Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Kuhn Family of Tonawanda NY

The Depression caused my grandfather Alger Gochenour (1904, Woodstock VA to 1955, Tonawanda NY) to lose his job as an insurance salesman. His customers could not pay their premiums. My father Eugene Gochenour told me that his dad felt bad and paid for some customers for a while. In 1935 the bank foreclosed on Al's Tonawanda city bungalow. The family moved into an apartment in an 1830s farmhouse at 1865 Military Road near Ensminger Rd in Tonawanda.

Across the street was a working farm occupied by John Kuhn and family. The families became close friends and neighbors, so much so that my Aunt Alice Gochenour Ennis was named the executor of the estate when the last Kuhn family member passed in 2004.

The Kuhn homestead on Military Rd, Tonawanda NY 
The Kuhn farm
John Kuhn bringing in the hay
John Kuhn with son Richard. My Gochernour family home in the background.
The Kuhn barn
John Kuhn in his tractor

John and Richard Kuhn
John's German grandfather Henry Kuhn, born November 24, 1824 in Wissembourg, Alsace, France, immigrated to America in 1852. Several months after arriving he married Salomea Schear, another German from Alsace Lorraine. They had ten children before Henry's death in 1898 at age 73.

Henry's son Henry was born November 10, 1853. In 1878 he married Katharina Pierson, whose family were also original area settlers. They had twelve children before Henry's death in 1938 at age 83.

Henry and Katharina had son John Henry, born September 13, 1882. John married Julia Ensminger whose family was one of the earliest settlers. They had one son Richard and one daughter Lucille before Julia died in 1927. John Henry raised his children with the aid of Julia's unmarried sister Alma Ensminger. John died March 9, 1972.
Julia Ensminger
Wedding of John Kuhn and Julia Ensminger
Julia Ensminger Kuhn
John, Alma, and Lucille were familiar family friends when I was growing up.
In 1964 I took this photo with my Brownie camera: Alma Ensminger, John Kuhn,
my grandmother Emma Becker Gochenour, my mother Joyce Ramer Gochenour, and Lucille Kuhn.
John Kuhn holding Alice Gochenour, Alma Ensminger, Alger Gochenour with neighbor girl (Audry Morrow), Lucille Kuhn. About 1937.
Dad said the Kuhn house he remembered from the 1930s and the house I knew in the 1960s was unchanged in most ways. John did install a gas stove in place of the wood-burning one, and also indoor plumbing for a bathroom. But the furnishings, wallpaper, and rugs all dated to the turn of the century. There was an oak library table with plants; cushioned wicker furniture; a chiming clock; floral wallpaper and floral rugs; an upright piano I used to tinkle around on; a front parlor used for funerals that I was forbidden to enter.

The biggest change Dad saw was the selling off of the farmland. Dad grew up driving the tractor for John. And also stealing corn, then roasting it and inviting the Kuhns over to enjoy their own corn! In the early 1950s the Kuhn farmland was turned into postwar housing. In the late 1960s John sold the barn, first to a Rubinstein who wanted to have a theater there. Neighbors objected so the barn was dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere. And after her father's death,  Lucille raised money by selling land around the old farmhouse.

Richard Kuhn was born in 1916. My aunt has a photo of his father showing him the family farm and you can see the pride in John's eyes. All this will be yours, he seems to be saying, this farm which your forefathers built. But after Richard's WWII service he settled in California. John must have been heartbroken. Richard died in 1970 in San Diego, CA.
John Kuhn with son Richard
John's daughter Lucille never married. She was expected to take care of her father's home. When I knew Alma and Lucille they dressed in 1930s fashions. Alma (1900-1995) had long hair under a net, thick flesh colored stockings and sturdy tied shoes, and wore flowered dresses that were below the knee. Much like how my great-grandmother Greenwood dressed. After her father's death Lucille wore slacks.
Alma Ensminger in the 1970s
Lucille Kuhn in the 1970s
Lucille Kuhn was like a big sister to my Aunt Alice
Lucille Kuhn with her brother Richard
Lucille Kuhn in the 1940s
Lucille Kuhn in the 1970s
The Kuhn, Pierson, Shear, and Ensminger families were part of a migration of Germans seeking a better life. Beginning in 1830 German families left Alsace-Lorraine to settle in New York's Mohawk Valley. The 1825 completion of the Erie Canal, ending in Tonawanda, brought settlers westward. In 1836 the township of Tonawanda was established, named for a local Native American tribe. The Military Road settlers built St Peter's German Evangelical church in 1849. The church now houses the historical society.

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