(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 Sperberg

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 and sisters.

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 toilet.

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 cold.

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 a radio.

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.

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