooking out of the house during summer. They were also used as added living space, sleeping quarters, or a dining place for the family or threshing crew during harvest time.
A stone oven was also an outdoor structure heated by a fire built inside its vault. Once the oven was fully heated, the coals and ash were swept out and the radiant heat did the cooking. Today they make great pizzas, but in pioneer days they were used for baking large batches of bread at one time. If a family, for some reason or another, did not have such an oven of its own, they carried the dough to a neighbor who did. The Germans missed their coarse, heavy black bread made from whole grain rye, but grudgingly switched to lighter versions as time went on.
If you happen to find a pile of stones behind an old farmhouse, take a close look. It could be the remains of an old stone oven.
Other topics covered in the book include the Franklin post office, Franklin brewery and beer cellar, the Franklin Haus, Jacob Eifler’s Blacksmith shop, the August Goetsch wagon and carriage shop, and the Langenberg pottery.
The first brewery in the area was built in the village by a Mr. Menke in 1853. In 1855, Gustave Seidemann and W. Pfeil purchased the brewery. A fire damaged the brewery in 1861 and a workman, Charles (Carl) Mathes, was killed in the fire. He was in the basement when the upper floor collapsed, dumping about 2000 bushels of barley on him.
Seideman bought an interest in the Franklin Brewery and subsequently took over as sole owner of the business for the next twelve years. After the fire, he built a new and larger brewery and excavated a beer cellar just north of the village to store the beer and keep it cool. He made the village his home until his death December 12, 1887.
When the brewery ceased operation, the cellar was closed up. Later it gained new life, serving as a cheese cellar for Pfeifer’s Cellar Cured Cheese. For a time it provided a residence to a person or persons unknown to us today. It had a short stint as a rifle range and it was reported that during Prohibition it was used as a Bachelor’s Club for social gatherings with the ladies and to hide from the prying eyes of federal agents.
The Langenberg pottery factory produced a large variety of earthenware; bowls, casseroles, ramekins, milk pitchers, churns, pots, ceramic milk pans, covered milk pitchers, butter tubs, cheese strainers, covered baking dishes without handles, covered pipkins (pots) with hollow handles, bundt cake pans, crocks, jugs, jars, flower pots, bird houses for purple martins, jardenieres (ornamental pots for plants and flowers), cups, saucers and plates. Occasionally, he made teapots for personal use and specialty items, e.g. small figurines for Christmas.
In use during the Civil War and beyond, Langenberg Pottery is characterized by its distinctive rich red brown color, a press mark on the handles, and a double ring around the upper and middle part. Glazing is sparse and the wares are not trademarked.
Langenberg operated the pottery as late as 1891, and by 1893 he had gone into semi-retirement.
During its time, the Langenberg Pottery enjoyed a statewide reputation for the fine quality of its products. Today, pieces are sought out by earthenware collectors.
Franklin is today but a small and sleepy crossroads community. But for a century, it was a center of activity and German culture.
Lippers Mills tells so much more than this brief review can accommodate. It is a good read and great local history.
You can get a copy at the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center, 518 Water Street, Sheboygan Falls. Or find it online at schrc.org/shop.