Today the mushroom factor, the phenomenon that one small factor will inevitably lead to much more, struck in full force. And I wasn’t even working on my house! Well, not entirely.
Over the years as we’ve renovated various rooms in our 1917 American Foursquare, John Bhend has popped up here and there. Better said, he’s popped up almost everywhere—under the stairs, behind the woodwork, in the attic. Wherever there’s a backside of lumber, there’s John Bhend.
His name, anyway.
Many pieces of wood in our house bear the scrawled signature of “John Bhend, Watertown, Wi.” We’ve always thought it was rather cool and assumed he built our house. We’ve heard somewhere that loads of wood are commonly labeled with the builder’s name before being shipped to the building site.
So today, I had a few minutes to spare and stopped at the Dodge/Jefferson Counties Genealogical Society. My intention was to learn a bit about John Bhend, but instead the mushroom factor kicked in. Obviously, you don’t spend just a few minutes in a genealogical society, not if you have an inkling of investigative curiosity for anything historical. Within minutes of my arrival, several helpful people brought me Plat books, old city directories and obituaries. Not only did I get information on our guy, but I now have a list of previous property owners back to the 1860’s and a fixation to learn more.
But back to John Bhend.
According to a 1930 city directory, John was indeed a general contractor and home builder. His ad details 18 years of experience in building or remodeling and guarantees good construction, blue prints and specifications to the customer’s order. His obituary, dated March 2, 1944, describes him as a “widely known contractor” who was also a member of the Watertown Builder’s Club.
Reading John Bhend’s obituary brings him to life as more than the builder of our house. He becomes a person, as well. According to the paper, he was born in Aschi, Canton of Bern, Switzerland on Sept. 28, 1881, to Mr. and Mrs. Christian Bhend. In 1906, at the age of 25, he came to the U.S. and for a time lived with his brother Christ Bhend.
On October 4, 1913, John married Saraphine Krueger (Saraphine—what a beautiful name!) Together they had two children; a daughter, Irene, and a son, Marcel, who at the time of his father’s death was serving in the Pacific in World War II. Saraphine preceded John in death in 1935.
The obituary goes on to list John as a member of the Congregational Church, Watertown Lodge No. 49, F& AM and Watertown’s Plattdeutscher Verein (Low German Club). He also was a director of the Wisconsin National Bank and active in local affairs.
So that’s John Bhend, the guy beneath our stairs and behind our woodwork. If our house is a testament to his work, he was indeed a very fine builder. Ninety-one years later, it stands sound and true.
But now I want to know more. How many other homes in our area bear his name? And which ones? What do those homes look like today? The mushroom factor has definitely kicked in.
I originally wrote this piece in 2008 for my first blog, the now defunct Mushroom Factor. My intention at the time was to chronicle the adventures of our home renovation, but, gee, that really got to be a lot of work and I fell far behind. The comments below are in response to the Mushroom Factor post. They’re what make blogging so absolutely fun!