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!
8 thoughts on “Mushroom Factor”
while looking for renovation ideas for my foursquare, I came upon your posting. just wanted to let you know I found it interesting and i would have been carried away by the mushroom factor as well. John Bhend died on my birthday – strange.
Bhend was my maiden name. My grandfather Adolph Bhend came to the US from Switzerland in 1892 at the age of 12. My father told me that when his family first came to the US, they stayed for a little while with relatives in Southern Wisconsin, but he did not know who or where, before moving to Minnesota. Because Bhend is an unusual name, I have a feeling that I am somehow related to John Bhend as a distant cousins or somehow and possibly the relatives you mention are those that my relatives first stayed with when they arrived in the US.
Hey everyone, here’s a little more info on John Bhend. You are all on the right track, but maybe I can clarify a little. John Bhend was the younger brother of my great-grandfather, Christian (Christ) Bhend, from Aschi Switzerland. From our family genealogy, Christian came to the United States in 1894. He was a cheese maker. John did indeed follow in 1906 and was a building contractor. The city directory is correct in all the information you list. He married Sarahphine as you list and died in 1944. He is buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Watertown, Wisconsin. I only vaguely remember Marcel, but I do remember my “Aunt Irene.” I have a picture of Christ and John and their parents in front of the family home in Aschi. The house was built in approximately 1150 AD and was in our family until 1924 when Christ and John’s younger sister Margaret died. As for the “relatives” in southern Wisconsin, Christian Bhend Sr., Christ and John’s father, had only the two sons and a daughter. The daughter stayed in Switzerland and as far as we know, never married. John had Marcel and a daughter, Irene. Marcel had no sons so his branch of the family name ends there. Christian’s branch comes only through me and my sons, so our family is quite small. However, there were many families with the Bhend name in that region of Switzerland and we have been informed of a branch that settled in Minnesota that were very close to our family at about that time. It’s quite possible that they stayed with John or Christian and then continued on to Minnesota. It’s incredible that you live in a house built by my great-great- Uncle! Thank you so much for sharing this information. My father will be amazed to see it. In fact, it was my oldest son’s fiance that found this site and sent it to me. Good luck with all your remodeling. Dave
I just finished talking with my father. The topic was brought up about asking if it would be possible for our family to have a scrap board with John’s signature. It would mean very much to us. I do not know how to contact you, but I live in Chippewa Falls, WI. If you have a board available, we would love to hear from you. Thank you so very much. Dave
Thanks so much for the fascinating history! I’d love to know more about John as a builder. The American Foursquare is popular in this area and I often wonder if he built any of them as well. Because I’m a genealogy junkie, I love that in a very stretched way I’m part of your family history:-)
John Bhend was my grandfather Christian Bhend’s brother! Heidi Bhend (his granddaughter and daughter of Irene) still lives in Watertown and I believe in the house that was her grandfather’s. I see my nephew David has left you a message! This is very interesting!
I tried contacting some Bhends through Facebook and I was told there are two different clans of Bhend in Switzerland. One Bhend family’s place of origin is Unterseen. John Bhend’s clan is from Beatenberg. I was told that both are in the same area.