Relatives of Johann Gutenberg Ran the City Meat Market (1869)

By David R. Schleper

According to the Shakopee Argus-Tribune, on Dec. 5, 1940, the inventor of the movable type had direct descendants living in Shakopee in the 1850s.

The Minneapolis Tribune published an article about the descendants of Johann Gutenberg. In 1439, Johann Gutenberg invented a movable type, which changed history.

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg (ca. 1400 – Feb. 3, 1468) was a German blacksmith, goldsmith, printer, and publisher who introduced printing to Europe with the printing press. His introduction of mechanical movable type printing to Europe started the Printing Revolution. It spread the learning to the masses.

Johann Gutenberg
Johann Gutenberg

Gutenberg in 1439 was the first European to use movable type. Among his many contributions to printing are: the invention of a process for mass-producing movable type; the use of oil-based ink for printing books; adjustable molds; mechanical movable type; and the use of a wooden printing press.

Movable Printing Press
Movable Printing Press

The use of movable type was a marked improvement on the handwritten manuscript, which was the existing method of book production in Europe, and Gutenberg’s printing technology spread rapidly, throughout Europe and then later the whole world.

Gutenberg Bible
Gutenberg Bible

The lineage of Johann Gutenberg, who made possible today’s newspapers through his invention of movable type in 1439, extends into Minnesota.

John Gutenberg was born April 7, 1828, in Prussia. On Feb. 20, 1851, John married Dora Vichman. In 1853, the family emigrated to America. They lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a short time.

In 1855, John and Dora and their children moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, and in the spring of 1857 they moved to Shakopee. He was a musician.

John Gutenberg, in company with H. Fanakuch, built a hotel. He also did mason work and dealt in livestock. John then worked in the butcher business, and in 1869 he established the City Meat Market on Holmes Street.

Dora Vichman Gutenberg died in Shakopee on Jan. 6, 1875.

The Great Fire of 1879 happened on Thursday, Oct. 2, 1879. According to The Shakopee Story by Julius Coller II, it was a clear, warm, lazy fall day. The trees had lost most of their leaves, and Shakopee people were on downtown streets, busy after lunch. At the Argus building, Editor William Hinds was finishing the paper that was ready to go to press.

He could smell burning leaves wafting through the open windows. Suddenly, someone below yelled out, “Fire!” When he looked out from the window, Hinds saw the National Hotel on the corner of Holmes and First Street was on fire.

Here is an advertisement from 1866 for the National Hotel.

National Hotel Advertisement

Here is a picture of the National Hotel, taken in 1875.

National Hotel

Please note that the City Meat Market is to the left of the National Hotel. It is the two-story building. The first floor was the City Meat Market, while an apartment was on the second floor. The National Hotel is located at what currently is Valley Sports at 102 1st Ave. West, on the corner of First Avenue and Holmes Street.

Hinds, always a newspaper man, scribbled a few lines on the fire for the paper, and then, after looking out and seeing the black clouds of smoke coming towards his building, hurried outside.

A bucket brigade and willing hands of the citizens of Shakopee helped, but the wind fanned the flames, and it continued to spread. The mayor, recorder, and city attorney rushed to the train depot and telegraphed St. Paul for help. The St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad offered a special train, and St. Paul city responded with a hose and fire company with all equipment. A clear track was allowed to allow the train to hurry to the stricken city.

Meanwhile, the increasing wind continued to blow out of the north. The fire moved beyond the National Hotel to Mrs. Schutz’s residence and storehouse. Next it continued to the two-story frame building of John Gutenberg. Gutenberg’s stock of meat and the contents of the apartment upstairs were in flames. The building, including the City Meat Market, burned to the ground.

Across the street, Kohls’s and Berens’s removed their stock of merchandise in case it blew across the avenue. (Note: The Kohls’s and Berens’s Store was located on the east side of Holmes Street and First Avenue.)

Next it was the Heidenreich’s one-story saloon with the apartment in the rear. The black smoke and embers soon enveloped the bar. It continued to burn southward and leaped across the alley to Peter Mergens’s building, which was also a saloon of John Donnersbach. Up in flames went the saloon, even with the hard work of the bucket brigade. It just wasn’t helping; the wind kept blowing. Next was John Frank’s tailor shop. Frank moved most of the contents across the street to D. L. How’s lawn across the street. (Note: This is David Lennox How and Mary Sherrard How’s house, which later became the first hospital in Shakopee, and later became the American Legion, finally torn down to build the First National Bank, which later became the third city hall before being torn down recently.)

The John Frank’s tailor shop (located probably where Paul’s Bike Shop or Riverside Printing Press are located today) was up in flames.

By 3 p.m., the National Hotel was a smoldering ruin, with the north and east walls collapsed into the fire. One of the dignified citizens of Shakopee, looking at the mess, said to his companion, “Looks like she’s all going up in smoke. Let’s have a drink!” (One of my favorite responses!)

Finally, just before 4 p.m., the strike of the locomotive whistle announced the arrival of aid from St. Paul. The train stopped near Holmes Street, and people started unloading the fire equipment.

At the same time, the saloon of Herman Baumhager fell prey to the crackling flames, and on the corner, the confectionery store of George B. Gardner started bursting into flames. As the firemen from St. Paul had a steam pumper pumping water from the river, people in Shakopee were worried that the flames would leap across to the east side of Holmes Street. The swirling smoke made it hard to see, but some people thought all of Shakopee would be lost.

St. Paul's Fire Department, 1879
St. Paul’s Fire Department, 1879

Luckily, the fire was confined to the west side of Holmes Street.

Below is a pumper, similar to one used in Shakopee:

Fire Department Pumper

That evening, Shakopee citizens entertained the St. Paul firemen at the United States Hotel. Later that evening, Rev. Alois Plut, pastor of St. Mark’s Catholic Church, had a reception at his residence. By 11 p.m., the special train, filled with the fire engines and many of the firemen, headed back to St. Paul. A few firemen stayed overnight, and waited the next day to head back. They needed the extra day to recover from their exertion and the celebration.

The next morning, Shakopee citizens looked discouraged as they saw the whole block of blackened walls and twisted, smoking wreckage. A day before, it was a block of prosperous business establishments and happy homes. But they took a breath, smiled at each other and knew that they were still alive, and began to build new buildings that rose from the smoke of the fire.

Mayor H. B. Strait requested St. Paul to present its bill for the valuable service rendered to fight the fire. Mayor Dawson of St. Paul replied, “…So far as any remuneration for services rendered is concerned, the opportunity of being able to render assistance to a neighboring city in distress is ample reward.” The railroad also did not charge for the special train that it placed in service on that October day.

John Gutenberg rebuilt the City Meat Market, and carried on a successful trade until his death on June 23, 1880.

After John died, his sons, Henry and John, Jr., conducted the business. The family consisted of these two young men and their sisters, Lizzie and Christina.

In the Nov. 17, 1892 Scott County Argus, a note mentioned that John Gutenberg, Jr. was in St. Paul on Monday, and brought home with him some choice venison for his meat market.

John Gutenberg, Jr. died in 1910. His wife then moved to Seattle.

According to the Minneapolis Tribune, in 1940, the widow of John Gutenberg, Jr., born in Shakopee, walked into a display of printing craftsmanship at Seattle, where she had lived for some years, and disclosed her relationship to the man whose memory was being honored.

The Minneapolis Tribune added that “One of her cousins, A. C. Austin, 91, a resident of the Odd Fellows home at Northfield, Minn., added the details about the former Gutenberg residence at Shakopee.”

And so now you know about the City Meat Market, and the famous Gutenbergs, who spread the news via the printing press, and were involved, through their store, in the famous Great Fire of 1879.

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