Oral History of Louis Voigt
My name is Louis Voigt, I am the grandson of Fred Voigt the proprietor of the resort at Girty's Island back at the turn of the century. Now Dorothy Memmer, my next door roommate is the daughter of Winnie Voigt Zachrich who was also a daughter of Fred Voigt. Fred Voigt was a pioneer in Holgate, he came as a shepherd boy at a very early age, found the mosquitoes were causing malaria plagues, so he went to Indiana to learn to make pills for what they called ague fever, which is malaria, and came to Holgate and found where his friends were all dying of malaria, and so he started a little drugstore or drug outlet. In the very beginning of Holgate there only just a store, nothing much there, and finally the Baltimore and the Ohio Railroad decided to go from Willard, Ohio. It was as far West as they got they wanted to go, a straight line to Chicago and it made them go right through the Black Swamp. So the Baltimore and Ohio engineers figured out they could go through that swamp, and everybody else said they couldn't do it. Because they would go down in the mud. So the railroad brought in Irish workers and they used mule scoops and they dug out deep ditches on both sides and piled the dirt in the center, made a causeway and they brought in rocks and stones and put on top of the causeway and put the roadbed on top of that and it worked. The Baltimore and Ohio are still on the same tracks and using the same embankments as they was then. So all along the road people begin to come and buy land and ship their grain out on the railroad. In Holgate---William Holgate and another man by the name of Kaufman were two competitors for the railroad traffic, so they tried to name the village Kaufmanville and the oldest building existing while I was a kid was an old shack that was part of grandma Kaufman's property. And so when Holgate finally got the best connections to the railroad, so the railroad station was put down about a half mile further east and the name Holgate finally took over and won the battle for the town. So grandpa had been making pills for ague and he started to build a store in Kaufmanville, the west end of town, and he made pills from the old drugstore. The name Holgate came from William C. Holgate. He was a man who was a kind of a developer who came from Defiance. They have a Holgate Avenue in Defiance named for the same guy. Holgate had more business clout, or something that he could get the connections with the railroad better than Kaufman could, that's how it became Holgate instead of Kaufmanville. Kaufmanville seemed to wither away, but Holgate is still there yet.
So grandpa made a store building which is still there, it's a place where is on the corner. He put his drugstore on the first floor and he lived upstairs and my dad and his two older brothers and sister were born there and that was the first store built in Holgate. They had no other outlet for mercantile products -- there were no other stores, but the drugstore, so they persuaded grandpa to sell bicycles. Bicycles were one way to get through the woods where you couldn't get a car on a patch. You had to be careful not to let go of the bicycle. So he had a bicycle shop and pretty soon they added that and became a General Store. Well the people were pretty rough customers. The settlers were pretty much a wild bunch. It was dangerous so the people persuaded grandpa to buy a little safe to put his money and drugs in to keep it from getting stolen. So he got the safe and it worked pretty good, so they finally persuaded him to become an offhand banker. He started a bank in his little safe in the drugstore and that's how the Holgate State Bank got started. And so as he worked along, his uncle sent a butcher to start a butcher shop and that was built farther up the street so those were the two Voigt properties on Main Street and later, much later, grandpa built a little old, in the corner that angle street that came out into a little angle lot and built a good sturdy brick building with a vault — a walk-in vault in the back of it —no more than 12 foot wide in the front and 4 feet at the back. And this was his bank until later moved further downtown. So they had this old red shaped building left over.
Now I'll give you a little bit about my dad, Gust Voigt. My dad, what will I say, a handy guy, grandpa and grandma Voigt in this house by — they built a big house after a couple of kids were born in the Baker house down on Cherry Street where Dorothy Memmer was raised in a house in a white house.
Another general fact… Dorothy Voigt married Edwin E. Rackstraw, who was graduating from I don't know what medical school — they moved to Findlay to practice, Dorothy Voigt Rackstraw was really the youngest of Fred's daughter's the youngest of the family, so she remembers all this stuff as a little girl — it has the glow of a young girl’s reminiscences. And, boy, it's really a wonder story, and she had gathered up quite a bit of stuff and had grandpa's picture albums and stuff, and if we ever find that yellow covered spiral back notebook bound volume you want to latch on to that and hang on to it because there is a copy in Holgate library and Joan Bacus had a copy, good history. Voigt Family History — Nine Children. A lot to keep track of— I tried to keep track of some of it.
My mother was a good scholar which was very rare in those days and the Voigts had kind of an interesting history Grandpa Voigt brought lots of books and traditions from Germany so, but mother Voigt was a Mollet. The Mollets were Huguenots from France and they lived about 2 miles out of Holgate. When mother got to be high school age they were out in the country and no school busses, no cars to cart them, grandpa bought a house across the street from the white house so his granddaughter could go to Holgate High School. And boy she took advantage of it, she was a sharp student — she was Valedictorian of her class and partook in all the farmers’ institutes and all that stuff and her family boys were there, were six of us in the first gang, the others that came later were the same marriage just a gap in time, the boys were more Holgate types, wild active, sports, outdoorsman. They couldn't care less about education and mother tried her hardest to get them to get interested, and boy she really worked on them too. She was a determined girl. As it turned out when I was about 4 or 5 years old I would set on the floor under the table and listen to her try to drill those kids doing their homework, but for some reason I got it at the right stage cause I get a real bite on it, and made me somewhat of a scholar too. I wasn't too alert for the first three grades. I didn't do too well, but the fourth grade the teacher started getting into healls (?) and history things I had never heard before except in Sunday School. And so the teacher said we're going to buy dictionaries for the class and anyone who wants one of their own they bring $3.40 they can have their own dictionary. So I dug up $3.40 and I had a dictionary. It was Webster's Children's Dictionary with pictures in it, and boy that started my career in scholarship in a more serious way and the rest of the way through grade school we had history, civics and other subjects we never had before, so I began to develop and when I got in high school I got into science and so on, so really I became the scholar of the family. I was really following in my mother’s footsteps, so when it came time to graduate that was the time when WW II started and so dad couldn't get plumbing parts – and, oh, by the way I should have mentioned that dad had started to work in the plumbing mart after World War I– he had land in Arkansas with the bank which had foreclosed on land in Arkansas and dad went down there to help and he also did a lot with steam engines and sawmills, so when he got back to Holgate in about 1920, he decided that he wanted to start in that new work of plumbing – plumbing was outdoor and indoor plumbing was new to the area – so he studied his books and started his plumbing business and the land in Arkansas –well I'll tell you what happened – he tried to sell it and it didn't sell and he tried it again and he ended up in debt over the land, so he had a debt of thousands of dollars over his head and all theses kids to feed it was really a rough, rough time through the Depression.
My first memory of that was about 7 or 8 years old going with Dad to work and he and the oldest brother who was a senior or a high school boy by this time and they would go in the basement and they would measure the pipes and cut the holes and I would be out to the truck with a vice cutting threads on pipe and they would holler out a measurement to me and I would measure the pipe and cut it and thread it and they would put it in, and the plumbing business was hard to sell but was good work, it was plumbing of course of the plumbing in those days was pretty rugged stuff, but dad always tried to do a good job and he was very conscientious about it, he wanted to do good work and I spent all my school days, three ways, school, peddling papers and working for dad.. I never had a free moment from the time I started until I quit. Five sons went into the Army and they all came back. We had a good mother pulling and praying for us, I'll tell you. First one was Air Corp parachute rigger, the second one was that was Gene, the oldest one George, George had always been a mechanic always run the trucks and everything had to be mechanical what did they do but put him in the horse Calvary, and Dick was an infantryman, Jim was a machine gun rigger in the Air Force and turrets they had and I was an infantryman in Mississippi and a machine gunner. I used a 30 caliber article machine gun and so that's the family connection. Joe and the others – I don't want to get too many things going at one time.
Girty’s Island in the Maumee River a few miles below Florida and a few miles south of Napoleon, south of Napoleon it was down the river near Napoleon and Girty’s Island got its reputation from a Simon Girty who was purported to be a Renegade Indian dealer, he made deals with the Indians to kill off the settlers so he had a very bad reputation and supposedly he had his crowd out on the island that's how it got the name. Well, it was running apparently who ever owned it must have had some reason to dispose of it and Grandpa Voigt was a banker in Holgate and he married a very industrious wife. It was Mary Cecilia Vogel Voigt had kept school teachers that had boards and built a big house and just was a go getter. So they teamed up and bought the island which was just a big old woods in the middle of the river. And so I don't know where the idea come from, maybe Aunt Dorothy Rackstraw might help where they got the idea starting the resort. But we do know that these farmers working out on that woods were short of entertainment, it was pretty drudgerous work and so they thought well if they could provide good healthy entertainment it would be a good thing. So they put a ferryboat from the south side over to the island and took horses and wagons over cut trees and built houses and planted woods, planted a berry patch and so on. So it was really half faun and half resort and as they kids grew up course they all went over there and had a good time, so they all had good memories and of course the littlest one Dorothy Rackstraw who just didn't tape over heaven so when they got the island, the first thing they built was a house, the house had a good kitchen so they could provide meals and so then later they starting building a couple of cottages and a big dance hall, a bowling alley on one side and dance hall in the rest of it one big building. So that was the beginnings of Girty's Island Resort. When they built a couple of cottages then they began to call it Girty's Island Summer home Company—that was these cottages—oh there must have been 4 or 5 cottages along the south side of the island and I can remember as a little child the island had already — oh I'll tell you one main thing in 1913 it was wiped out by the great flood of 1913 — it was really a wild one and of course did along of effected — Springfield/ Wright Patterson Base was moved to make up some of the flood plane. So the flood wiped out everything except a couple of structures that were just to strong to be pushed aside. A house, stone cottage and the dance hall was all that was left — they were pretty ragged — pretty well mud soaked and all so it laid there for the early part of the depression and not much done, by that time dad and his brothers and sisters wanted to get over there and relive some of the old times and so they would go over there for an excursion and back home and one summer he camped in one of the cottages and we got to swim in the river and do all kinds of stuff They had the ferryboat rebuilt with a cable from land to the skyline and the ferryboat went along the cable and another cable you pulled with it to make it go. One cable was fastened to the cable to the ferry through a pulley across the air to another pulley at the other end so it made kind of a circuit. Then the other cable was up at the railing level to pull on 4 or 5 had to pull at one time to make it really go — it was quite a job. Well my earliest memories are that of going across the river and of course there was a lot of nettles, weeds and stuff, but there would be traces of old berry patches and the little tiny island on the north side was call Chicken Island — apparently they had a chicken park or yard — when they had all these feasts they needed that — they didn't have to much cattle — they did have the chickens now that is the island coming from the south side on the north side which is a narrow channel between the island and the river and the road there was the old Miami and Erie Canal which ran from Defiance to Toledo and that went down the north side of the island between the bank on the north side and son the road along side of that canal was called the tow path. That's where the horses and mules would walk to pull a canal boat through—now the island was in pretty good depth to take a canal boat, but up around Florida it was pretty shallow so they built a dam on the canal south of Florida a little bit to hold the water back in Florida and up the river so that boats would not be hitting the bottom. That canal is still there yet—Independence Park is built around that dam. Independence was the name of the town but it also was a nostalgic thought of the early Americans the patriotism run a different vein in those days and we have nothing to compare with the patriotism of 1812 that was a life and death thing for them for the Americans we didn't realize how close we were to extinction in the War of 1812. In 1790 the Indians were going to push the Americans out. They were coming in too strong, too much taking over land too fast and the Indians wanted to get rid of us. So they started a conspiracy a union of Indians around Defiance — Defiance had the biggest collection of Indians than any place in the country at that time. Over 1000 Indians were around Defiance and General Anthony Wayne was a General for Washington in the Revolution. A young man — a feisty young man, a good soldier so he was seat out by congress to head off those Indians but that thing stopped he didn't want the Indians running around so he was sent up from Kentucky so Anthony Wayne had Kentucky back woodsmen, he had American soldiers and he had a motley collection of soldiers, he started north and when he got up to Springfield he ran into a patch of Indians and the Springfield people still make a big fuse about the George Rodgers Clark park so they had to defeat the Indians at Springfield and start pushing further north and all the towns along the Miami river were territory... When they got to Defiance they run into the big collection of Indians —I mean they were a mass of Indians so Anthony Wayne made his famous statement "I Defy all the Indians of I tell" he was going to take them on and they had rebuilt a fort at the point of the Auglaize and Maumee Rivers in Defiance and apparently he held it and the Indians must have felt a little hesitant because they backed up the river down the river towards Toledo so Anthony Wayne grouped his men together and got ready for a major walk and went down through the river to Maumee and to the Battle of Fallen Timbers because the weather had had a wind storm and knocked the trees down and the Indians were hiding behind the trees and the American the result was we don't know what kind of miracle happened but Anthony Wayne won the Indians were fighting out from behind the new fallen trees somehow he got at it so when we won that put the end to the Indians major operations — there was snipping here and there and so they came back to Defiance and regrouped his people together and that was 1794 or something like that. So pretty soon the English decided they want to get that American thing back again they wanted the American colonies back they never did approve of it and fought it all along so the English sent a great Army into Canada to retake America of course this is the war of 1812 and the English always headed out of Canada and sent raids down into America. The George Rodgers Clark was the scene of the battle where the English were riding with the Indians against the Americans They thought they had better get rid of this American thing while they still had a change because we were getting to strong for them so started the War of 1812 and of course that's history to the Star Spangled Banner and New Orleans was the start of War of 1812 and as far as I'm concerned that was the high point ever of all times of American patriotism. I have pictures in my books of them waving flags and just having a grand time. It was life and death — they were going to be exterminated your done you've had it and here was the enemy shooting at you, boy that really brought them out so any how — now back to where I was.
I thing Girty's Island kinda got lost in the shuffle I don't think they were Defiance took all the attention at that time.
A couple of details… Girty's Island is about 80 acres. What it is, out in the river, middle of the river was right at the place where a creek come in the island from the south and it was a culvert, a brick arched roadway bridge along the south side of the river cross this creek bridge. It was a heavy stone bridge and it was an island, not an island but a cemetery on top of the hill right at the junction and many of the people from Holgate were buried there. That's not just a local cemetery, but people coming from a distance so there will be a log of interesting things there. That is Cole Cemetery and from where the creek come into the river if you went along the road towards the south towards Holgate about a mile you come to place where they called Benines Woods —just named after a farmer but that's where as a kin I had many a family picnic there. Where lots of local kids go down in the ravine and just in the water and swing out on the vines over the water and all kinds of stuff So that was a special treat for us kids to get out there. Now what else is up there. The creek along the river was intentionally big trees and brush and mosquitoes and all were there. Now that's when you go down the river towards Napoleon a couple of miles you come to what they call Round Bottom and probably heard of that and then to Napoleon and from Napoleon to Texas down that way those people have that information. I think Round Bottom got it name because a curve in the river washed out, washout, and washed out until it got to be a round cliff and on the inside the water on the inside the water was carried away so that was law and that would be the bottom so the round is the high bank and the bottom is the low bank but I'm not sure that's just the way logic said it doesn't say what the bank did, but here are a lot of cottages up there for fisherman and then Independence is towards Defiance from the island you got up on a couple miles you got to the dam on the tow path and from that one more mile would be Florida City Town and a lot of the farmers they came could farm north of the river but couldn't farm south of the river because it was low ground south is the low bank and north is the high bank kinda like. It was a mosquito's mess — bushy mosquito mess and so the Holgate people come from the south they didn't see the best side of the river. I can remember my dad telling me this about when he was a kid going over there was a man who farmed north of the river close to the island and he called him Bendy Gunn so if you don't have anything on him your not going to fine it because he is the one who told my dad before the farmers come the land was filled with trees so tall so thick that the trees made it dark underneath them and that you could see for miles because no brush would grow under those trees. So that's a story for my kids that I would like to hear some more about if I could find it.
Now during the Depression the island was pretty much abandoned and it was taken over for taxes or something — it belonged to people in Toledo but they didn't pay their taxes, so it set neglected and dad was always eager to get out there and visit and replay his childhood memories so a couple times we camped out on the island and one time we lived in the stone cottage which was still well ran so dads memory ran pretty lively and so when I got out of the Army and got working with my older brother took over the plumbing business started the wholesale family plumbing shop in Defiance. I got to be scout master of troop III in Defiance Zion Lutheran in Defiance. So the boys were glad to have me as their scout master because I would come with the truck and we would haul them around to different places and we could find the best places along the river to camp and so on. And when they found out about the island they were all taken up with it and so Dad had been going out there camping so we got the idea if we built a cottage for dad the boys could take advantage of it so we got some cement blocks and lumber and put on the truck with a bunch of scouts and we got across the canal and down the tow path to where the island was close by and we started to build a cottage about 16 x 20 on the tow path north of the river so the boys made a nice plane across so you could see both ways and they put a boat dock down there and my brother Paul made a power boat with an outboard motor so we came along and take them rides so the cottage was a very popular thing — we had family reunions out there and parties and stuff, but it lasted a couple of years, but it didn't last too long. Anyhow, the boys really loved to play things with grandpa. They built for him, he always had the idea that those ferry boats had a flat bottom tilted up at each end and the best way so set down and enjoy yourself on the river to steer around, so he got my oldest bother to build him a ferry boat, but we couldn't mess around pulling that ferry boat around so they decided to put an automobile engine in it to push it, and boy that made it heavy. Too much. They had that out there two or three years and they had a log of good times and they would have a picnic table on the boat and have a picnic going down the river. Cruising down the river on a Sunday afternoon. So we did get that done. So dad had a wonderful good time out there before he gave up. Just on occasions he lived at the cottage. He had his home in Holgate and when the shop was built in Defiance we moved to Defiance and he got along pretty good. He died of a stroke I think, I think it was. But in the house in Defiance was right across from the Fifty Yard line of the High School football field so the kids would all come sit on our porch roof to watch the football games.
My dad was a Lutheran from Germany and his wife was a Catholic from Germany. Her father was brought to Holgate as a furniture maker, burial vault maker and coffin maker for the town. They buried all the people, and so when dad and grandma who was Mary Cecilia Vogel she was still a Catholic and the first three children were baptized as Catholics -- Uncle Fred, Aunt Winnie and Dad were all baptized Catholic. And about that time grandpa had helped start a Lutheran church in Holgate, which is now St. John's, and everything was going fine except that as a businessman he had to make business deals and the preacher said you don't make a deal with a mason and most all of the business men were masons because they had to so it was an unhappy affair but the old preacher made it so hard for dad, grandpa Voigt that he went to Defiance and found an English Lutheran pastor in Defiance —Rev. Enger, please come down to Holgate and preach to us in English because they are all German anyhow and they need English too. And so when Engers came down to Holgate they preached in the Voigt House. The English church was started in the living room of the Voigt House on Cherry Street, And remember, Standley use to be on the road from Defiance to Holgate, and Standley started a church too. But anyhow the preacher came every Sunday and they had services and grandma the Catholic got to reading written past history of the work (Lutheran Church) and she read about the Reformation and the more she read the more she got pulled in and finally she decided she wanted to be a Lutheran too. She probably was around 28 and so she was a most unusual person, grandpa himself was a sedate little man who could do his business and so on but she was a power house worker. She got things done when they built that big house on Cherry Street she had boarders that she boarded and she taught her kids and she made being a church member into fun, the girls and the boarders were in plays — missionary plays in the living room and they would dress up like Japanese or Chinese, or Africans and oh they had a wonderful time. And a lot of those pictures are in that book. So Grandma Voigt had one thing she carried over from the Catholics but the Lutherans were never to thrilled with, that was painting—fine painting. So she came to Napoleon, on the west side of the road in Napoleon on State Route 108 south just before you get to the fairgrounds the big brick mansion is still there yet and that lady there knew painting very well and so Grandma Voigt came there to take classes in painting and she took a lot of lessons and her paintings were beautiful. Paint in those days turned dark. Grandma painted pictures, I don't know how she got it done with everything else she got done, but she got it done. When it came to the island she was a prime mover. Grandpa made the business and he made the connections, but she and the kids did the work. Boy they went out there and cut weeds, leveled out and did everything. They tell the story the flour was getting worms in it so they were going to send it to the chicken park for the chickens to eat. When they got there the bags had been switched and they got to the wrong bag — plaster of Paris they fed to the chickens and they were all cackling and crawling and Grandma Voigt went out there with a knife and cut the chickens craw open and took the plaster of Paris out and most of them revived. That shows the kind of gumption that she had.
The flood must have caught them by surprise because it not only flooded the island and the cottages and left all kind of debris, whole buildings came floating down the river. It was terrible. I image it was in the spring but I'm not sure, but we were accustomed to having ice come down the river, but not buildings come down the river. So the flood really knocked the whole resort in the head. Now it’s only a matter of memories and flash backs. I don't remember the flood, but I remember them talking about it. 1913 was just about 12 years before I was born.
When I was in the Army I got into Germany nowhere near where the Voigt Family come from, so when I was in the Library at Wittenberg I was on the faculty and they allowed a sabbatical leave every so many years and I didn't want to go because I had to much to do, so one time I decided to take my sabbatical, so I went to Germany to buy books for the library in German and I went to find the home place of the Lutherans of the Voigts. The Voigts are from north up by Hanover and Mullets are down in the Saar. The German town is Visselhoevedo and there I found one or two of the family left and all the rest of them had moved away and one of the cousins.
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