As Johannes Gunther and Carolina Jost recited their marriage vows at the altar of The Most Holy Trinity Church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on Aug 29, 1847, their hearts were certainly filled with emotion. Having left their families behind it seems likely, according to documents, that no family was there to serve witness. Yet the young couple must have been filled with hopes and dreams for the life they would build together in America. Little is known about their immigration journeys or how they met. What is known is that Johannes was born in 1817 in Bann, Pfalz, Germany to Franz Gunther and Apolonia Paul. He was the second of six children and his father was a linen weaver. Carolina Jost, was born in May of 1825. She came from Soulz, in the Bas Rhin region of Alsace France. According to the marriage certificate, she was the daughter of Nicklaus Jost and Eva Heid.
After marrying, “John” and “Carrie” rented a house in Middle Village, Queens for $6 a month. They saved their money and bought a farm in Middle Village which they eventually sold to purchase an 18 acre farm on Merrick Rd in Springfield. For many years their neighbors were the Dubons and the Deckers. John and Carrie went on to have eleven children. (Anna, Katherine, John, Jacob, Magdalene, Margaret, Theresa, Joseph, Mary, Frances, Mary, Frank). A big family certainly brought a lot of joy and there are numerous newspaper articles detailing parties and elaborate celebrations the Gunther family enjoyed. Not surprisingly, there was hardship as well. Several of the Gunther children died young. Though not uncommon at the time, the losses must have been devastating. The family was deeply devout and must have relied heavily on their Catholic faith to get them through. St. Boniface Church was very important to John and Carrie. Many sacraments were celebrated there and John was a contributor to the building of the new church as well as the large bell which was added in 1871. The children walked three miles every day to St Boniface School where many friendships developed, some of which would later result in marriages. Carolina and John’s children became part of the “double shot” club (two children married Stattels and two married Mullers). Descendents also married into the Hoeffner, Hartmann, Boening, and Forthofer families.
Joseph (1864-1941) and Mary Muller (1864-1937) were neighbors as children and used to walk to St. Boniface School together. In 1887, they married and eventually had 13 children (Joseph, Elizabeth, Frank, Edward, Theresa, Anne, John, Frances, Henry, Charlie, Mae, Phillip, and Caroline). Joseph started out with a small farm in Springfield, but then got into the hotel business. For several years he worked at Herman’s Hotel. From 1892-1897 Joseph managed the Central Ave Hotel, at the corner of Central Ave and Fosters Meadow Rd in the town of Hempstead. Joseph was an active citizen of Foster’s Meadow. He served as Captain of the Young Farmers’ Light Guard and won prizes for his excellent shooting skills in various contests. As a hotel proprietor he was actively involved in the yearly “Farmers’ Turnout”. The celebration was an all day affair for farmers to show off their crops and participate in target shooting and parades. Mary worked tirelessly to prepare meals for the special day.
In 1897 Joseph built his own hotel, “Gunther’s” on Springfield Blvd near Merrick Rd. Sadly, the hotel had a terrible fire in 1901. Joseph awoke to the sounds of one of his children coughing and barely got everyone out in time. Tragically, an elderly relative who had been living with them (Catherine Stephan) ran back into the house to try to save some valuables and was killed. The hotel and all of its contents were destroyed. The home was one of the largest in the area at the time and the fire one of the worst in the borough’s history. The estimated damages totaled $15,000 and the property was only insured for $4,000. The loss of life and of money must have influenced the family’s decision not to rebuild.
Besides the horrific loss of Mrs. Stephan, Joseph lost his business and the building he had worked so hard for. Thankfully his family escaped, but they were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The family moved to Jamaica. For a number of years Joseph managed the Five Point Cafe at Liberty Ave and Merrick Rd and they rented a home on Smith St. Eventually, they were able to buy a home on Hobson St and later 106th Ave. Another tragedy is that two sons, Frank and Henry, died very young. In 1937, the couple celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary at a party in their home. Joseph and Mary certainly had much to be grateful for. At the time they had 11 children and 14 beautiful grandchildren and a family that anyone would be proud of. Joseph and Mary are buried in St. Boniface Cemetery in the same plot as Joseph’s parents John and Carolina.
The two other sons John and Jacob moved to East New York and remained neighbors for the rest of their lives on Jamaica Ave.
Jacob (1853-1905) married Mary Stattel (1860-1928) and owned a Hay/Feed business. Jacob and Mary had 12 children. Seven survived to adulthood. (John, Henry, Fred, Maria, Anna, Emma, Elizabeth). Jacob was an involved member of his East NY community. He was a member of the Catholic Club, the St Vincent DePaul Society, and the Democratic Party. Jacob and Mary are buried in St John’s Cemetery, Middle Village.
John (1851-1905) married Elizabeth Gerlach (1860-1938)and had 12 children. (Mary, Magdalene, Sophia, Cecelia, John, Anna, Louise, Elizabeth, Christopher, Peter, Frederick, John). John was very active in his East NY community. He was treasurer of the Entracht Society, a member of East New York Council No. 179, Catholic Benevolent Legion and of St. Michael's R. C. Church. He was a hotel keeper and for thirty years was the owner of the Farmers’ Home, a hotel along the old Jamaica plank road where LI farmers stopped on their way to market. John and Mary are buried in St. John’s Cemetery, Middle Village.
Anna (1847-1932) married John Boening (1843-1941). They lived for many years on Springfield Blvd where John was a farmer. Anna and John had 6 children ( Philip, Henry, Joseph, John, Jacob, Anna). John was active in his community and a member of several clubs. He served as president of the Farmers and Citizens Club of Middle Village and was a board member of the Queens-Brooklyn branch of the Federation of American Citizens of German Descent. Anna and John also enjoyed many social events. Stories of their parties and gatherings of friends were written about in local newspapers.
The Boening farm adjoined Joseph and Theresa Rottkamp’s. In 1904 John Boening and Joseph Rottkamp made news when they sued the City of New York for damage caused to their farm crops which they claimed to be caused by the pumping operations of the Brooklyn Water Works station at Springfield. The men alleged that they had suffered jointly $16,000 dollars in damage in the previous 6 years and that Rottkamp even had a brook drained dry by the pumping. Expert witnesses were called who testified that the subterranean pumping stations were 50-60 feet below ground and had no bearing on the crops. The men lost the case and the decision was of major import. If the decision had gone in their favor there were many other similar cases in Nassau and Queens which could have amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Magdalena “Lena”(b.1855-1942)) married Joseph Buck (1852-1946) in 1877. For many years they lived S. 10th St. New Hyde Park where Joseph was a farmer. The couple had 9 children (Elizabeth, Charles, Mary (Mammie), Joseph, Albert, Theresa (Hattie), Anna, Carolina, Frances). Magdalena and John both lived a long life. Joseph had a strong work ethic and was still farming a sizable piece of land into his 90’s! Even at that advanced age he was doing all of the preparation and care of his crops himself. For his 92nd birthday, his enormous family gathered at his home to celebrate at an outdoor picnic and garden party. Lena and Joseph are buried in St. Boniface Cemetery.
Margaret (b.1858-?) Sadly, little is known about Margaret. She is listed in the 1870 census as being 12 years old but records cannot be found beyond that at this time.
Theresa “Hattie” (b. 1862-1934) married George Stattel (1865-1935) in 1883. They became the parents of 7 children. (John, Mary, Carrie, Annie , Maggie, Theresa, Elizabeth). For many years George worked as a truck farmer and rented a home on Hempstead Turnpike. Late in life he switched careers and became a bronze metal plater and bought a home in Franklin Square. The family celebrated lots of family gatherings at their home and for their 31st anniversary they were given a fabulous surprise party which included music, dancing, refreshments and a huge guest list. Hattie and George are buried in St. Boniface Cemetery.
Frank (1871-?) Frank is listed in the 1880 census. No further records have been found at this time.
Frances (1865-1932) married John Muller(1861-1892) in 1887. They had 3 children together (Martin, John, Mary). Tragically in May of 1892 John died at just 30 years old. One month later Baby Mary died. John and Mary are buried together in St. Boniface Cemetery. Frances remarried. Her new husband, Henry Forthofer, raised her boys as his own and Frances and Henry would have 9 more children together. (Henry jr, Anna, Theresa, Madeline, Elizabeth, Mae, Cecilia,Frances and Carolina).
Henry owned Forthofer’s Hotel, at Springfield and Merrick Rd. It became a popular destination for farmers and a gathering place for various club meetings and assorted shindigs. Fun events such as “smokers”, races, “corn parties”, etc. were commonplace. Sadly, in 1906, Forthofer’s, suffered the same fate as that of Gunther’s. A terrible fire consumed the hotel. The fire, which began in a blacksmith shop, spread to Forthofer’s and due to windy conditions also sparked a fire at a barn a quarter mile away and destroyed the home of Martin Muller as well. Just barely, everyone managed to escape. But Frances faced the same devastation that her brother Joseph had experienced just five years earlier. The family lost everything. The details about how they recovered are unknown. It is evident that Forthofer’s existed as a an establishment for years to come until it was razed in 1931 in order to put up a bank. Frances Forthofer was a woman of strong faith. She was President of the Altar Society of Mary Magdalene Church and a member of the Catholic Daughters of America, Frances and Henry are buried in St. Boniface Cemetery.
John and Carolina could never have fathomed the legacy that would result from their love, their example, their work ethic and their faith! Over the years the family has grown and grown and a family tree has not been done in many years. One can only imagine the number of descendants today. In a newspaper story describing a family reunion that took place in 1949, there were 68 grandchildren, 131 great grandchildren, and 154 great great grandchildren! With the in-laws the family totaled 526 and, of those, one family member, Thomas Milton, lost his life in service to our country and 59 were veterans of WW2. A legacy and family to be proud of!
Submitted by: Jeannie Picchioni
Date: Feb. 1, 2017