(Thanks Deb Walsh for sharing this great biography with us!)
The following are excerpts from "The William and Elise Sperberg
Family History" written by Alice Sperberg Tibbetts, 1984, granddaughter
of Christian Wilhelm Sperberg and Charlotte Christine Wilhelmine Rachel
The French had what was called "The Splendid Century", the English
"The Magnificent Century" and we, Americans, could well call the years
1860-1960 "The Progressive Century". These were the years spanned by lives
of William and Elise Barfknecht Sperberg. In fact, Elise lived all but
two years and eight months of that century. During this period the phonograph,
the electric light bulb, electric motor, automobile, airplane, radio and
T.V., atomic energy and innumerable other inventions and discoveries were
made. Toward the end of this period we revelled in the sumptuous luxury
of these inventions.
William and Elise entered the scene at the beginning of this
extremely progressive era in an area far removed from the industrial activity.
Both were first generation Americans and as children of industrious German
immigrants, they exemplified the virtues of the pioneers in early rural
Wisconsin. They were quite typical pioneers and yet they were unique. This
uniqueness and the strain of it running through their progeny demands that
the story of their lives should not be allowed to fade into the past without
being recorded, so that future generations may take note of it.
In the year 1862, Christian Wilhelm Sperberg and his wife, Charlotte
Christine Wilhelmine Rachel Sperberg, who were married on October 26, 1837,
and seven of their eight children left their home at Ahlbeck, took them
across the Atlantic to Montreal, Canada, a journey which kept them on board
for six weeks. Some of the family's neighbors and friends had already immigrated
to Canada, which explains why they chose Canada rather than the U.S. for
their new home. The oldest daughter, Auguste Friederecke Wilhelmine, born
August 13, 1838, remained in Germany until about 1870, when she and her
husband, August Charles Friedrich Gebler III and their two young sons,
followed the rest of the family to Pembroke, Ontario. Christian Wilhelm
was listed as a zimmerman (carpenter) in the eintrag (register) in Pfarrant
au Ahlbeck (pastorate at Ahlbeck) and thus the family followed the Ottawa
River from Montreal in search of a location in which work in the shipbuilding
trade might be found. They remained in Renfrew for some time but soon moved
on to Pembroke, where their former friends and neighbors had settled.
Beside Friedericke, the family consisted of five boys Johann
August Friedrich Wilhelm (August), born February 25, 1842; Carl Ludwig
F. W. (Ludwig), born May 31, 1848; Ewalt (Edward), born in 1850; Friedrich
Wilhelm (William), born January 8, 1857; and Herman, born September 14,
1859; and two daughters, Wilhelmine Luise Alwine (Louise), born November
17, 1852; and Ida Albertine Wilhelmine (Bertha), born November 11, 1854.
The older children received a good education in the excellent
German schools. The younger children in being uprooted several times, did
not fare as well. William reported that he did not attend school more than
a year in his youth and did not learn to read or write in school. Every
member of the large immigrant family had to work. As a small boy William
served as a houseboy in an important residence in Pembroke. One of his
duties was to carry in the wood needed to stoke the eight stoves required
to heat the large home. some of these stoves were on the second floor.
The small boy, who could scarcely see over the large pile of wood he was
carrying, occasionally bumped the railing and wall of the stairway. After
several warnings without acceptable results, the lady of the house escorted
the boy with his load of wood up the stairs by leading him by the ear.
Later William secured a job as delivery boy for a meat market.
since he could not read and the volume of deliveries became too great for
him to remember which package went where, he was soon in trouble when patrons
who ordered pork chops complained of receiving soup bones and vice versa.
This terminated a job that he really liked and he was determined to learn
to read and write, which he accomplished with the help of his older brothers
The call to the land of opportunity in the south had already
been heard and heeded by some of the Sperbergs' long time neighbors and
friends. The older boys were especially interested in going to see what
this land, yet unknown, had to offer. August had married Johanna Maria
Pfitzner on July 7, 1868 in Alice Township, Ontario, and their first child,
Mary Ann Sperberg (Peters) was born in the Edinburg, Ontario, on May 19,
1869. Their second child, Amelia Minnie Sperberg (Kuckuk) was born in the
Township of Belle Plaine, Shawano County, Wisconsin in 1871, so it seems
reasonable to assume that the first of the Sperberg boys came to the Shawano,
Wisconsin area in about 1870. Ludwig and Edward obtained some land on what
is now Maple Road in the Town of Richmond, just west of East Hazel Drive,
and established themselves in a log cabin there. Ludwig was married on
September 19, 1872 to Sophia Malzahn. August settled on a farm on what
is now Spruce Road in the Town of Belle Plaine.
There was work to be found in the area in railroad building and
logging, and the two younger boys, William and Herman, followed their older
brothers in 1874, to be thus employed on the line to Oconto. Louise also
came to Wisconsin but Bertha stayed in Canada, marrying a Frenchman by
the name of Thomas Levesque and lived in Montreal. The parents stayed in
Pembroke until the boys were established and they finally arrived here
in the early 1880s.
.........Friedrich Wilhelm Sperberg and Hannah Maria Elise Barfknecht
were married by Pastor P. H. Dicke from the Cecil, Wisconsin pastorate
on July 17, 1879 at the Barfknecht home. The young couple began their married
life on a farm at the intersection of Hazel Drive and Maple Road. Brother
Ludwig lived on the farm across the road.
In the early 1800's Texas land promoters came to the Shawano
area, and William, being used to change and always having an eye open to
opportunity, was apparently impressed by these men and talked to his neighbors
and friends about moving to Texas. He would have made the move were it
not for Elise's reluctance. Instead the young couple bought nearly 200
acres of stony wilderness land, near the north edge of the town of Richmond,
built a few log buildings and moved into them. William's friends jokingly
called the area Texas. This name was later given to the school district
and it still identifies the area. The nearest neighbors were Indians of
the Menominee Reservation one-fourth mile away.
Tragedy soon struck the young couple. Their first born was a
son, Alfred William Robert, and he died about a month after he was born,
on November 16, 1880. Later in 1886, during Elise's absence from the house
to feed the chickens and help with the chores, fire swept through a part
of the room, and as a result, Anna Maria Emily, age four, died tragically
of burns on January 19, 1886.
William's small account book spanning the years 1917-1937 has
a notation on page one, "Moved to Texas, December 23, 1886." The family
moved in a farm wagon over roads that were little more than a trail full
of ruts and rocks. The family had grown to three living children, Martha
Aged three, Rudolph aged two, and Otto only two weeks and one day old.
Elise related that she and the children were perched on the wagon load
of household goods and the road was so rough that the wagon tipped over.
Fortunately no one was injured seriously, but Elise, with little Otto in
her arms, suffered a broken shoulder blade, which caused her pain for the
rest of her life but did not curtail her physical activity.
Anyone who remembers the stone fences on the Texas farm will
swear to the back breaking work it took to carve a farm out of that rocky
wilderness. A present witness to the size of those rocks are the stone
foundations of the basement barn and the red brick house which became the
family's new home in 1910. The most impressive of the stone fences led
from the house to the road, and was approximately 200 feet long, five feet
high and four feet wide. This has completely disappeared, the stones having
been hauled away for building fences, some as far away as Shawano.
There was an annual building program for the first fifteen to
eighteen years, with the wood and stones coming from the land itself. During
this time in addition to a seven room house, the following buildings were
constructed a large stone basement, cow and hay barn, a three mow grain
barn, a horse barn large enough to accommodate five or six horses with
hay storage space overhead, a two story grainery, a corn crib, an enclosed
buggy and wagon shed which housed the bob-sled, cutter, double surrey with
a fringed top, a single top buggy, and wagons, a long one-story building
behind the house which comprised a woodshed, workshop, and icehouse, a
machine shed to protect farm machinery from the weather, a chicken house,
a stock feeding shed connecting the two barns, a smoke house, and a two-holer
To insure a steady supply of lumber for their various building
projects, Herman and William operated a sawmill at Red River immediately
above the falls at the Red River bridge. Herman had married Berthe Sauer
and had settled nearby. There was another sawmill at Red River, a quarter
of a mile downstream, operated by Charles Scrivens, husband of Luise Sperberg,
and their son, Sam. Through an accident, Sam suffered a saw cut to his
head, which resulted in his death.
All five Sperberg brothers seem to have been adept at working
with wood, iron, and leather. They probably had been trained by their father
in Canada. They built wagons and sleighs and some furniture, and could
repair much of their factory made machinery, and oxen and horse accoutrements.
While the struggle to increase the production and efficiency
of the farm continued, some "modern" conveniences were installed to make
housekeeping for the large family easier. Seven more daughters were added
to the brood in Texas, but Lidia died on February 10, 1891, leaving a family
of seven girls and two boys, all of whom grew to adulthood and old age.
To go back to the "modern conveniences", a windmill was installed near
the house. It pumped water through pipes to a large tank for the livestock,
and also provided water to be carried into the house for household use.
A hand operated washing machine and a hand turned wringer stood in the
enclosed porch off the farmhouse kitchen. There was a large metal lined
box, sunk into the ground with one side bordering on the well, which in
summer held a large cake of ice to keep the perishable food stored there
Music was an important part of the Sperberg household. William
allowed himself the extravagance of owning a violin and learning to play
the instrument. Where he first became enchanted by these singing strings
is a mystery one wonders if it may not have been at the house in Pembroke
where he carried in wood as a small boy. When Martha was a young girl a
Story and Park parlor pump organ was purchased and soon William's violin
solos were accompanied by Martha on the organ. Each daughter in turn tried
her hands and feet at pumping music out of that ornate instrument. Many
a Sunday evening was spent with family and friends gathered around the
two instrumentalists, singing hymns, civil War songs, love ballads and
such tuneful classics as "The Last Rose of the Summer" from the opera Martha,
which happened to be in "A Book of Favorite Songs."
Das Evangelische Gemeinschaft was certainly the most stabilizing
and adhesive element, both spiritually and socially, in the Sperberg household.
Their former neighbors and friends from Ahlbeck, Germany and Pembroke,
Canada, who had preceded them to the town of Richmond, Shawano county,
Wisconsin, were already holding Sunday meetings in the Friedrich Oldenburg's
log cabin on the bank of Red River, almost directly north of the present
church, and had formed the Salem Evangelische Gemeinschaft in 1872, two
years before William and Herman arrived from Canada. some of these people
were members of the Evangelical movement in Germany. Many years later,
William reported that the first time he attended one of these meetings
on the bank of the Red, he heard a woman's voice singing so beautifully
that he thought it was the voice of an angel. He later discovered, upon
entering the cabin that it was the voice of his sister-in-law, Sophie.
Though Elise was brought up Lutheran, her conversion to the Evangelical
faith was permanent and the couple remained dedicated and devoted members
of the Red River Church through its change to Evangelical-United Brethren
and later to United Methodist Church. William served on the board of Trustees
and as Treasurer for a number of years and sometimes played his violin
at special occasions.
Near tragedy struck the family again in the summer of 1902, when
their eldest son, Rudolph, who was a carpenter apprentice, fell from a
barn he was working on. For days the sixteen year old youth hovered between
life and death, but he recovered sufficiently to be brought to his home
where he made a complete recovery.
In 1906 the two oldest daughters, Martha and Helen, were married
and consequently left the family home. Helen went to live in Shawano and
Martha went to the State of Washington with her bridegroom. In 1910 the
family moved into the new seven bedroom red brick house built at the edge
of the apple orchard by Herman Laatsch and Son of Shawano, and bricked
by Eugene Stickney of Manawa. Since the house had ample room, the Texas
school teacher made her home there for some years. In 1914 the old parlor
organ was replaced by an upright piano and Lavina became the family virtuoso
and the piano-violin repertoire of duets grew remarkably.
Rudolph and Otto married in 1910 and neither decided...................to
stay on the farm, which already was operating with considerable hired help.
William went into semi-retirement in 1911 by renting the farm on halves
to a son-in-law, William Schroeder. As a prelude to full retirement, he
purchased forty acres of pine woodland at Red River, and another forty
acres of woodland on Gardner Creek near Gresham, the latter to provide
lumber for the retirement house to be built at Red River. Long winter days
were spent cutting the trees and hauling the logs to the sawmill. Finally
the retirement house at Red River became a reality and according to a notation
in William's account book, the "family moved to Red River on April 12,
1916." The furniture including the heavy upright piano, was again moved
by wagon, but unlike the 1886 move, this time it was over good roads and
on a lovely spring day. Another notation in the account book states, "Farm
sold on April 8, 1916." the farm was sold in two parcels 112 acres and
80 acres respectively.
Life on the farm, because of its remove location, had not changed
much with the turn of the century, but the move to Red River catapulted
the shrinking family into the 20th century. With a daily mail delivery
to their mail box in front of their house, a daily newspaper, The Milwaukee
Journal, was subscribed to. In a few years a telephone line was build.
With ten or twelve parties on the line, the Sperberg ring was one long
and three short.
In the late 1920s an electric power line was built through Red
River and this relegated the kerosene lamps to the closet shelf for use
only in an emergency. The first notation regarding this in the afore mentioned
account book is, "Electric light bill, January 8, 1929, $1.00. Thereafter,
the bills ranged from $1.00 to $1.68 through 1937. Electricity put the
household Still more in touch with the 20th century by the addition of
Willaim and Elise were now alone, all of their daughters being
married, and they now had the time to enjoy the fruits of their labors.
They continued farming in a small way, with two cows, a flock of chickens,
and a pair of Indian ponies. William took the office of Town Assessor for
a number of years, and often on a spring or summer morning he took off
with a sandwich tucked in his pocket, in his two-wheeled sulkey cart for
a day's excursion to the far reaches of the township. He enjoyed chatting
with the farmers and viewing the progress of the crops and the area in
general. Yes, they were alone but not lonely. With several children living
nearby and new grandchildren arriving every year (the total in that generation
numbered thirty-eight) they had frequent visitors and loved ones nearby
on whom they could call if an emergency arose.
One cannot help but regret that time could not stand still for
William and Elise at this time. It was a happy, relaxed period during which
they celebrated their fiftieth, sixtieth, and up to their sixty-fourth
wedding anniversaries. The Great Depression of the thirties disturbed their
financial security. Fortunately, their frugal habits, respect for honest
work, resourcefulness, enjoyment and contemplation of nature and the simple
things in life, and inevitably their faith in the religious life brought
them serenely to the gracious, old age.