By David R. Schleper
Peter Geyermann was born in Germany on Dec. 13, 1825, son of Henry and Christina Nell Geyermann. He came to America on July 7, 1851, and was located at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he worked on a farm for a few weeks. For a short time he worked on the Michigan Central railroad in Indiana, before he began chopping wood in northern Illinois for two years. Peter then purchased a tract of timber land in Illinois along the Chicago & Aurora Railroad. In 1853, he was in the mercantile business in Aurora for two years.
In 1855, Peter moved to Minnesota Territory and took a preemption claim in Carver County. Two years later he sold out and moved to Shakopee, where he was involved in the merchandise business.
In a letter to his brother and sister-in-law, Peter described his life in Shakopee. This letter was translated from German to English in January 1991 by Ernst Wirt, Mitchell, S.D:
Shakopee, Nov 30, 1855
Dear Brother and Sister-in Law,
I wrote to you on August 30, a letter but I never got an answer which surprised me very much.
In our family we have lots of news to report. Our sister Anna Maria got married on the 23rd of July with the blacksmith. He comes from Saxony. His name is Johann Heinz. He is a very ambitious and hard working man. And on the 20th of August, it pains me very much to write that our dear and only brother, Joseph, died. He was such a strong and young brother (just like Michel and Joseph were). Our Joseph was about 10 days sick. He had something called the red Ruhr. He was very happy here in America because he didn’t have to take care of anybody, only himself, and he remembered where his home was. He never had it so good in his whole life. He could eat and drink anything he wanted. It didn’t cost him a penny. I never saw him so happy as in the time I saw him here.
Our sister Anna Marie was not too happy when our other sister, Magdalene left here because her new husband died on the 10th of September of the same sickness like Joseph. On the same day died also Simon Derbach. They all lived with me. You can’t imagine the hardship. It was not only that all those people died, but everybody also sick in the house. I was very depressed and always was thinking that I was the next to go. I wanted to move from here and look for a different place.
So I did. I moved to Shakopee, Minnesota Territory, and I live outside in the country. I bought a claim there. The land belonged to the government and was not yet sold. The law says whoever comes first and homesteads it has a claim to it, but you have to be over 21 years of age. I had to take 160 acres of land and you were supposed to build a house on this land, and supposed to take care of the land. And whoever is doing this first has the first right and claim. For this I paid $300.00 but if I ever wanted to sell it, then I would have to pay $1.25 per acre and I have to announce this 3 months in advance. If I don’t pay it in time then I can sell it to someone else, but I must leave the homestead. This can take the time of 1 or 2 years. The house that exists is in very poor condition in the country and we are in the process of building a new one. Last Wednesday we started.
You are probably surprised to hear that people build houses here in the winter, but here in the country people take tree stems and they make very nice houses (log houses). So if you plan to build a house you have to see that you get all the logs nearby, bring it to the place, and cut them into the measurements as big as the house is supposed to be. Then you go and call on 8 to 10 neighbors and then everything will be put together in one day but the roof. The rest a person has to do himself and that goes better than anybody can imagine. Once you are between 3 and 4 years in America, you become a pretty good builder, and you acquire all the tools that craftsmen need to make a building.
Our land is ½ mile long and ½ mile wide. That is called 160 ruten (rods?) and the house is as wide as 1 rod is. (ed. note: 5.5 yards) Now you can imagine how big the house is. I have approximately 40 acres of wood on my land, approximately 6 acres of meadow and the rest are hedges. But we don’t do it here the same way we did it in (Lehnheck?). Here we take 2 or 3 young oxen and put them into a yoke, and then the land will be worked. One yoke of oxen I own and that cost me $150. Animals are very expensive here. I must say that animals are much more expensive now than when I came to America, because when I came to America, a yoke of oxen I could buy in those days for $60. Here the animals are not quite so expensive as in the old states like in Illinois where I came from.
I am now about 600 miles away NW from Arora (Aurora, Illinois) and it is much colder than there. We had already for 14 days, snow, but this week is exceptionally nice weather and the snow was almost melting away. I hope there is not new snow coming, but we will take it. It would be alright if we got snow so tomorrow morning and Sunday we want to go hunting for deer, while we are waiting to finish the house, because when the house is ready, we won’t have much time. That’s why we want to go and hunt now. And when the Indians don’t come back and take the animals away, there is plenty of deer over here.
What I’m talking about are the natives or the wild people and they don’t do anything else but hunting, but they do not hurt the white people. If it would ever happen, they have to deliver the murderer, or they receive very harsh treatment, and get blamed for that by their own people. The wild man don’t want to work at all. They think work takes something away from their honor. They do not do anything else but hunting and be a warrior, and that is the main reason that America is not so populated as Europe. These wild people have friction among themselves. There are lots of different tribes, and if anybody enters their territory, then they have a war.
We and our sister Magdalena live here on my land. She will get married. Her husband’s name is Hilliarius Schumacher. He comes from a town called Metternich, near Cologne. She is married on the 23rd of October.
Our Margaret is a servant in Shakopee. She gets $2 a week. Our Marie is a servant still in Arora (Aurora). She got the best conditions. She is in good health, and receives good money. Wherever she works, the people don’t let her go. They like her. She’s a very ambitious girl and she is the biggest and heaviest of us all. She could have got married many times before if she liked to. I think she wants to remain there until next spring, and then she will come here with our Anna Marie who still lives in the same house where I live. She would have been gone before but I was expecting some money, and I couldn’t get the money until next spring.
The letter gives a good explanation of Shakopee in 1855.
Peter married Emelia Berreau in Shakopee. They had six children.
Peter and Emelia operated Geyermann’s General Store between First and Second avenues and Lewis Street in downtown Shakopee, which included groceries, dry goods, boots and shoes, hats and caps, dress goods, clothing, and crockery. The store opened in 1857.
A Board of Trade was organized in March 1878, with Peter as president. The editorial of the Shakopee Argus noted that:
“Shakopee is now a metropolitan city. It has twelve street lamps, each with the illuminating power of ten lightning bugs. On a dark night the flickering rays of light are cast fully twenty feet around and on a clear night with a full moon, the city is brilliantly lighted up.”
Peter also became mayor of Shakopee. He was mayor from 1873-1876, and again in 1878. While he was mayor in 1878, Peter was involved in controversy. The town needed a bridge over the Minnesota River. After lots of discussion over several years, the legislature voted in favor of building a bridge in Shakopee. The bridge was to be built on Fuller St.
The mayor owned a store on Lewis St., so he vetoed the resolution for building the bridge on Fuller St. He wanted it on Lewis Street, so that people arriving over the bridge would go directly to his store. Another resolution, putting the bridge on Holmes Street, was also vetoed by the mayor. They tried other sites, including one near Murphy’s Landing, and later the Shakopee Argus editor looked out from the third floor of his building, and saw a huge cottonwood tree across the river. He suggested that they could lasso the tree, and build the river across at that part. Obviously, that did not win, either.
After many more meetings, the mayor won out, and the bridge was built on Lewis St. in 1880.
Many people were upset, though, and the mayor’s store was boycotted by many residents, especially the people in the First Ward, who wanted the Fuller St. site. So effective was the action that Peter and Emelia were forced out of business, and after 24 years in the business, they left the town of Shakopee.
Peter and Emelia moved to the little town of Hersey (now called Brewster) where they started a new general merchandise store. After several years, the family established stores in Pipestone, Worthington, and Storm Lake, Iowa. In the 1920s, Peter and Emelia’s sons opened stores in Huron, Mitchell, Madison, and Brookings, South Dakota. In the 1940s they added stores in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, as well as Beatrice and Hastings, Nebraska. Record books of the old Brewster, Minnesota store noted that a man’s suit cost $9.50, a boy’s boots cost $2.13, eight yards of printed goods cost 66 cents, a gallon of oil was 25 cents, butter was just 20 cents a pound, and Rock and Rye was $1.00 a bottle.
Emelia Berreau Geyermann died in 1907, and Peter Geyermann died in 1911.
Meanwhile, the Lewis Street Swing Bridge in Shakopee was opened for river boat traffic heading further west in 1880.
On July 15, 1896, the boat the Daisy was heading up the Minnesota River when it hit the bridge, knocking over its smoke stacks. It seems that the boat didn’t wait until the Lewis Street Swing Bridge was open before it crashed!
When the Holmes Street Bridge was built in 1927, the Lewis Street Swing Bridge was open for foot traffic. In 1942, with the war effort, the scrap metal was requisitioned by the government, and the Lewis Street Swing Bridge supplied the metal. It was estimated that it contained 100 tons of needed metal for bombs, jeeps, and ships.
And so that is what happened with the Swing Bridge on Lewis St. in downtown Shakopee.
(Some information from The Shakopee Story by Julius A. Coller, II, pages 118-120; Shakopee Scrapbook by Michael C. Huber, Patricia A. Huber, and Joseph C. Huber; Taped Interview of Jack Coller on KSMM Radio, July 1982; and information from Rick Geyermann via email to David R. Schleper.)