Cleveland, 1866-1891

This article is a placeholder giving an overview of what we know (and conjecture) about Alois’ life in Cleveland, Ohio roughly spanning the years 1866 through his death in 1891. It will be replaced by a fuller narrative when the research is complete.

In 1865 it was about 76 miles from Johnstown to Pittsburgh via the great Pennsylvania Railroad. From Pittsburgh on to Cleveland was another 150 or so on the tracks of the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago, and then those of the Cleveland & Pittsburgh. The entire trip could be made in less than a day if the right trains could be caught, an unlikely prospect given that the PRR, while maintaining a station and significant operations at Johnstown, didn’t consider it a major passenger stop. The cost of the one-way ticket might be somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 for second-class accomodations.

Sometime in 1865 or 1866, we believe (for reasons outlined in the Johnstown article), Alois chose to make the trip and restart his American experience in the Forest City. The only actual facts we have are that at the time of the 1860 census he was living with Josephina and their two boys in Johnstown, and in the 1870 census he was living in Cleveland with his second wife Rosina (nee Zweidinger), the widow of a Joseph Keller, and seven children. These included Frank and William from his first marriage, and Catherine and Mathias from hers, as well as three young sons all born in Ohio. Because of limitations in the 1870 census data we don’t know exactly where they were living, other than that it was Ward 6. His occupation was listed as carpenter.

How and exactly when he came to marry Rosina we have not been able to determine. He lost his first wife, likely in childbirth, in 1862. Rosina had married Joseph Keller in Cleveland in 1856, and he may have died some time between then and 1865. Alois may have taken his sons to Cleveland and then met her, or they may have been introduced by friends and relations before he moved. She may even have traveled to Johnstown and wed him there sometime between 1862 and 1865. That latter theory has some weight given that we have not been able to find their marriage record. A lot of Johnstown’s history was destroyed in the flood of 1889.

In any event, marry they did, and after Charles, who was born in November of 1866, the children came in regular succession every two years. Louis Jr. was born in April of 1868, Joseph in May of 1870, and John came along sometime in 1872. In 1873 Alois and Rosina purchased a house at 37 Marion Street from the administrator of the estate of a Joseph Keller for $3500.00. It is tempting to think that this must have been her former husband, but at the same time it’s difficult to reconcile the timing unless one of two things occurred: either the probate process for his estate was carried on for a very long time; or the couple split up for other reasons before he died. The other option is simply that this is not the same Joseph Keller. On that question we have been able to shed no light.

In an 1873 Cleveland city directory Alois is listed by that name as an organ maker with Jewett and Goodman, an old Cleveland firm with a factory at Bond and Superior streets, not far from where he lived. Given his training in cabinetmaking it’s not difficult to imagine the kind of work Alois might have done in an organ factory. The directory also listed “Louis Betz” at the same address, profession carpenter. It seems that he was taking additional work on the side, and with his steadily growing family who could blame him? In May of 1874 Conrad was born, and again two years later, in July of 1876, my great-grandfather Edward joined the crowd in the little house on Marion Street. The couple now had a total of ten children to support.

Between the census of 1870 and that of 1880 all we have are a few photographs and the listings that appeared regularly in editions of the city directory. The 1875 directory still has Alois working as a carpenter, but the organ factory is no longer mentioned. In the 1879 directory he is listed for the first time as a retail grocer, with his store in the house on Marion Street. That same directory lists son William working as a painter at age 21, and step-son Mathias has taken up the organ making trade, perhaps for the same company his step-father had been employed by. He would have been about 17.

The census of 1880 gives us a detailed picture of Alois’ household. He was 52 years of age when the census was enumerated on June 12th of that year, and still operating a retail grocery. His wife Rosina was 46, and keeping house. Son William had begun working as a machinist at age 21. Frank, 20, was working as a baker. Catherine, age 21 was “at home” which probably meant helping her mother with the house and perhaps taking in some sewing or washing. Her brother Mathias was still making organs at age 18. Charles at 13 was helping out his father in the store. Louis, Joseph and John, ages 12, 10 and 8 respectively, were at school. Conrad, age 6, was presumably still at his mother’s apron strings.

There is little change in these circumstances until the 1887 city directory, which was published the same year that the family posed for a group photograph taken by son John outside the Marion Street house. In that issue Alois is listed as a cabinetmaker. No mention is made of the retail grocery, but the directories were not very consistent and because later directories indicate retail activity at the same address we think it was still in operation. Charles, then 20 years old, was employed as a coachman. Louis Jr., age 19, worked as a cashier for E. R. Hull & Co., a popular clothing and furnishings store on Ontario Street that was the forerunner of the May Department Stores. William, 29, was employed by Keller, Betz & Co., apparently a family firm about which we know nothing.

Perhaps the most interesting change we see in the 1887 directory is the addition of two new members of the household. George Betz is listed as a puddler, a job specific to the making of bar iron, and Lawrence Betz is listed as a plumber. We have very little idea who these two individuals were, although it’s a safe bet that they are close relations. Given George’s trade a connection with Johnstown is possible, and in fact there is a Betz family there in 1870 with two sons named George and Lawrence. To go beyond that would be mere conjecture at this point. The fact that Lawrence is a plumber is interesting given my great-aunt Marie Boehmer’s recollection that a sister-in-law of Lena Sar-Louis (nee Betz) was married to a plumber who went off to live in Indianapolis. Perhaps more details on these connections will emerge in the future.

In 1890 Alois sat for a portrait at Liebich’s studio on Euclid Avenue. Since the records of the 1890 census were largely destroyed the city directory published that same year gives our last glimpse of his extended family before his death. Alois, then 62, is still listed as a carpenter. Son Charles, age 23, is a teamster. Sons Joseph and John are working in the store at 37 Marion Street, as butcher and clerk respectively. Louis Jr. is still working for E. R. Hull as a cashier, and William is still working as a machinist. Relations George and Lawrence are still there, the former still working as a puddler, but the latter now listed as a “helper,” which seems a step down from plumber.

Alois Betz, journeyman carpenter, veteran of the Royal Bavarian Army, emigrant, merchant, cabinetmaker, and patriarch passed away on April 12th, 1891 of complications from bronchitis. He was 63 years old, his short span a poor reward for years of courage in the face of adversities few of us today can understand. At his death he was attended by physician P.J. Spenser, the same doctor who had brought several of his children into the world. He was buried in Catholic Cemetery on Woodland Avenue, now known as St. John’s Cemetery. We have not yet located his stone. In 1899 he was joined there by Rosina, and the history of the immigrant generation of our family came to an end. Of her life, and the lives of their children after Alois’s death we have more to say in another article.

Looking for Louis


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